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Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a stable constitutional parliamentary democracy (republic). On March 20, voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. In April 2015 authorities held legislative elections in which former president Yayi’s supporting coalition, Cowry Force for an Emerging Benin, won 33 of 83 seats in the National Assembly, and the coalition allied with four independent candidates held 37 seats (a decrease from 41 in the prior legislature). International observers viewed both the March presidential and 2015 legislative elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The major human rights problems included police use of excessive force, harsh prison conditions, and vigilante violence.

Other human rights problems included: arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; abuse of women and children, including sexual harassment, child sexual exploitation, early and forced marriage, and infanticide; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; violence and discrimination against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government made an effort to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but such incidents occurred.

On April 28, the Constitutional Court ruled that the acting director of the Prison of Cotonou, Lieutenant Bariou Fatoumbi, violated article 18 of the constitution related to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The court decision was based on evidence that Lieutenant Fatoumbi ordered a sick female prisoner handcuffed and chained to a bed for 12 days at the Teaching Hospital of Cotonou.

The United Nations reported that as of December 20, it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Beninese peacekeepers. An allegation involving military personnel deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali was under Beninese government investigation at year’s end. An allegation regarding a 2015 incident involving Beninese UN police in Haiti was found to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, potable water, and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. The 2015 Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin report stated that conditions in the country’s 10 civil prisons were inhuman, with overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease common. Nine of the 10 civil prisons were filled far beyond capacity. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Lighting was inadequate. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support and services. According to the 2015 report, prison authorities forced prisoners to pay “bed taxes” for spaces to sleep and made sick prisoners in the civil prison of Cotonou pay to visit the hospital.

On April 27, inmates at the Civil Prison of Abomey (in central Benin) staged a violent protest regarding harsh prison conditions, especially a weeklong lack of drinking water in the prison.

Prison overcrowding was a serious problem. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin the prison population (including pretrial detainees, remand prisoners, and convicts) in 2015 totaled 5,820. Pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners represented 75 percent of the total prison population. These numbers did not include detainees held in police stations and in civilian and military detention centers. According to 2012 statistics from the International Center for Prison Studies, female prisoners constituted 5 percent of the prison population and juveniles 2 percent.

Authorities housed juveniles at times with adults and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts.

Administration: Authorities did not use alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. There was no formal system to submit complaints without censorship to judicial authorities. According to the 2015 Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin Authorities report, prison authorities charged visitors amounts ranging from 500 CFA francs to 1,000 CFA francs (approximately $1 to $2).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Religious groups and NGOs visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. Organizations that visited prisons included the local chapter of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, Prisons Brotherhood, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, the French Development Agency, Rotaract (Rotary International), and Prisoners without Borders.

Improvements: On June 16, the National Assembly passed a law to reduce prison overcrowding that provides for community service in lieu of prison sentences for first-time offenders convicted of minor offenses.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police, under the Ministry of Interior, have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban areas; the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, performs the same functions in rural areas.

Police were inadequately equipped and poorly trained. The government responded to these problems by building more stations and modernizing equipment; however, problems remained.

Impunity was a problem. Police leadership often did not punish and sometimes protected officers who committed abuses, which led to the president’s personal involvement in the resolution of several cases of security force abuses. Individuals may file complaints of police abuse with the police leadership, the lower courts, the mediator of the republic (ombudsman), or the Constitutional Court. The inspector general of the National Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious, sensitive, and complex cases involving police personnel. The mandate of the Investigation Division is to conduct administrative and judiciary investigations involving police and to advise the director of national police on disciplinary action.

On October 25, the Office of the President issued a statement in response to repeated complaints of police officers extorting money during security checks. The president announced the opening of telephone and internet hotlines for citizens to denounce such cases.

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses committed by members of the military. The councils have no jurisdiction over civilians. The country has no military tribunal, so civilian courts deal with serious crimes involving the gendarmerie and the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours, but this requirement was not always observed. After examining a detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs including narcotics, the judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours but not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail; however, the attorney general must agree to the request. They have the right to prompt access to a lawyer after being brought before a judge, which authorities also generally observed. They are allowed to have family visits (see section 1.c.). The government provided counsel to indigents in criminal cases. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

There were credible reports gendarmes and police often exceeded the legal limit of 48 hours of detention, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred. In February 2015 a judge at the Court of Porto-Novo ordered the immediate release of a prisoner who had completed a nine-year prison term on criminal charges. The prosecutor did not authorize the prisoner’s release for an additional one and one-half months. The prisoner filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, which ruled that his continued detention violated constitutional provisions related to arbitrary detention.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 75 percent of persons in prison were pretrial detainees; the length of excess pretrial detentions–any period over five years for felony cases and three years for misdemeanors–varied from two to 11 years, according to a mediator’s report. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases as no more than five years and for misdemeanors as no more than three years. The government often exceeded these limits. In July 2015 the Criminal Court of Cotonou sentenced a defendant accused of killing an assailant in self-defense to six months in prison after the defendant had already spent five years in detention awaiting trial. Noting the five years he had already served in pretrial detention, the court ordered his immediate release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if determined to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. The government names judges at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, making them susceptible to government influence; however, there were no instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the creation in 2014 of an independent National Anti-Corruption Authority and the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges with free interpretation as necessary. A defendant has the right to be present at trial and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. A defendant has the right to confront witnesses and to have access to government-held evidence. Defendants are allowed to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. On February 8, the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and five private television stations, one public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these were openly critical of authorities, nearly always without consequence.

Unlike in previous years, there were few reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedoms: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in ensuring the press did not behave in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasi-governmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual–and perhaps inherently contradictory–role of ensuring press freedom and protecting the country against inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing coverage. On February 3, HAAC banned private television broadcaster Golfe TV from any political reporting, including coverage of news on the presidential election. HAAC issued this decision because Golfe TV violated a previous HAAC decree restricting media coverage of events prior to the official opening of the presidential election campaign season. On February 9, HAAC lifted the suspension following a meeting with members of the Federation of Radio and Television Employers.

On February 2, HAAC issued two decrees to grant all 33 presidential candidates equal access to state-owned and private media for publicizing their political agenda.

The government typically countered accusations of infringing on press freedom with arguments stating the need to support press freedoms while also preventing press activity that may threaten the stability of the country or willfully misinform the public. In January 2015 the government banned the reprint and distribution of an issue of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. The statement condemned the terrorist attacks that took place in France that month while simultaneously noting the government’s responsibility to provide for public safety and respect of religious principles and public figures.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Publications criticized the government freely and frequently. A nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations by controlling broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio had poorer coverage due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before a criminal court because it could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the ruling of the court. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned the 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: In January 2015, after years of lobbying by professional media associations, the National Assembly passed a revised press code, the Information and Communication Code, repealing the previous code that imposed prison sentences for conviction of certain abuses of freedom of expression. The press code, signed into law by the president in March 2015, disallows prison sentences for journalists charged with defamation and some other offenses. Although journalists may no longer be imprisoned for libel and slander, they may face legal prosecution and fines for incitement of crimes through the press.

In January 2015, prior to the enactment of the code, a broadcast journalist from the state-owned television station (ORTB) criticized a decision by the president to participate in a march in Paris against terrorism. He also called on the president to allow freedom of the press and political debates within public media. He was later suspended from doing live programs. Professional media associations, NGOs, and ethics groups denounced the measure as retaliatory. In response to trade union and NGO demonstrations, the ORTB director claimed the removal of the journalist was consistent with internal office regulations but then reinstated the television journalist.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 6.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Permits are required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. Although opposition groups cited instances in which they did not seek permits, anticipating they would be opposed, there were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

The government requires and generally granted permits for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to deny requests for permits from opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On July 12, security forces disbanded a peaceful demonstration to demand the replacement of obsolete medical equipment staged by health-care staff of the Abomey Hospital (central Benin). The mayor of Abomey declared the demonstration a “threat to public order.”

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 6 and March 20, the country held the first and second rounds of the presidential election. The vote proceeded calmly and credibly despite minor technical irregularities. Local and international observers unanimously characterized the voting process as peaceful and orderly. Observers identified some delays in the provision of voting materials to polling stations and evidence of training gaps of polling agents but no anomalies that would put the fundamental integrity of the election into doubt. In April 2015 authorities conducted legislative elections to elect the 83 National Assembly members. Observers viewed the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

In June 2015, after more than two years of delays, long-awaited local and municipal elections took place in generally free and fair conditions despite minor irregularities and logistical challenges, including the omission on ballots of some parties and coalitions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: President Talon appointed only three female ministers to his 21-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation.

On June 28, human rights associations issued a joint statement to express concerns regarding the government’s failure to observe gender parity in its high-ranking appointments, noting a decrease in the number of women appointed to decision-making positions in the Talon administration.

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 with impunity. Police corruption was widespread. Police extorted money from travelers at roadblocks. It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem.

The government took a number of actions during the year to combat corruption, however. For example, on April 19, the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC) referred three high-profile cases of corruption and other acts of economic malfeasance against the Office of Treasury and Public Accounting, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the National Council of Shippers to the prosecutor of the Court of Cotonou. On April 28, the authority conducted a session for court staff, gendarmes, police, civil society activists, and Ministry of Justice officials to discuss the triannual assessment of the legal procedures related to corruption and transnational organized crime.

Corruption: On July 7, the Council of Ministers acted on the findings of a commission appointed by the president that investigated fraud allegations related to the 2015 civil servant recruitment exams at the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Based on the findings, the council annulled the results of recruitment exams and excluded from future employment all the candidates found to be involved in the fraud and suspended and pursued legal action against officials involved in the fraud. In addition to 11 serving high-ranking government officials, authorities pursued legal action against former ministers of economy and finance Komi Koutche and of labor and public service Aboubacar Yaya.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected public officials. Declarations are not made available to the public. On March 18, the ANLC submitted an appeal to the National Assembly urging lawmakers to submit their asset disclosure statements to the Supreme Court pursuant to Article 3 of Benin’s Anti-Corruption Act. Reportedly only six out of the 83 sitting deputies in the National Assembly had submitted asset disclosure statements. At a March 6 cabinet meeting, which was publicized by the government and press, the president disclosed his assets as of the end of his term. The penalty for failure to submit an asset disclosure is a fine of six times the monthly wage of the official concerned. This penalty has never been applied.

Public Access to Information: In March 2015 the president signed into law an information and communication code that provides for increased access to government information and administrative and legal measures against government personnel who fail to grant such access. The law provides for citizen access to documents or information held by a public entity or its employees in the exercise of their duties. There are, however, several restrictions on public access to national security, trade, health, judicial, and other information deemed sensitive.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s ombudsman was independent, adequately resourced, and effective.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in the country’s transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. The Union for Progress and Change won 33 seats, and the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), won 18 seats. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.

Since the November 2015 presidential and legislative elections, civilian authorities have maintained effective control over security forces. Following an attempt to seize power in September 2015, the government dismantled the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) and integrated former RSP members into the regular army, except those at large or previously arrested for involvement in the putsch attempt. The unit subsequently responsible for presidential security included police officers, gendarmes, and soldiers.

The most significant human rights problems included reports of torture and killing by vigilante groups; life-threatening detention conditions, including long detention periods without trial; and violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Other human rights problems included judicial inefficiency and lack of independence; restrictions on freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly; official corruption; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities; societal violence; discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and forced labor and sex trafficking, including of children. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrest or violence against journalists.

Impunity remained a problem. The government investigated alleged violations of former officials but in most cases did not prosecute them.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices. Nevertheless, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and People reported that members of the security forces tortured, threatened, beat, and otherwise abused individuals (see section 1.a.).

For example, in April, Bokoum Salif, a 31-year-old driver in Dedougou arrested for stealing a computer at the house of the head of the local gendarme unit, died in gendarme custody. His relatives visited him while in custody and alleged after his death that he showed signs of physical abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Although regulations require the presence of a doctor and five nurses at the Ouagadougou Detention and Correction Center’s (MACO) health unit, only three nurses were on duty to treat detainees, and a doctor was present once a week. Prisoners’ diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Prison infrastructure throughout the country was decrepit. In MACO and other prisons, severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

On April 6, diplomatic representatives visited MACO to verify compliance with standards of detention and human rights. Their report cited overcrowding, malnutrition, sanitation, and health problems.

According to human rights organizations, deaths occurred in prisons and jails due to harsh conditions and neglect. Human rights activists estimated one or two inmates died monthly because of harsh prison conditions.

There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

Physical abuse was a problem in many detention centers across the country. For example, human rights organizations alleged that in May gendarmes tortured and killed two suspects. Investigations in these cases had not led to any arrests or prosecution by year’s end.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country, including the MACO. Conditions of detention were better for wealthy or influential citizens. For example, a former official charged with corruption reported he was held at MACO with other former officials charged with criminal offenses in an air-conditioned building that had refrigerators, televisions, and cooking facilities.

Administration: There were no reports prisons lost inmate files or authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.

Improvements: To deal with overcrowding, the government completed construction of a detention facility in Koupela and took action to improve living conditions throughout the prison system. With international donor support, the government built an outdoor recreation area at MACO and multipurpose recreation centers at other prison facilities. Authorities also initiated literacy and other programs for prisoners during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces did not always respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police and municipal police, under the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security, and the gendarmerie, under the same ministry as well as the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for internal security. The military, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assisted with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, a climate of impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.

The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but the results of their investigations were not always made public.

NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted training activities on human rights for security forces. On April 14, the ministry held a workshop on civics and the promotion and protection of human rights for armed forces trainers. The ministry also organized a workshop for police and gendarmes on legal prohibitions against child trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police and gendarmes must possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. By law detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. A judge may order temporary release pending trial without bail. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide for detainees to have access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. Police rarely observed the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 48 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. In April, following a strike organized by the magistrates’ union, the government increased magistrate salaries. Legal codes were outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence and to have access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses and have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The law extends these rights to all defendants, but the government did not always respect these rights, due in part to popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In October 2015 gendarmes arrested Leonce Kone, interim CDP president, and Hermann Yameogo, president of the National Union for Democracy and Development, for refusing to condemn the September RSP attempt to seize power. Authorities granted provisional release to Kone in July and released Yameogo in October.

On January 23, authorities arrested CDP President Eddie Komboigo and charged him with involvement in the preparation of the 2015 attempted putsch. Komboigo was granted provisional release in June for “medical reasons.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies) to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the Abidjan Common Court of Justice and Arbitration. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In September 2015 the government adopted a law decriminalizing press offenses. The law replaces prison sentences with penalties ranging from one million to five million CFA francs ($1,718 to $8,591). Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines.

Despite the advent of the 2015 law, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Individuals generally criticized the government without reprisal, but security forces arrested political leaders for their statements during the year (see sections 1.e. and 3).

Press and Media Freedoms: There were numerous independent newspapers, satirical weeklies, and radio and television stations, some of which strongly criticized the government. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference. Government media outlets–including newspapers, television, and radio–sometimes displayed a progovernment bias but allowed significant opposition participation in their newspaper and television programming. On June 17, the minister of communications stated that government-owned national television news broadcasts should begin with the activities of government officials and that journalists employed by government media should either support the government or resign. On July 21, the journalists’ union denounced the minister for his statement, and in September the journalists’ union launched strikes and demanded that the government end “intimidation and pressure.”

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Superior Council of Communication (CSC) monitored the content of radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security. On February 19, the CSC suspended private newspaper L’Evenement for one month following its February 10 publication of information the CSC categorized as military secrets. On February 22, L’Evenement published a statement denouncing the CSC decision describing it as an attack on press freedom. The newspaper took the case to the Administrative Court of Ouagadougou; the court reversed the suspension.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Association of Burkina Journalists, on June 9, gendarmes threatened and verbally assaulted William Somda of BF1 Television, a private broadcasting company, as he was filming a peaceful event. The head of the gendarmerie apologized for the incident, but no disciplinary or judicial actions were taken against the gendarmes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on insulting the head of state, the law also prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship. On February 26, police ordered the Burkina Information Agency to remove an article from the agency’s website that it considered offensive, entitled, “Fara: Bandits shut down police station before robbing it.” Police stated that the report was false and forced the agency to issue a denial of the story.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet, although the CSC monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. Authorities sometimes banned or violently dispersed demonstrations.

For example, RSP soldiers used force, including gunfire, to disperse and prevent public gatherings following the September 2015 attempt to seize power (see section 1.a.) and during a 2014 popular uprising. In October 2015 an independent commission was created to investigate RSP use of force during the 2014 uprising. The commission cited more than 30 individuals, including former president Blaise Compaore and former prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, as responsible for RSP-inflicted injuries and homicides. Legal action had yet to be taken against the accused by year’s end.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and fines of between 100,000 and two million CFA francs ($172 and $3,436). These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections were held in November 2015. On May 22, elections to replace municipal and regional councils dissolved by the transitional government in 2014 were held. Voter turnout was lower than usual. Voting did not occur in three of the 368 communes. In several areas of the country, the postelectoral selection process of mayors by municipal councils was marred by clashes among political party activists, resulting in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries in Karangasso and Kantchari. The government condemned the violence and promised swift judicial action. By year’s end no legal action was taken against anyone involved in the violence.

The April 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council (CNT) stipulates the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code states that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” are ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In addition to exclusion from the 2015 legislative and presidential elections, a number of candidates were also excluded from the municipal elections in May. In April administrative courts rejected appeals filed by political opponents of the former ruling party against a number of its candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and members of minorities did participate. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement during the municipal elections. Parties that did not comply with the law received only a portion of their electoral grants from the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security. In contrast 39 of the 99 parties that participated in the November 2015 legislative elections adhered to the gender quota law.

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. Local NGOs criticized what they called the overwhelming corruption of senior civil servants. They reported pervasive corruption in the customs service, gendarmerie, tax agencies, national police, municipal police, public health service, municipal governments, education sector, government procurement, and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion. NGOs categorized procurement as the most corrupt government sector. They reported a lack of political will to fight corruption, citing the appointment by the current administration of individuals to higher positions who were previously the subjects of corruption cases.

Corruption: In June 2015 the Ouagadougou Court of Appeals sentenced former director of customs Ousmane Guiro to a two-year suspended prison term in connection with a 2012 corruption case involving 900 million CFA francs ($1.5 million). The court ordered the confiscation of Guiro’s assets and fined him 10 million CFA francs ($17, 182). The prosecutor appealed Guiro’s suspended sentence to the Court of Cassation, which accepted the case but had not brought it to trial by year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: In March 2015 the CNT adopted an anticorruption law that requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

On June 28, the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum jail term of 20 years and fines of up to 25 million CFA francs ($43, 000). The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection to lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of five to 25 million CFA francs ($8,591 to $42,000). In April a law was passed limiting the value of a gift a government official could receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

Public Access to Information: In August 2015 the CNT adopted a law establishing the right of access to public information and administrative documents. In the past, ministries generally did not respond to requests for information, citing national security and confidentiality.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities, public institutions, and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial. During 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the office registered 560 complaints, approximately 59 percent of which it resolved.

The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion is responsible for the protection and promotion of human and civil rights and conducts education campaigns for security force members to raise their awareness of human rights.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. The Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights, which did not participate on the commission, charged that it was subject to government influence. Although inadequately funded, the commission continued to be more effective and visible in promoting human rights than in previous years.

Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The government of Cabo Verde is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, largely modeled on the Portuguese system. Constitutional powers are shared between the head of state, President Jorge Carlos Fonseca, and head of government, Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva. The Supreme Court, the National Electoral Commission, and international observers declared the 2016 nationwide legislative elections generally free and fair.

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

The most serious human rights problems occurred in the following areas: overcrowding of prisons, child abuse, and violence and discrimination against women.

Other human rights problems included excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained by police; trafficking in persons, including some instances of child sexual exploitation; and forced child labor.

Although the government took steps to prosecute and punish public officials who committed human rights abuses, the process was lengthy. The National Police took disciplinary action against officers who acted outside the law. The government sometimes downplayed or disregarded police abuses.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Media, however, continued to cite instances of physical violence. The most common types of abuses were excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained by police. In most cases the National Police Council took action against abusers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding and inadequate housing and sanitation, mainly at the Central Prison of Praia.

Physical Conditions: There are five prisons in the country; the two largest had populations that substantially exceeded capacity (indicated in parentheses). The Central Prison of Praia (CCP) had 1,110 inmates (880), the Central Prison of Sao Vicente 286 (180), the regional prison of Santo Antao 34 (50), the prison on Sal Island 90 (250), and Fogo 49 (50).

Prisoners also complained about inadequate sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and heating. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. There were too few corrections officers to deal with the growing number of such prisoners. Conditions were markedly better for female prisoners, who generally had significantly more space and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners.

During the year there was one death reported in prison.

The government sent some prisoners to the CCP to separate inmates based on trial status, gender, and age, but there were cases of youths sharing cells with adults.

Administration: The Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Cabo Verdean Institute for Gender Equality and Equity–a government agency–and the National Statistics Institute (INE) worked together to establish uniform standards for data collection and recordkeeping.

There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.

Prisoners’ relatives reported complaints, but corrections officials claimed all had been investigated and disproven.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the press made frequent visits to prisons to record conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement. The Judiciary Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for major investigations. The armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for protecting the national territory (maritime and terrestrial) and sovereignty of the country. Logistical constraints, including a shortage of vehicles and communications equipment, and poor forensic capacity continued to limit police effectiveness.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police (including the Coast Guard, National Guard, National Police, and Judiciary Police), and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Authorities investigated abuses by police, and most investigations resulted in legal action against those responsible. During the first eight months of the year, the National Police Council received 16 reports of police violence; most cases concerned physical abuse. The National Police Disciplinary Board reviewed the cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant issued by the Attorney General’s Office, unless police apprehend the person in the act of committing a felony. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. Even if there is incriminating evidence, suspected criminals are not arrested until a decision is made by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. In most cases, however, detainees waited more than 48 hours for their hearings. The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to family members and to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice if the detainee could afford it. For a detainee or family unable to pay, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints a lawyer.

The judicial system was overburdened and understaffed, and criminal cases frequently ended when charges were dropped before a determination of guilt or innocence was made.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The judicial system, however, lacked sufficient staffing and was inefficient.

There is a military court, which cannot try civilians. The military court provides the same protections as civil criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continued for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense; the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ). The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts are impartial and independent and handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or an injunction ordering the cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human right bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and 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 speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the Cabo Verdean National Communications Authority’s 2016 Second Quarter Report, 59 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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.

Residents who are not Cabo Verdean citizens are able to vote in municipal elections. Any foreigner residing in Cabo Verde for more than three years can vote in municipal elections. Any resident from a member country of the Community of Countries of Portuguese Language (CPLP)–which includes Angola, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and Timor-Leste–can vote in municipal elections regardless of how long they have resided in Cabo Verde. Only Cabo Verdean citizens, including those living outside the country, can vote in legislative and presidential elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won 40 seats in the National Assembly with approximately 53 percent of the vote, returning the party to power for the first time in 15 years. The ruling party, African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 29 seats with 37 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde (UCID) won the remaining three seats with 6 percent. International observers characterized these elections as generally free and fair.

The most recent presidential election took place on October 2. Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the candidate supported by the MpD, won the election with approximately 74 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized these elections as free, transparent, and credible. Observers noted some irregularities, however, including voters being pressured near polling stations to vote for certain candidates and allegations of vote buying.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Male dominance in positions of power continued despite efforts to promote women’s advancement.

Women’s participation fell in positions within the central government but remained particularly high on the SCJ, and especially in prosecutorial positions. At the local level, however, in community associations and on city councils, women had less representation.

Women held 17 of the 72 National Assembly seats and occupied three of the 11 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled three of the eight seats on the SCJ, including the presidency, and one female mayor was elected in the 2012 municipal elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, especially at the municipal level, although there were no new reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Polling released by Afrobarometer in September 2015 showed citizens’ perceptions of corruption in the country had risen in comparison with 2013. The study revealed these perceptions of increased corruption extended beyond the National Assembly and other elected bodies to the National Police, which 19 percent of citizens considered corrupt.

Financial Disclosure: The law sets parameters for public officials to submit declarations of interest, income, and family wealth, and regulates public discussion of this information. These declarations should include any asset worth more than 500,000 escudos ($5,043). Failure to submit a declaration may lead to a prohibition on public officials holding office for a period of one to five years. The SCJ must approve public disclosure of the declarations. When involved in criminal cases of alleged corruption, public officials must declare or prove the source of their income or wealth. The SCJ is in charge of monitoring the law and enforcing compliance, but enforcement was poor.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information without restriction, provided privacy rights are respected. The government frequently granted access.

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

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

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic ruled by a freely elected government. In legislative elections held on December 18, the ruling government coalition won 66 percent of National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated and won seats. The elections were peaceful and considered inclusive and transparent. The country held a presidential election in October 2015, in which President Alassane Ouattara was re-elected by a significant majority. International and domestic observers judged the election to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In April the United Nations lifted all sanctions on the country and renewed the mandate of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) for a final year, until June 2017. Despite continued but slow improvements in security and political reconciliation, the government’s efforts to restore the rule of law and address impunity after the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis remained incomplete.

The most serious human rights problems were security force abuses, including extrajudicial killings and the abuse of detainees and prisoners, and the government’s inability to enforce the rule of law. The Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FACI), formerly known as the Republican Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, and the gendarmerie were responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions, including at the informal detention centers they operated.

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening, and lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The judiciary was inefficient and lacked independence. The government restricted freedom of press and assembly. Corruption in government was pervasive. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) faced insecure and difficult living conditions. Statelessness remained extensive. Discrimination, sexual assault, and violence against women and children occurred. Societal discrimination against ethnic groups, persons with disabilities, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, and victims of HIV/AIDS were problems. Employers subjected children and informal-sector workers to forced labor and hazardous conditions, particularly in rural areas.

The government seldom took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem. Several high-level individuals aligned with the government were reportedly responsible for human rights violations in the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, and some of those individuals retained senior security force positions.

There were allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers deployed to UNOCI.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

According to a July report by UNOCI’s Human Rights Division, there were 1,129 reported rape cases with 1,149 victims from 2012-15. Of that number, 76 percent of victims were children, and 7 percent of alleged perpetrators were state agents, particularly members of FACI and teachers.

According to Amnesty International, police raped one student and sexually abused another during university protests in April. The government denied the allegations and did not take action against the accused.

The United Nations reported that between January 1 and December 20, it received four allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers deployed to UNOCI, with two alleged incidents occurring during the year, one in 2012, and one for which the date was unknown. These allegations involved military peacekeepers from Senegal, Niger, and Pakistan. Of the four allegations, two involved minors. The two allegations against Senegalese peacekeepers, one of which involved a minor, and the allegation against a Nigerien military observer, were being investigated by the United Nations. There was no result by the end of the year. The allegation against the Pakistani peacekeeper, which involved a minor, was being investigated by the government of Pakistan. There were no results by the end of the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding continued in many prisons. At the end of November, there were 11,192 prisoners, of whom an estimated 193 were minors and 237 were women. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 3,845 as of September 21. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity.

Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors; however, critical health care for prisoners was not always available at local hospitals or clinics. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided nutritional supplements to vulnerable prisoners, such as pregnant women and the elderly. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons.

According to government figures, 55 prisoners died through September 26. In February an armed confrontation between security forces and detainees at the central prison of Abidjan resulted in the deaths of a prison warden and 10 detainees, including Yacouba Coulibaly, alias “Yacou the Chinese,” who, with his men, had reportedly controlled parts of the prison. Two trials resulting from the confrontation continued at year’s end.

Authorities did not always hold men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Wealthy prisoners reportedly could buy extra cell space, food, and other amenities as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 500 CFA francs ($0.85) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center.

No information on conditions at irregular or informal detention centers operated by the FACI or Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was available, as the government did not allow local or international NGOs to access them.

Administration: Prison records were destroyed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, and the government did not take significant measures to restore records. Record keeping that resumed after the crisis was not always adequate. The law provides for work-release programs and alternatives to incarceration for youths. In May, for example, 63 young offenders arrested in 2014 graduated from an 18-month reinsertion program in Bonoua, where they learned carpentry and sewing. Although sentencing magistrates were responsible for alternatives to sentencing and facilitating conditional release for inmates, there were fewer than 20 of them across all courts and they did not function effectively. There was no prison ombudsman, but prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities. Prison authorities had limited incentive or capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in their absence due to lack of transport from prison to court.

Authorities generally permitted visitors in formal prisons. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly intermittent or nonexistent in informal detention centers operated by the FACI and DST.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and international NGOs adequate access to formal prisons. The government did not grant them access to informal detention centers run by the FACI and DST. Local human rights groups reported sporadic access to prisons.

Improvements: Unlike in the previous year, potable water was available in all formal prisons and detention centers, both for drinking and bathing.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. The FACI (which lacks arrest authority), DST, and other authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, often without charge. They held many of these detainees briefly before releasing them or transferring them to formal prisons and detention centers, but detained others for lengthy periods. The United Nations reported several incidents of detention in undisclosed and unauthorized facilities.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) and gendarmerie (under the Ministry of Defense) are responsible for law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions (CCDO), a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and FACI personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The FACI (under the Ministry of Defense) is responsible for national defense. The DST (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) has responsibility for countering external threats. The FACI, who were better trained and equipped than police or gendarmerie, continued to perform functions normally associated with those entities. The national gendarmerie assumed control from the FACI for all security functions on national roadways, such as running authorized checkpoints. Nevertheless, the FACI still operated unauthorized security checkpoints, especially near borders, where they engaged in extortion.

While FACI forces were better trained and equipped than police or gendarmes, they were not adequately trained or equipped and lacked an adequate command and control structure. Corruption and impunity were endemic in the FACI and other security forces, including police, gendarmerie, CCDO, and DST.

Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in many communities, although they had no legal authority to arrest or detain. The government discouraged the Dozos, whom most residents feared, from assuming security roles.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged internal abuses perpetrated by the security services, but investigations and prosecutions rarely occurred.

Security forces failed at times to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly during intercommunal clashes over land tenure. In some cases gendarmes or FACI personnel restored order when police failed to respond.

On March 2, in collaboration with the Economic Community of West African States, the government adopted a decree establishing a national center to coordinate early warning responses to crises. The role of the center, which was not operational by year’s end, included preventing conflict, fighting terrorism, and reducing response times following crisis alerts.

In June the Cell for Coordination and Monitoring of Reintegration (CCSR)–created in July 2015 to continue the reintegration process for ex-combatants following the expiration of the mandate of the Authority for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (ADDR)–completed its work. According to the government, more than 69,000 former combatants were reintegrated as a result of ADDR and CCSR processes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law allows investigative magistrates or the national prosecutor to order the detention of a suspect for 48 hours without bringing charges. Nevertheless, police often arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. In special cases, such as suspected actions against state security, the national prosecutor can authorize an additional 48-hour period of preventive custody. An investigating magistrate can request pretrial detention for up to four months at a time by submitting a written justification to the national prosecutor. First-time offenders charged with minor offenses may be held for a maximum of five days after their initial hearing before the investigative magistrate. Repeat minor offenders and those accused of felonies may be held for six and 18 months, respectively.

While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security and involving the FACI and the DST. In other cases magistrates could not verify whether detainees who were not charged had been released. A bail system exists but was used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees to have access to lawyers. In cases involving national security, authorities did not allow access to lawyers and family members. For other serious crimes, the government provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but offenders charged with less serious offenses often had no lawyer. Human rights observers reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside of their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: On August 10, DST agents arrested without warrant Antoinette Meho, leader of the women’s wing of the opposition Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI). Meho was held without access to family or her lawyers for several days before being transferred to the central prison in Abidjan. According to the justice minister, Meho was charged with undermining state security and remained in detention awaiting trial at year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. According to government figures, as of September 21, approximately 44 percent of all prison inmates and 57 percent of inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention, including some minors. In many cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and lack of training contributed to lengthy pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention and to obtain release if found to have been unlawfully detained, this rarely occurred because most detainees were unaware of this right and had limited access to public defenders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases. The judiciary was inadequately resourced and inefficient. The continued lack of civilian indictments against pro-Ouattara elements for crimes during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis indicated the judiciary was subject to political and executive influence. There were also numerous reports of judicial corruption, and bribes often influenced rulings. During the last two years, the General Inspectorate of Judicial Inspections opened disciplinary investigations based on field audits of all 36 courts in the country; however, no magistrates or clerks had been disciplined or dismissed by year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect this requirement. In the past Assize Courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving major crimes) rarely convened. Starting in 2015, however, they convened for one session per year in several cities to hear a backlog of cases. Defendants accused of felonies have the right to legal counsel at their own expense. Other defendants may also seek legal counsel. The judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys, although only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may not access government-held evidence, although their attorneys have the legal right to do so. Defendants may present their own witnesses or evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports this abuse sometimes occurred. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence. Those convicted had access to appeals courts in Abidjan, Bouake, and Daloa, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.

Military tribunals did not try civilians or provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to order a retrial.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Amnesty International listed 226 persons arrested between the beginning of 2011 and September as political prisoners. Of the 226, all of whom remained in prison at year’s end, 20 suffered from various ailments, and more than half were malnourished.

Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s FPI party–detained on charges, including economic crimes, armed robbery, looting, and embezzlement–were political prisoners, especially when charged for actions committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis.

Opposition and government representatives offered differing assessments of the number of political detainees remaining in custody. A government-created platform for dialogue with the opposition met several times during the year to discuss these detainees and other issues concerning the opposition. The government released all but three of the 90 persons arrested in connection with the 2015 presidential election. In September the government released 10 persons associated with the FPI, and in March it released 70 of 300 persons whose release was requested by the FPI.

Political prisoners were given the same protections as other prisoners, including ICRC access.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the judiciary was subject to corruption, outside influence, and favoritism based on family and ethnic ties. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. The judiciary was slow and inefficient, and there were problems in enforcing domestic court orders.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Council (CNP), the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government.

In May the CNP suspended for one month a journalist with LG Infos, a pro-Gbagbo daily newspaper, who wrote an article about an alleged shooting that resulted in the death of a young French-Lebanese man in front of the president’s residence. The CNP ruled that the information was false and led to xenophobic and hateful discourse.

Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by private radio stations. There were no private television stations.

In a continuing effort at media liberalization, on March 1, the High Audiovisual Communications Authority announced the results of the 2015 bidding by private cable and satellite television providers for operating licenses. Three multinational companies received licenses, and the Ministry of Communication stated the companies would have complete editorial freedom and the option of transmitting locally produced content, such as news and other informational programs. An additional bidding process for local providers opened in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. In February the state-run Ivoirian Radio and Television suspended production of live television and radio programs by some religious groups, NGOs, and traditional healers; the suspension remained in effect at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal libel is punishable by one to three years in prison.

National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities permitted suspended newspapers to publish their full content online. One website estimated 22 percent of the population had home-based access to the internet via computer or mobile device. With a mobile phone penetration rate of virtually 100 percent, however, internet access by mobile device was likely much higher.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Violent clashes in July, however, between security forces and student unions protesting the government’s plan to house athletes in the Francophone Games in student housing at the University of Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan during the summer of 2017 resulted in injuries to students and security force members. Approximately 30 students were arrested. The government subsequently suspended all student union activities on university grounds and stationed security forces at the university.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.

In July, in Yopougon (a Gbagbo-leaning neighborhood in western Abidjan), police arrested three pro-Gbagbo activists organizing the signing of a petition for the release of the former president from the ICC. They were released after two weeks.

Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators resulted in injuries and at least one death. In August the military tribunal sentenced Staff Sergeant Gervais Zoukou to 18 months in prison for striking a student with disabilities with his car during June protests at the University of Felix Houphouet-Boigny. The student subsequently died.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, ethnicity was often a key factor in party membership.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In legislative elections held on December 18, the ruling government coalition won 66 percent of the 255 National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated and won seats. The elections were considered peaceful, inclusive, and transparent. In the October 2015 presidential election, President Alassane Ouattara was re-elected by a significant majority. International and domestic observers judged this election to be free and fair.

On October 30, the government conducted a referendum on a new constitution to replace the postmilitary coup constitution of 2000. The process for drafting the new constitution–and to a certain extent the content itself–was contentious. Opposition parties and some local and international organizations claimed the process was neither inclusive nor transparent and criticized the new text for strengthening the role of the executive branch. Despite an opposition boycott, the referendum passed overwhelmingly in a peaceful process that was inclusive and generally transparent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines. Ethnicity, however, was often a key factor in party membership. Opposition leaders reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits.

For example, on October 3, the prefect of the district of Abidjan refused a permit for the planned October 5 opposition sit-in at the national assembly, where the president was scheduled to present the new constitution to deputies. The opposition postponed its protest until the following Saturday, but opposition leader, Mamadou Koulibaly, defied the ban and was arrested; Koulibaly was released two hours later.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did so. Cultural and traditional beliefs, however, limited the role of women. Of 253 national assembly members, 26 were women; of 197 mayors, 11 were women; of 31 regional council presidents, one was a woman. A few women held more prominent positions, including that of first vice president of the national assembly, nine of 36 cabinet ministers, and several chairs of important commissions.

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. Media and human rights groups reported significant official corruption. Transparency International indicated corruption was a severe problem, having the greatest effect on judicial proceedings, accountability of the security forces, contract awards, and customs and tax matters.

Corruption: On May 26, the government fired the director and deputy director of the Cotton and Cashew Council following an audit.

In May the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent administrative authority with legal and financial autonomy, reported corruption in 33 percent of the cases it investigated; 64 percent of HABG cases originated from public submissions.

The Independent National Public Procurement Regulatory Agency (ANRMP) is responsible for supporting, monitoring, and enforcing fair competition for government contracts. Following a 2014 report that 57 percent of all government contracts were sole-sourced, ANRMP began auditing government contracts. It found that from March 2015 to March, 78 percent of approved contracts were executed through competitive bidding.

Financial Disclosure: A presidential decree requires the head of state, ministers, heads of national institutions, and directors of administration to disclose their income and assets. Unlike in the past, when there was no penalty for noncompliance, in March 2015 the HABG started requiring public officials to submit a wealth declaration within 30 days of the beginning of their term in office. The declaration was confidential, but the list of those who have declared their wealth was publicly accessible in the official government journal. Officials who did not comply or provided a false declaration faced fines equal to six months of their salary. As of October approximately 50 percent of officials had declared their assets, and no one had been fined.

Public Access to Information: The law grants public access to government data, with the exception of information vital for the preservation of state security. Data relating to government activities and budgeting was largely available but varied among ministries and was often delayed. Much of the Ministry of Finance’s data, including the national budget, was accessible on its website. Public procurement was generally transparent. The ANRMP quickly provided key information on procurement without charge, and it had a transparent decision making and public appeals process. If requested data was not provided, ANRMP referred the case to the Public Documents and Public Interest Information Access Commission, an independent administrative authority with the power to compel and sanction other public institutions not complying with the law.

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

A number of international and domestic 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 a January cabinet reshuffle, the president created the Ministry of Human Rights and Public Freedom, headed by Paulette Badjo Ezouehu, former head of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). The government-funded ministry is responsible for implementing and monitoring the government’s policy on human rights, a function previously under the Ministry of Justice. The CNDH is an advisory body under the Ministry of Human Rights and consults on, conducts evaluations of, and creates proposals to promote, protect, and defend human rights. The ministry was neither adequately funded nor effective.

During the January cabinet reshuffle, the government also created the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and Victims’ Compensation, funded by the government and headed by Mariatou Kone. Before creation of the ministry, issues of social cohesion and victim compensation were the responsibility of two state institutions–the National Commission for Reconciliation and Reparations for Victims in Cote d’Ivoire (CONARIV) and the National Program for Social Cohesion. During the year the ministry, which had an adequate budget and operated effectively, facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees, promoting social cohesion and compensating victims of crises based on a CONARIV list. The elevation of these issues to ministerial level reflected the president’s stated second-term goal of reconciliation.

In January, UNOCI and the FACI added the CNDH to the Joint Mechanism on Human Rights to share information, address allegations of FACI human rights violations, and coordinate human rights activities within the FACI. In August the CNDH began opening offices outside Abidjan to assume some of the monitoring and other activities from UNOCI’s Human Rights Division, which was scheduled to close in March 2017. Although the CNDH is chartered as a nongovernmental independent body, its funding was fully dependent on approval by the Ministry of Justice, and its offices outside of Abidjan were not fully staffed or equipped.

The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell (Special Cell) within the Ministry of Justice continued to investigate and try alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis. The Special Cell had an indefinite mandate but lacked sufficient resources and staff.

In March 2015 the government established CONARIV to provide for and distribute monetary compensation to victims of the crises from 1990 to 2011. The government allocated 10 billion CFA francs ($17,035,000) for this effort. On April 19, CONARIV presented its final report to the president, including a consolidated list of victims, a draft reconciliation plan, and a national reparation policy proposal. CONARIV validated applications for compensation of 316,954 victims from the 874,056 requests submitted to it. CONARIV officially concluded its activities at the end of April, and the Ministry of Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and Victims’ Compensation was responsible for paying reparations. CONARIV’s final report and recommendations were not made public.

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the 2016 elections. The campaigns were largely peaceful, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted on December 7 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible. New Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate Nana Akufo-Addo secured in excess of 53 percent of votes cast, defeating National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate and incumbent President John Mahama by more than 9 percentage points. President Mahama conceded the election on December 9. NPP candidates won 169 parliamentary seats, with the NDC securing the remaining 106 seats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights problems were excessive force by police, including torture that resulted in death and injuries; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; trafficking in persons; and exploitative child labor, including forced child labor.

Other human rights problems included rape by police; prolonged pretrial detention; assault and harassment of journalists; corruption in all branches of government; violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; societal discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; politically motivated and vigilante violence.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity remained a problem.

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat, raped, and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. Beatings of suspects and other citizens occurred throughout the country but were generally unreported in official channels because victims were reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) received a report alleging military officers tortured a 16-year-old boy in Tamale. As of November the CHRAJ had concluded its investigation, but a final report was pending.

In 2015 UN special rapporteur Juan E. Mendez received reports that torture and other mistreatment occurred with frequency during apprehension, arrest, and interrogation of suspects, and particularly as a means to extract confessions by police. CHRAJ investigations into reports of police beating detainees upon arrest in Ho and Accra were underway as of November.

The United Nations reported that during the year (as of December 20), it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against Ghana peacekeepers for one alleged incident occurring in 2015. The allegation involved military personnel deployed to the UN Mission in Liberia. According to the United Nations, the allegation was pending investigation by the government of Ghana at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in October indicated that it held 13,685 prisoners (13,496 men and 189 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Authorities held juveniles separately from adults in the Senior Correctional Center in Accra and housed pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but in separate cells. They held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

In his 2013 visit, UN special rapporteur Mendez characterized prison overcrowding as “alarming.” Some cellblocks in Nsawam Prison contained 115 convicted prisoners sharing a space of approximately 415 square feet. The pretrial detention sections were often even more congested, with cells so overcrowded (40 in a cell designed for four) prisoners were lying head to toe in a fetal position. Prisoners in Sekondi Prison slept in shifts, sitting up, due to lack of space. Many prisoners slept on the floor without a mattress, mat, or blanket. In his follow-up assessment in 2015, Mendez observed no improvements in these prison conditions. The government made progress in reducing the population at many of the major prisons. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, however, with prisons holding approximately two to four times more prisoners than designed capacity.

The government reported 48 deaths in custody, all from natural causes.

Both guards and other prisoners reportedly physically abused prisoners. Prison guards sometimes allegedly used caning to enforce prison rules, carried out usually by “black coats,” a term referring to model prisoners. While the government acknowledged the existence of “black coats,” it denied it gave them special powers or allowed them to exercise disciplinary functions. The CHRAJ and Ghana Prisons Service reported receiving no complaints of guards physically abusing prisoners.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on their families to supplement their diet. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, but they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Ghana Prisons Service registered more than half of inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. During the year the Ghana Prisons Service acquired additional vehicles and busses to facilitate the transfer of prisoners, including for medical care. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held 29 prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.

Religious organizations, charities, and private businesses and citizens often provided services and materials to the prisons, such as medicine and food. Some organizations reported administrators at the prisons demanded bribes before permitting them to enter.

A study released in August found that as of 2011, 1.6 percent of prisoners in Kumasi, Nsawam, and Sunyani prisons were persons with disabilities, although mental disabilities were likely underreported. Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, the study found the design of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they had to compete with other prisoners for access to health care and recreational facilities.

Administration: Inadequate recordkeeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years. For example, after prisoners destroyed records during a 2015 riot in Kumasi Prison, judicial officials issued new warrants but did not backdate them to the initial date of incarceration. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable authority to respond to complaints. Authorities investigated few cases of complaints because there was a general reluctance to complain, even when there were allegations of police brutality or use of excessive force. Due to lack of information, few investigations were undertaken of personnel who may be responsible for an offense under Section 25 of the Prisons Service Act, which prohibits the use of torture or harsh treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role; for example, in protection of critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in Accra and some regions. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat, raped, and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained.

The Inspector General of Police, CHRAJ, and PIPS investigate claims security forces used excessive force. PIPS also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. As of August PIPS received more than 900 complaints; 25 of these cases were completed and 749 remained under investigation. Over this period PIPS investigated 200 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 145 reports of undue delay of investigation, 109 reports of unfair treatment, 52 reports of police brutality, 50 reports of unlawful arrest and detention, 22 reports of extortion, and one report each of stealing, a shooting incident, and robbery. As of August, 66 officers had been dismissed as a result of PIPS investigations, but none had been criminally prosecuted.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest and provides for arraignment within 48 hours, but police made frequent arrests without warrants and detained individuals without charge for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer, and the government is not required to provide legal counsel. The government employed only 21 full-time legal aid lawyers in the country, and they primarily handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that a detainee who has not been tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance in court at a later date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In May the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the criminal procedure code that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were continued reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5.5 percent of all complaint cases PIPS received through August.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in October indicated that 2,295 prisoners, 16.8 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The length of the pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, or to “lose” records.

Following the 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations. By year’s end the judiciary dismissed 12 High Court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff from their positions as a result of the investigation. No charges or criminal proceedings were initiated against the judges involved.

Despite alternate dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial inefficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators were trained to conduct ADR, and they worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

The Chieftaincy Act gives village and other traditional chiefs the power to mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. The authority of traditional rulers continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed public complaints, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have a right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants do not have the right to access government-held evidence, although there are judicial decisions that indicate the defense is entitled to evidence in the possession of the prosecution. In practice, however, prosecutors customarily resisted providing such access unless defense counsel requested it. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Violence and Harassment: Government authorities and security officials sometimes assaulted and harassed journalists throughout the country. In one instance the Supreme Court fined and sentenced a radio presenter and two on-air panelists to four months’ imprisonment for what the court alleged were threats against judges in a pending case. The court order also fined the radio station and insisted the broadcaster take steps to prevent such comments’ being broadcast in the future. A presidential reprieve released the imprisoned radio presenter and panelists after one month.

Local media widely carried allegations police officers in Gomoa Ojobi in Central Region assaulted and detained a reporter from a local television and radio station. In another example, media carried stories alleging a journalist was arrested for taking photographs of a police officer soliciting a bribe from a bus driver.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 23 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the 2016 elections. The Electoral Commission took steps to ensure the elections were free and fair, including by conducting a public voter registration verification exercise. The campaigns were largely peaceful, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence. For example, attackers ransacked Electoral Commission offices in Suhum and Asunafo South in September. There were also reports of violence between NPP and NDC supporters and party-affiliated vigilante groups. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted on December 7 were peaceful. Domestic and international observers, such as the European Union Election Observation Mission and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers, assessed the election to be transparent, inclusive, and credible. Seven candidates vied for the presidency, including one independent candidate. NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo secured more than 53 percent of votes cast, defeating NDC candidate and incumbent President John Mahama by more than 9 percent. President Mahama conceded the election on December 9. NPP candidates won 169 parliamentary seats, with the NDC securing the remaining 106 seats. The Ghana Integrity Initiative, Ghana Center for Democratic Development, Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition, Citizen’s Movement against Corruption, and European Union Election Observation Mission noted concerns over the misuse of incumbency and unequal access granted to state-owned media during the campaign. Reports also noted a regional bias in elections coverage, with Greater Accra and Ashanti regions receiving significantly more attention than other regions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minorities from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens. Women, however, held fewer leadership positions than men, and some observers believed cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Women held 30 seats in the outgoing 275-member parliament. The 2016 elections resulted in 37 women being elected to parliament. Presidential candidates included one woman and one disabled person. Reports indicated female candidates received substantially less media coverage than their male counterparts.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, and various reputable national and international surveys such as the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators and Afrobarometer highlighted the prevalence of corruption in the country. More than 91 percent of respondents to a 2015 survey by the Institute of Economic Affairs said overall corruption was high or very high.

Corruption: As a result of the 2015 investigation into widespread corruption in the judiciary, two High Court judges were dismissed in April and one in June, bringing the total number of judges dismissed to 23. In June an investigative journalist revealed evidence President Mahama had accepted a vehicle in 2012 from an individual who had been awarded two government contracts. The CHRAJ determined in September that, while the president had contravened the gift policy under the code of conduct for public officers, his actions were not in violation of the applicable rules on conflicts of interest and the gift did not constitute a bribe. In September the opposition NPP accused the government of corruption in the issuance of several sole-source contracts, including the renovation of Kumasi airport’s runway and a city bus branding project.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution’s code of conduct for public officers establishes an income and asset declaration requirement for the head of state, ministers, cabinet members, members of parliament, and civil servants. All elected and some appointed public officials are required to make these declarations every four years and before leaving office. Financial disclosures can also be requested through court order, but only the auditor general is allowed to review documents so obtained. Financial information typically was not disclosed to the public.

Public Access to Information: The constitution provides for public access to government information, but obtaining such access was difficult. Government offices kept poor records, many official records were missing, and requests for information often received no reply. The country is a party to the Open Government Partnership–an international initiative signed in 2011 to enhance transparency, citizen participation, accountability, and technology and innovation within government–but implementation of its commitments under this initiative was uneven.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHRAJ, which mediated and settled cases brought by individuals against government agencies or private companies, operated with no overt interference from the government; however, since it is itself a government institution, some critics questioned its ability independently to investigate high-level corruption. Its biggest obstacle was a lack of adequate funding, which resulted in low salaries, poor working conditions, and the loss of many of its staff to other governmental organizations and NGOs. Public confidence in the CHRAJ was high, resulting in an increased workload for its staff.

Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea is a constitutional democratic republic in the early stages of a transition from decades of authoritarian rule. On October 11, 2015, the country held its second democratic presidential election, and incumbent President Alpha Conde won with 58 percent of the vote. The political campaign was more peaceful than the 2010 presidential and 2013 legislative elections, but a few deaths occurred during skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces.

Despite tighter rules of engagement and a prohibition on the use of lethal force during street protests, elements of the security forces on occasion acted independently of civilian control.

The most serious human rights problems remained life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; denial of fair trial; and violence and discrimination against women and girls, including sexual abuse, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Other human rights problems included: security force killings and use of excessive force against civilians, including torture to extract confessions; arbitrary arrest; lengthy pretrial detention and indefinite detention, including of political prisoners; arbitrary interference with family and home; restrictions on freedoms of press and assembly; corruption at all levels of government; discrimination against persons with disabilities; and human trafficking, including forced child labor.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses during the year or in years past.

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishments, human rights observers stated government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity. The old criminal code did not criminalize torture; however, on October 26, the new penal code was promulgated. The new code reconciles Guinean law with international conventions on torture. Security force personnel used violence to quell demonstrations, which resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 2.b.).

Abuse of inmates in prisons and in judicial police and gendarme detention centers continued at previous levels. Gendarmes and police designated as “judicial police officers” (OPJs) routinely abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted that the most egregious abuses occurred during arrest or in gendarme detention centers. A video of law enforcement officers forcefully interrogating a suspect went viral on April 23 after its posting on Facebook. The ensuing social media uproar prompted a quick reaction from the government, including from the minister of national reconciliation and from the national police director who launched an investigation that led to the identification and suspension of the officers involved. According to NGOs guards tortured, beat, raped, and otherwise abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

The government took no action against officials responsible for the September 2013 arbitrary detention and abuse of 33 persons, whom authorities held at the PM3 gendarme detention center in Matam and subsequently transferred to the Soronkony Military Camp near Kankan. The victims, all of whom were released in 2013, alleged their captors beat them and threatened them with death and torture at Soronkony. One prisoner subsequently died from injuries inflicted during his detention, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea (OHCHR).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained harsh and life threatening. Abuse, poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention were pervasive throughout the prison system, and worse in gendarme and police detention facilities. Violence, bribery of guards for miscellaneous services, and intermingling of minors, women, and men continued to be problems.

Physical Conditions: The government did not keep complete nationwide statistics on the number of prisoners held in prisons or in gendarmerie detention centers, but as of October, NGOs and the government estimated 2,900 prisoners and detainees in all categories were incarcerated nationwide.

As of June 1, Conakry Central Prison (CCP)–with a designed capacity of 300 persons–held approximately 1,400 inmates. Authorities held minors in a separate section of the prison, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Authorities did not separate pretrial detainees (59 percent) from convicted prisoners (41 percent), and the prison system often was unable to track pretrial detainees after arrest.

Most prisons and detention centers were overcrowded. In one section of the CCP, approximately 700 prisoners were held, with an estimated 50 prisoners packed into each of the cells that measured approximately 20 by 25 feet, with an open toilet and shower in the middle of each cell. Prisoners, who slept shoulder to shoulder on the floor due to overcrowding and lack of beds, were permitted to leave their cells for only one hour each day. Prison officials converted rehabilitation facilities, such as schools and workshops, into dormitories due to overcrowding.

In the two main prisons outside of Conakry and in gendarmerie detention centers, men and women were intermingled. The country did not have a juvenile detention system, and officials generally held juveniles with adults in prisons outside the capital. Men, women, and children were intermingled at gendarmerie detention centers, sometimes with women sleeping in hallways outside the prison cells.

Lack of healthcare personnel and medicine in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beri-beri were recorded, and deaths of prisoners were seldom investigated. The two main prisons had a full-time doctor and medical staff, but lacked adequate medicine and funds. The CCP had a sick ward where approximately 30 patients were crowded into a room 15 by 30 feet. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners. Prisoners were sometimes close to death before they received treatment. Neglect, mismanagement, and lack of resources were prevalent. Toilets did not function, and prisoners slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation. Temperatures were stifling, and electricity was insufficient.

NGOs reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it began providing two meals a day to all inmates in 2011; however, NGOs claimed prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere still received only one meal per day, and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Relatives often abandoned prisoners due to the difficulty and cost of travel to prisons and because guards often demanded bribes for delivering food that they frequently confiscated.

The OHCHR and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to several months, and facilities had no established system to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and fetid. The government routinely suspended habeas corpus.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, some prisoners exercised more power than did the guards, controlling conditions and cell assignments, and providing better conditions to prisoners who were able to pay. Prison administrators and the supervisors of gendarme detention centers said they sometimes had to follow directives from their military or gendarme superiors, even when they conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Sometimes the court would order prisoners released, but guards would not release them until they paid bribes.

Administration: Authorities did not use alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Prison recordkeeping was inadequate. If prisoners paid bribes for their release, records of their arrest often would be “lost.” There were no ombudsmen to respond to complaints. An inspector-general of prisons in the Ministry of Justice had responsibility for handling complaints, but this rarely occurred. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did so due to fear of reprisal by prison guards or gendarmes. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local humanitarian and religious organizations that offered medical care and food to those in severe need. Local NGOs–such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees–as well as volunteers and religious groups received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP. The ICRC had regular access to all civilian prisons and detention facilities and continued partnership programs with prison and other security authorities to improve civilian prison conditions. The government also allowed international organizations and NGOs access to detention centers operated by the gendarmerie.

Conditions in military prisons, which were under the Ministry of Defense, could not be verified since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previous cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, but authorities refused to permit independent monitoring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The gendarmerie, a part of the Ministry of Defense, and the National Police, under the Ministry of Security, share responsibility for internal security, although their mandates are not clearly defined. The army is responsible for external security but also plays a role in domestic security. The law permits the military, the gendarmerie, and police to make arrests, but only the gendarmerie can arrest members of the military and police. There are also special police or gendarme units, such as the Anti-Criminal Bureau and the Secretariat General of the Presidency in Charge of Special Services in the Fight against Drugs and Organized Crime. Judicial Police Officers (OPJs)–mixed units of police and gendarmes with special training in investigative techniques–were responsible to the courts and investigated specific crimes.

There were instances in which security forces failed to prevent or respond to societal violence, including several incidents that took place nationwide as groups reacted violently. During the year nationwide mob violence killed 17 persons, five of whom mobs forcibly removed from security force custody.

Police remained ineffective, poorly paid, and inadequately equipped. There were multiple reports of security service units disregarding their orders and resorting to excessive force.

Corruption remained widespread (see section 4). Administrative controls over police were ineffective, and security forces rarely followed the penal code. Few victims reported crimes due to the common perception that police were corrupt, ineffective, and dangerous.

The government continued reform efforts by standardizing uniforms, providing identity cards, and removing imposters. The gendarmerie continued to receive improved training and equipment. The government established strict rules of engagement for protest marches, with standing orders to allow destruction of property–including police stations–rather than resorting to lethal force.

There were limited internal and external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse, but these mechanisms were ineffective due to a lack of professionalism and skills and a dysfunctional judicial system.

Impunity remained a widespread problem, and the government took only minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Despite a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) request for more information, the case of a human rights lawyer who was beaten by security personnel in 2014 had not been heard in court by year’s end.

In another example, authorities had tried no perpetrators in the 2012 killing of Aissatou Boiro, an anticorruption activist. Authorities arrested two persons in 2012 and charged them with the killing but later released one of the suspects after a criminal court employee forged the prosecutor’s signature on court documents. Authorities rearrested the suspect, but the case had not gone to trial by year’s end. In March authorities’ explanation of the murder of Boiro was that it was a crime but not politically motivated.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police arrested many persons without warrants. The law also provides that detainees be charged before a magistrate within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge, but many detainees were held for longer periods. Authorities held most prisoners in the three main prisons indefinitely without trial. In cases involving national security, the law allows the length of time to be doubled to 96 hours, renewable once.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but night arrests occurred. After being charged, the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities must inform detainees of charges against them within 48 hours. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense. Although the law prohibits incommunicado detention, it occurred. Release on bail was at the discretion of the magistrate who had jurisdiction. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but such access was sometimes denied or allowed only if an official was present, or if the family member paid a bribe for access.

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. Authorities also arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives (see sections 1.e. and 1.f.).

Pretrial Detention: Authorities held approximately 75 percent of prisoners in indefinite pretrial detention. They often held pretrial detainees three years or more before trial completion and sentencing or release. Judicial inefficiency and corruption contributed to the long delays.

In August a UN-funded mission by an NGO in the prisons of Labe and Conakry provided legal support to 168 women and minors, resulting in 10 women and 21 minors being released.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Articles 147 and 148 of the criminal procedural code provide that the detainee or his/her lawyer may request provisional release at any point in the proceedings. The investigating magistrate has the obligation to transmit the request to the prosecutor within 48 hours. Few detainees, however, choose this option because of the difficulties they would face.

Amnesty: Following his reelection, in December 2015 President Conde pardoned one of his strongest political opponents, Bah Oury, after he received a life sentence in absentia in 2013. The National Assembly, however, had not passed an amnesty law on Oury’s behalf to expunge his criminal record, which he would need done if he intended to pursue his political career.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system lacked independence and was underfunded, inefficient, and overtly corrupt. Budget shortfalls, a shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, an outdated and restrictive penal code, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. As of 2012 the country had only 200 magistrates (judges, court reporters, and prosecutors). As a result, in the lowest courts in prefectural regions (Courts of the Peace), one person often acted as judge, prosecutor, and court reporter. Regularly scheduled criminal trials with the Cour d’Assises (High Crimes Court) resumed in 2012 after a seven-year suspension. The court, which is supposed to meet three times a year to try “high crimes,” had only met once since 2012. Domestic court orders often were not enforced. For example, some prisoners freed by the courts remained in prison because they could not pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often escaped prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, a neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Trials are public, and juries are used for criminal cases in the High Crimes Court. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed. Authorities must inform defendants in detail of the charges, and with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and must charge or release them within 48 hours, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Defendants generally had adequate time but not the facilities, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial. Officials may not hold defendants for more than six months to a year (depending on the charge) before trial. Authorities frequently denied defendants these rights.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense, if there was one, frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. Under law defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture in detention centers undermined this protection.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to NGOs the government arrested a few individuals as “political intimidation” but released them shortly thereafter. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the ICRC.

After four years General Nouhou Thiam and four other military personnel–who were in prison for their alleged connection with the 2011 assassination attempt on President Conde–were tried and released in March, following a sentence of “time served.” According to human rights activists, that sentence does not exist in the country’s criminal justice system but was the only way for the government to avoid being prosecuted for abusive or arbitrary detention. The length of their detention exceeded the maximum sentence for their alleged crimes: General Thiam was facing charges carrying a two-month sentence, and charges against the four others carried six-month sentences.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Nevertheless, the judicial process was neither independent nor impartial, and bribes and political and social status often influenced decisions. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. Domestic court orders often were not enforced. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government restricted press freedoms.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines. For example, after being accused of being an accessory to insult of the president of the republic, a journalist of private radio station Milo FM was sentenced on June 22 by the Court of First Instance of the prefecture of Kankan (Upper Guinea) to pay a fine of one million Guinean francs (GNF) ($112).

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by members of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) political party affiliated with the government and law enforcement agents.

In June presidential guards severely beat a journalist who had taken a picture of the president attending a political meeting of his party and confiscated his equipment.

Law enforcement officials also confiscated reporters’ equipment.

A journalist was killed while covering a February political meeting, allegedly by a stray bullet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized stations and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

The president publicly admonished the Radio France International correspondent for asking a question about his son’s involvement in a mining corruption scandal during a May press conference.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

For example, a journalist hosting a talk show in June, on which a caller insulted the president, was fined one million GNF ($112) for complicity and insult of the head of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 4.7 percent of individuals had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering, “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits local authorities to prohibit a demonstration or meeting if they believe it poses a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs. After protests by citizens in October against the lack of electricity, a mixed unit of police and gendarmes arrested 30 persons on charges of illegal gathering and disturbance; 12 were convicted and 18 acquitted.

Police use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators–often protesting poor public services–resulted in deaths and injuries. During the August opposition demonstration in Conakry, a 21-year-old man was killed by a police bullet. The suspected agent was arrested. According to the minister of security and civil protection, 12 other persons were injured.

In April Conakry governor Bangoura prohibited at the last minute a previously authorized march in Conakry by women protesting the imprisonment of opposition party members.

Part of the 2013 and 2015 political accords promised an investigation into the political violence that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 persons in 2012 and 2013, punishment of perpetrators, and indemnification of victims. The government had taken no action on these promises by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and authorities generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration.

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, but citizens were restricted in the exercise of that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 11, 2015, President Alpha Conde won reelection with 58 percent of the vote.

The constitution calls for local elections within six months of the installation of the National Assembly; the latter occurred on January 13, 2013. Local elections were again delayed three times during the year and most recently rescheduled for 2017.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements, but parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Observers noted there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation. Five of 34 cabinet ministers were women, as were 25 of the 114 National Assembly deputies. The electoral code requires at least 30 percent of candidates for any party competing for seats in the National Assembly to be women. Not every party adhered to this rule, which was not enforced.

During the October presidential election, one of the eight candidates was a woman from the Green Party.

Minority ethnic groups had representation in the National Assembly, the courts, and the cabinet.

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 often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption continued to be a severe problem. Officials diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency.

Corruption: Security force corruption was endemic. Police and gendarmes ignored legal procedures and extorted money from citizens at roadblocks, in prisons, and in detention centers. The government reduced the number of road checkpoints, but traders, small business operators, drivers, and passengers were still obliged to pay bribes to pass. Observers noted prisoners paying money to guards in exchange for favors. In April the minister of national reconciliation stopped as a regular citizen at a police roadblock and was extorted; upon returning a few moments later in his official vehicle, the officers ran away but were not prosecuted.

The reform of the justice sector entailed in part an increase in salary for the magistrates and the establishment of the High Council for the Magistrature to handle cases of corrupt magistrates. Gendarmes, police, and prison guards–also poorly paid–offered to release prisoners in exchange for bribes, including prisoners to whom the courts had already granted release. Police and court officials often asked defendants in criminal and civil cases for money to reduce or eliminate charges.

Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

The National Anti-Corruption Agency (ANLC), created in 2004, is the only state agency focused solely on fighting corruption. It is an autonomous agency but reports directly to the presidency. The ANLC receives anonymous tips concerning possible corruption received by the Bureau of Complaint Reception. During the past two years, however, there were no prosecutions based on any such tips.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to public disclosure laws. The electoral code bars persons from certain types of financial activity if they are members of or candidates for the National Assembly. They may not be paid by a foreign state; be the chief executive officer (CEO), a deputy of a CEO, or the president of a company under state control; or be a shareholder in an enterprise under state control or reliant on state subsidies or other state benefits. Despite these rules, some National Assembly members took state revenues to support their businesses, such as operating schools funded by public tuition. Authorities threatened to cut the state subsidies of some National Assembly members if they did not support the ruling party.

Public Access to Information: Although in 2010 the National Transition Council adopted a law providing free access to government information, free access was not regularly provided. Lower-level bureaucrats often did not respond to requests in a timely fashion, if at all. Government websites and other files functioned poorly, provided little information, and were not easy to navigate.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups monitored and attempted to disseminate information on human rights abuses. They generally operated without government restriction. NGOs are required to renew their permits with the government every three years.

Despite the government’s willingness to meet with and listen to NGOs on human rights problems, it did not often act on their requests or suggestions. The government continued to ignore a request from human rights groups and the international community to dismiss or place on administrative leave government officials indicted in connection with the 2009 stadium massacre.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Human Rights and Public Freedoms disappeared with the reorganization following the 2015 presidential election. In 2012 the government had established the ministry and named Diaby Gassama Kalifa as its first minister. The ministry’s purpose was to promote human rights awareness and fight impunity, but it did not fulfill the constitutional requirement for an independent human rights commission. NGOs, nevertheless, considered the ministry’s establishment an important step. Although part of the government, the ministry continued to assert its independence, and observers praised Minister Diaby for raising the profile of human rights, which he continued to do during the year as minister of national unity and citizenship.

The Provisional Commission for National Reconciliation, established in 2011 to promote reconciliation concerning human rights abuses committed since independence, presented its final report in late June with a recommendation to establish a permanent truth and reconciliation commission.

In 2014 the government implemented Title XVI of the 2010 constitution and established the Independent National Institution for Human Rights. The institution was controversial from its inception because as established, it was different from the institution described in the law, but it continued efforts to establish its credibility.

Guinea-Bissau

Executive Summary

Guinea-Bissau is a multiparty republic. It is ruled by a democratically elected government led by President Jose Mario Vaz and Prime Minister Baciro Dja of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde (PAIGC). Vaz took office in 2014 after an election judged to be free and fair by international observers. The country has endured prolonged PAIGC intraparty political turmoil since the August 2015 dismissal of Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira and the subsequent dismissal on May 12 of Pereira’s successor, Carlos Correia.

Unlike in prior years, the government maintained civilian authority over the security forces.

Serious human rights abuses included arbitrary detention; official corruption exacerbated by government officials’ impunity and suspected involvement in drug trafficking; and violence and discrimination against women and children.

Other human rights abuses included abusive treatment of detainees; poor conditions of detention; lack of judicial independence and due process; interference with privacy; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); and trafficking in persons.

The government did not take effective steps to prosecute or punish officials or other individuals who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was a serious problem.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Unlike in prior years, the armed forces and police respected these prohibitions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely. In the makeshift detention facilities for pretrial detainees, conditions were harsh and life threatening. Except in the prisons in Bafata and Mansoa, electricity, potable water, and space were inadequate.

Physical Conditions: Conditions of confinement were poor. Detention facilities generally lacked secure cells, running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were poor, and medical care was virtually nonexistent. At the pretrial detention center in Bissau, detainees relied on their families for food. Officials held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juveniles with adults.

Administration: Authorities did not maintain adequate records or investigate allegations of inhuman conditions. In many cases authorities released detainees informally on their own recognizance or simply allowed them to walk away from makeshift detention facilities. There was no prison ombudsman to respond to prisoners’ complaints or independent authorities to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of detention conditions by local and international human rights groups. According to the Justice Ministry’s director of justice administration, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau and the National Commission for Human Rights regularly visited the prisons in Mansoa and Bafata.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government usually observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country is divided into 37 police districts. An estimated 3,500 police personnel in nine different police forces reported to seven different ministries. The Judicial Police, under the Ministry of Justice, has primary responsibility for investigating drug trafficking, terrorism, and other transnational crimes. The Public Order Police, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for preventive patrols, crowd control, and maintenance of law and order. Other police forces include the State Information Service (intelligence), Border Police (migration and border enforcement), Rapid Intervention Police, and Maritime Police. According to the constitution, the armed forces are responsible for external security and may be called upon to assist police in emergencies.

Police were generally ineffective, poorly and irregularly paid, and corrupt. They received no training and had insufficient funding to buy fuel for police vehicles. Traffic police often demanded bribes from vehicle drivers, whether or not their documents and vehicles were in order. Lack of police detention facilities frequently resulted in prisoners leaving custody during investigations. Impunity was a serious problem. The attorney general was responsible for investigating police abuses; however, employees of that office were also poorly paid and susceptible to threats, corruption, and coercion.

A military court system exists, with the Supreme Military Court as the final court of appeal for military cases. Although civilian courts could try cases involving state security personnel, they were reluctant to assert jurisdiction over members of the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants, although warrantless arrests often occurred, particularly of immigrants suspected of crimes. By law detainees must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours after arrest and be released if no indictment is filed; however, authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities generally informed detainees of charges against them, although this was not always the case for military detainees. Although the law provides for the right to counsel at state expense for indigent clients, lawyers did not receive compensation for their part-time public defense work and often ignored state directives to represent indigent clients. There was a functioning bail system but no alternatives for considering release pending trial. Pretrial detainees had prompt access to family members. Civilian suspects were usually held under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained them without due process.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court through a regular appeals process, obtain prompt release, and obtain compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; provisions for compensation were rarely enforced, however. For example, in August the attorney for Joao Bernardo Vieira successfully argued that he was improperly detained for failure to appear before the attorney general. The court ordered Vieira’s release based on evidence that he was not notified in advance to appear before the attorney general.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary had little independence and was subject to significant political manipulation. Judges were poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid, and subject to corruption. Courts and judicial authorities were also frequently biased and unproductive. The attorney general was subject to political pressure. A lack of resources and infrastructure often delayed trials, and convictions were extremely rare. Authorities respected court orders, however.

On April 5, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Assembly’s December 2015 expulsion of 15 PAIGC parliamentarians, following their refusal to vote for the government’s program, was unconstitutional. The 15 parliamentarians were subsequently reinstated. On June 8, the Supreme Court ruled the second government of Prime Minister Baciro Dja was legal and President Jose Mario Vaz complied with constitutional requirements when he dismissed the government of Carlos Correia and replaced it with that of Dja. In both cases all parties accepted the court’s decision.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Citizens have the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals; to a fair trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; and to communicate with an attorney of choice or have one provided at court expense from the moment charged and through all appeals. The law provides for the right to access evidence held by the government, to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to admit guilt, and to appeal. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; however, most cases never came to trial. There is no trial by jury. Trials in civilian courts are open to the public.

Authorities generally respected these rights in the few cases that went to trial. Court-appointed attorneys, however, were not punished for failing to represent indigent clients, and generally ignored such responsibilities.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There was one opposition political detainee in detention at year’s end. On July 28, judicial police arrested National Assembly Deputy Gabriel Sow, a prominent intra-PAIGC opponent, on corruption charges, despite the constitutional immunity from prosecution he had as a member of parliament. The PAIGC issued a statement calling Sow’s arrest a case of unconstitutional political harassment directed by President Vaz. Sow appealed the legality of his arrest to the Court of Appeal. The court denied the appeal. It ruled that Sow did not have immunity because the corruption charge was filed before he entered parliament. During Sow’s arrest and detention, he was afforded the same protections as other prisoners and government authorities permitted access by humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Sow remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, there was no specific administrative mechanism to address human rights violations, and domestic court orders pertaining to human rights were not always enforced.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect these rights. For example, upon his appointment in June as prime minister, Baciro Dja fired the heads of state-owned television and radio. On June 9, the dismissed head of the state-owned radio stated his dismissal was politically motivated and filed a lawsuit seeking its annulment. The case was pending at year’s end. There were reports of journalists receiving threats and practicing self-censorship.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.

In May the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso was hacked. Critics accused the government of responsibility as part of its efforts to impede criticism and stifle freedom of speech. On July 7, the state-owned radio station’s general manager fired his news director and editor-in-chief for having disregarded an order not to broadcast a press conference by PAIGC Chairman Domingos Simoes Pereira, one of the president’s main political opponents.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. For example, following firings at the state-owned radio station, a private radio station called Capital FM broadcast a program in which callers discussed and debated the dismissals. Capital FM’s director subsequently received several anonymous, written death threats.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were allegations, however, that on May 21, a pro-Vaz hacker succeeded in breaking into the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.54 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free, fair, and periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, and in 2014 citizens exercised that ability. In the past this ability was often impeded by military intervention–as with the 2012 coup–and by corruption and bribery within political parties.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The 2014 elections and the subsequent transition to a democratically elected government led by Jose Mario Vaz and Prime Minister Domingos Simoes Pereira marked a return to rule of law. With strong support from the United Nations, international observers assessed the elections as free and fair, with no credible indications of voter fraud. PAIGC candidate Vaz won a runoff with a decisive majority; the PAIGC also won a majority of seats in the National Assembly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women suffer from discrimination flowing from traditional attitudes and practices, particularly in rural areas, that discouraged them from participating in political life on the same basis as men. The 102-member National Assembly had 14 female members. Five of the 16 cabinet ministers were women, including the minister of defense. Women’s groups proposed legislation providing for women to have 40 percent of seats in the National Assembly, but no progress toward passage was made during the year, due to political gridlock.

All ethnic groups were represented in the government; ethnicity was not a significant factor outside the military.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties of one month to 10 years in prison for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches and on all levels of government engaged in corrupt and nontransparent practices with impunity. The World Bank’s 2015 Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem.

Police are mandated to fight corruption but were ineffective and received minimal external assistance or support.

The Office of the Attorney General arrested and jailed two former officials of the previous two governments during the year. Critics argued the action was not to combat corruption but was politically motivated.

Corruption: Members of the military and civilian administration reportedly trafficked in drugs and assisted international drug cartels by providing access to the country and its transportation infrastructure. The failure to interdict or investigate suspected narcotics traffickers contributed to the perception of government and military involvement in narcotics trafficking.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officials are required to disclose their personal finances before the Court of Audits and these disclosures are to be made public. The court has no authority to enforce compliance, and no penalties are specified for noncompliance. To date no public officials have disclosed their personal finances.

Public Access to Information: The law states that “everyone has the right to information” on laws, regulations, and government policies, and provides for a narrow list of exceptions, a reasonably short timeline, reasonable processing fees, administrative sanctions for noncompliance, and an appeal mechanism. Due to a lack of technical support and functioning infrastructure, authorities seldom met this requirement.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission on Human Rights is a government human rights organization. It was independent but remained inadequately funded and ineffective.

Liberia

Executive Summary

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly. In 2011 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party won a second term in multiparty presidential elections domestic and international observers considered generally free and fair. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights abuses were those linked to deficiencies in the administration of justice, official corruption, and violence against women and children, including rape, domestic violence, and human trafficking.

Other important human rights abuses included police abuse, harassment, and intimidation of detainees and others; arbitrary arrest and detention; press harassment; corruption; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); racial and ethnic discrimination; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; mob violence; and child labor.

Impunity remained a serious problem despite intermittent and limited government attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Corruption at all levels of government continued to undermine public trust in state institutions.

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

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

The constitution prohibits practices such as torture and inhuman treatment. Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code provide criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and address permissible uses of force during arrest or in preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. Nonetheless, police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody. For example, in October a woman was arrested during an LNP raid, and two LNP officers reportedly stripped and beat her severely. They hit her head repeatedly with a nightstick, kicked her between her legs, and stomped on her shins. In a separate incident, the police inspector general directed an investigation into the Grand Gedah LNP commander for abuses including beatings and other human rights violations by police. The LNP commander was relieved of duty pending the outcome of an investigation that had yet to conclude at year’s end.

In 2015 the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services identified the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as having a high incidence of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). The UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU) of the Department of Field Support identified 85 cases of alleged SEA in the period 2008-14. Of these, five were reported in 2014. One involving military personnel accused of sexual abuse remained under active consideration by both the United Nations and the troop contributing country (Nigeria), which had primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute–if appropriate–alleged misconduct by its uniformed personnel. There were six cases reported in 2015, with no cases substantiated. During the year only one case was reported, involving military personnel, and was still under investigation by both the troop contributing country (Ghana) and CDU. According to the UNMIL chief of staff and the CDU, both responsible for oversight of disciplinary issues, there continued to be problems with personnel involved in transactional sex and breaches of the nonfraternization rule.

In October, UNMIL issued new standard operating procedures on reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct to combat further SEA cases. UNMIL also worked with the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection to integrate its SEA referral pathway with the ministry’s own sexual and gender-based violence pathway, and it undertook a comprehensive training and awareness campaign through its Anti-SEA Champions program involving prominent representatives from both UNMIL and local communities.

According to a 2015 UN assessment on Human Rights issues emanating from harmful traditional practices in Liberia, accusations of witchcraft were common in the country and often had “devastating consequences” for those accused, including “trial by ordeal.” Although illegal, in some cases public officials or those acting in an official capacity, including tribal chiefs, initiated trial by ordeal. Authorities often failed to investigate or prosecute cases involving trial by ordeal, in part due to the perceived cultural aspects of the practice, and in part due to lack of resources and capacity. Many viewed trial by ordeal as a means of criminal investigation or “fact finding,” and it was sometimes employed to investigate crimes that had no connection with accusations of witchcraft. While the Ministry of Internal Affairs–a ministry that includes many of the chief traditional practitioners and tribal leaders–worked to get traditional practitioners to conform to the country’s formal legal framework, the practice of trial by ordeal remained common.

Trial by ordeal included: forcing the ingestion of poison; hanging the accused from a tree by the arms or feet for extended periods of time; requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a pot of hot oil; heating a metal object until it glows red and then applying it to the accused’s skin; beatings; rubbing chili pepper and mud into the accused’s bodily orifices (including the vagina); depriving the accused of food and water; requiring the accused to sit in the sun or rain for extended periods; forcing the accused to sit on hot coals; and forcing the accused to ingest food or nonfood substances to induce severe vomiting, diarrhea, and other illnesses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of sanitary facilities, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Inadequate space, bedding and mosquito netting, food, sanitation, ventilation, cooling, lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and potable water contributed to harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions in the country’s 16 prisons and detention centers. Prison officials misappropriated food and other items intended for inmates. Many prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors. The local press and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Fellowship Liberia (PFL) reported that prison officials threatened prisoners’ lives. The Ministry of Justice’s Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) reported three prisoner deaths through September 15.

According to the BCR, as of September approximately half of the country’s 2,023 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP). This prison operated at nearly two and one-half times its 375-person capacity; 63 percent were pretrial detainees. As of September 14, the MCP population of 917 individuals included seven women and four male juveniles, and there were approximately 20 women in other prisons. Prisons remained understaffed and prison personnel salaries were irregularly paid.

The BCR had eight vehicles but was often unable to transport prisoners and detainees to court or to a hospital. According to BCR officials, this was due to the breakdown of vehicles or lack of fuel. The LNP staff often used personal vehicles or commercial motor bikes to transport prisoners to or from court.

The Ministry of Justice funded the BCR; it did not have a funding allocation under the national budget. Due to inadequate funding, the BCR lacked funds for the purchase of adequate food, maintenance of prison facilities, fuel, vehicle maintenance, cellular or internet communications, and regular and timely payment of employees.

Medical services were available at most of the prisons but not on a daily or 24-hour basis. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was at the MCP. Health-care workers visited most other prisons and detention centers one to two times per week.

The Ministry of Health and County Health Teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines. The United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Carter Center, and PFL continued to provide medical services, medicines, and related training and to improve basic sanitary conditions at the MCP and other facilities where such services and conditions remained inadequate. The supply chain for medicines was weak throughout the country; prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. NGOs and community groups also provided medicines to treat seizures, skin infections, and mental health conditions. The ministry and county health teams replenished medications to treat malaria and tuberculosis only when stocks were exhausted. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates went without medication for lengthy periods.

There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. In March the BCR began identifying individuals with special needs, including those with tuberculosis, through screening provided by the Ministry of Health. While the law provides for compassionate release of prisoners who are ill, such release was uncommon because the government had yet to develop a policy to implement the law. Authorities determined whether to release a prisoner on an ad hoc basis. For example, authorities arbitrarily denied the request for compassionate release of a prisoner in Voinjama with prostate cancer who died a month after he submitted the request.

Authorities held men and women in separate cellblocks at the MCP, but in counties with smaller detention facilities, a single cell was designated for female prisoners, and juveniles were held with adults in the same cells. Except at the MCP, which had a juvenile cellblock, children were held in separate cells within adult cellblocks. Because many minors did not have identity documents, they were sometimes misidentified as adults and held in adult cellblocks. There were also reports of inmates in the juvenile facility reaching age 18 who were not transferred to the adult population. Pretrial detainees were generally held with convicted prisoners.

Conditions for women prisoners were somewhat better than for men; women inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities.

Administration: During the year, BCR capacity declined in part due to reduced support from the Corrections Advisory Unit (CAU) of UNMIL. The BCR relied heavily on the CAU for correctional officer training, logistical support, and other financial assistance. While the government continued to make efforts to improve recordkeeping on prisoners, the official process was manual and problems remained. Prior to the UNMIL drawdown, the BCR maintained a prison roll that included prisoners from all facilities at headquarters. After the drawdown, the BCR ceased preparation of the complete prison roll, modernization efforts, and the transfer of paper records from field facilities to headquarters. The roll included prisoner names, dates of entry into prison and sentencing, and courts of initial appearance, but it did not include court appearance dates and other relevant information. It was not always accurate.

Testing of an electronic recordkeeping system and a biometric intake processing system ceased. Developed through a cooperative international initiative by two NGOs and a donor country, progress ceased due to inconsistent access to electricity and the internet, lack of computer maintenance, virus attacks, and insufficient government support.

Authorities sometimes used alternatives to prison sentencing for nonviolent offenders, but courts failed to make adequate efforts to employ alternatives to incarceration at the pretrial stages of criminal proceedings. Courts issued probationary sentences in some cases for nonviolent offenders. A supervised pretrial release program has been used in circuit courts in conjunction with the Magistrate Sitting Program to expedite the administration of justice, but it was not widely used outside Monrovia. During the year public defenders introduced a plea-bargaining system in some courts. The law provides for bail, including release on the detainee’s own recognizance. The bail system, however, was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. No ombudsman system operated on behalf of prisoners and detainees.

Staff complaints prompted a July investigation of the prison system by the BCR in conjunction with the MOJ Internal Audit Division that revealed corruption in the distribution of food, including misappropriation. In prior years NGOs reported severe food shortages, but Ministry of Justice central administration records showed sufficient food purchased and sent to facility warehouses. In one instance at MCP, prison officials allegedly sold food taken from a BCR warehouse to inmates through a prison canteen. The prison superintendent in that case was dismissed but not charged and prosecuted after investigation.

The government did not make internal reports and investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons public; however, the BCR sometimes made prison statistics publicly available.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, the ICRC, diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, regularly visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the MCP.

Improvements: The ICRC worked with the BCR to implement a system-wide food chain management and distribution system, including mandatory recordkeeping for any food coming into the prison system. It also performed body mass index checks on all prisoners, every three months at the MCP and every six months at the other 15 facilities in the country. The ICRC provided therapeutic feeding supplements for underweight inmates at the MCP; the majority of them were newly arrived or inmates with pre-existing health problems.

The UNMIL CAU worked with the BCR to improve the latter’s accountability and adherence to international corrections standards. In addition to mentoring, advising, and capacity building, the unit assisted with refurbishment and rehabilitation of facilities. For example, UNMIL installed solar lights at 10 facilities and built a new cellblock in Robertsport. UNMIL officers also provided constant access to cellular, computers, and internet services helped increase communications among different prisons.

In late August, UNICEF funded renovation of the juvenile cells at the MCP. The ICRC provided soap to all prison facilities bimonthly, other hygiene items to the MCP, and essential medicines to all 16 prisons and detention centers. The ICRC also worked with the Ministry of Justice to improve water supply in five prisons, water infrastructure improvement in four prisons, and sanitation and waste infrastructure in four facilities. The ICRC also worked to establish a comprehensive prison health-care system and improve food distribution and documentation, renovated kitchens in three prisons, installed energy efficient stoves in four prisons, and did capacity building for prison maintenance teams so that facilities could perform basic repairs in-house. It built an exercise yard for cellblock D at the MCP that prison authorities began using during the year to give prisoners outdoor access for up to one hour a day. With the assistance of international donors, the government hired and trained 137 additional correctional officers during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The arbitrary arrest, assault, and detention of citizens continued. For example, in May an LNP patrol officer reportedly beat a suspect while in custody, and the detainee later died from his injuries. The officer was suspended for one month. An investigation of the incident concluded that there might have been other causes of the suspect’s injuries.

Police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. On August 8, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered judges and magistrates to stop issuing criminal writs of arrest without the approval of prosecutors from the Ministry of Justice or based on case-specific police requests. Despite Korkpor’s order, some magistrates continued to order writs of arrest in exchange for payment from complainants. This occurred in both civil cases and criminal cases.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Prior to June 30, the government shared security responsibility with UNMIL. The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for enforcing laws and maintaining order through supervision of the LNP and other law enforcement agencies. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, provide external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities, specifically coastal patrolling by the Liberian Coast Guard.

The Independent National Commission on Human Rights reported that violent police action during arrests was the most common complaint of misconduct. The LNP’s Professional Standards Division is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct and referring cases for prosecution. There were instances during the year in which civilian security forces acted with impunity. During the year the legislature passed and the president signed a new police act that mandates establishment of a civilian complaints review board to improve accountability and oversight. In January 2015 officers of the division participated in a three-day training activity related to a plan intended to decentralize its operations into five regions; training covered division policy and procedure, investigation, and report writing.

An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer nonjudicial punishment. As of September the disciplinary board had no active cases. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the ministries of justice and defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In general police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.

The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours, and detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest and sometimes brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours. Once jailed, those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention. Some detainees, particularly among the majority who lacked the means to hire a lawyer, were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground.

The law provides for bail for all noncapital or drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and indigent defendants appearing in magistrate courts–the venue in which most cases are initiated–were rarely provided state-funded counsel. Public defender offices remained understaffed and underfunded, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. Although official policy allows suspects detained to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. House arrest was rarely used.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to make arbitrary arrests, especially during major holidays, in an effort reportedly to prevent expected criminal activity. For example, on October 3, the LNP launched “Operation Visibility,” aimed at demonstrating police presence to counteract violent crime in high-crime communities. This resulted in the arrest of drug dealers and users on the assumption of a high probability of committing a crime, rather than in response to actual evidence of criminal activity. During the operation the LNP also cleared streets and raided suspected criminal hideouts and other sites to prevent the return of petty criminals.

Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. As of September 14, an estimated 63 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees despite the large number of detainees released by the Magistrate Sitting Program during 2015. Nevertheless, this was a decline from 78 percent the previous year. Unavailability of counsel at the early stages of proceedings contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. A 2013 study of the MCP population revealed pretrial detainees were held on average more than 10 months. On September 22, the Ministry of Justice installed a public defender at the MCP, in an effort to increase pretrial detainee case processing.

The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation, including the use of the supervised pretrial release program. In some cases, however, the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime. A shortage of trained prosecutors and public defenders, poor court administration and file management, inadequate police investigation and evidence collection, and judicial corruption exacerbated the incidence and duration of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and the court system lacked the capacity to process promptly most cases. Additionally, public defenders lacked the capacity to file the requisite motions, and many clients lacked the means to hire private attorneys to do so.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Uneven application of the law and unequal distribution of personnel and resources remained problems throughout the judicial system. The government continued efforts to harmonize the formal and traditional customary justice systems, in particular through campaigns to encourage trial of criminal cases in formal courts. Traditional leaders were encouraged to defer to police investigators and prosecutors in cases involving murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law trials are public. Circuit court but not magistrate court proceedings may be by jury. In some cases defendants may select a bench trial. Jurors were subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermined their neutrality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. Defendants have the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court provides interpreters for the trial. Interpreters are not provided throughout the legal process, however. For example, there are no accommodations or sign-language interpreters provided for the deaf, and rarely is free interpretation available, unless paid for by the defendant. Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are presumed innocent, and they have the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. The law extends the above rights to all defendants. These rights, however, were not observed and were rarely enforced.

Established to expedite the trials of persons detained at the MCP, the Magistrate Sitting Program suffered from poor coordination among judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, and corrections personnel; deficient docket management; inappropriate involvement of extrajudicial actors; and lack of logistical support. Some local NGOs continued to provide legal services to indigent defendants and others who had no representation. The Liberian National Bar Association continued to offer limited pro bono legal services to the indigent. Financial constraints remained a major challenge in recruiting experienced lawyers for this service. Many lawyers also could not practice because they failed to pay bar association dues, further limiting the pool from which the association could draw pro bono attorneys. Ranging from L$20,000 ($223) to L$30,000 ($335) per year, bar dues are very expensive when compared to the World Bank’s 2015 estimated per capita gross national income of L$38,000 ($424) for the country.

According to PFL, women had less access to the courts and on average spent significantly longer periods in pretrial detention.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

No specialized court exists to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. While there are civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, and adverse decisions in human rights cases may be appealed, the majority of human rights cases are brought against nonstate actors. Human rights violations are generally reported to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, which refers cases to relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. In some cases individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. While there is an Economic Community of West African States human rights court that Liberians may access, few could afford to do so.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some limits.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but libel, slander, and national security laws placed limits on freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedoms: According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), media freedom was limited. In August authorities closed two opposition radio stations that broadcast commentary accusing the president of corruption. While the official reason given for the closure was the stations’ lack of required permits, other radio stations that lacked permits remained open. Court decisions against journalists involved exorbitant fines, and authorities jailed journalists who did not pay the fines. Self-censorship was widespread; and media often avoided addressing subjects such as the president’s family and government corruption.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinions and reporting, especially those that criticized government officials. Government officials harassed and sometimes threatened media members through telephone calls and text messages for political reasons. For example, local press and RSF reported a presidential spokesperson threatened the representative of a journalists’ association for calling on the government to reopen radio stations it closed in August. State security forces sometimes arrested journalists for publishing allegedly criminally libelous opinions critical of the government or those with whom the government disagreed. For example, in September plainclothes security officers arrested the editor of the New Democrat newspaper and held him for four hours of questioning after he republished an article that accused President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea of human rights abuses. The government also used libel and slander laws against print and broadcast media journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid possible libel charges.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports that libel, slander, and defamation laws constrained the work of journalists and media outlets reporting on high-profile government or other public figures. For example, after reporting on corruption in the award of a high-value road construction contract, a reporter from the Nation Times newspaper was arrested and sued for L$200 million ($2.2 million) by the executive awarded the contract. The Press Union of Liberia advocated decriminalizing libel and slander laws to eliminate prison terms for persons unable to pay large fines.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 5.9 percent of the population used the internet during 2015. There were reports of government officials filing civil suits to censor protected speech and intimidate its messengers.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Permits are required for public gatherings.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Senate elections were held in 2014. While turnout nationwide at 25 percent was low compared with the 2005 and 2011 general elections, because voting was postponed multiple times due to the Ebola outbreak, it was comparable to turnout for the 2011 constitutional referendum. Only two of 12 incumbent senators retained their seats, and most formal electoral process complaints were resolved through the National Elections Commission or, if appealed, by the Supreme Court. At least two cases were still pending at the Supreme Court. International and national observers declared the elections free, fair, transparent, and credible despite some minor irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in politics compared to men. Women participated at significantly lower levels than men in voting and as party leaders, civil society activists, and elected officials. According to the Liberia Electoral Access and Participation survey, of registered voters, 43 percent fewer women than men voted in the 2014 Senate elections, and women were 26 percent less likely than men to be registered and vote in the Senate elections. Overall, 25 percent fewer women than men said they were engaged in campaign activities. Although female candidates continued to compete against men at the same proportional levels, the number of women elected to office declined. After the 2011 elections, the percentage of women representatives dropped from 12.5 percent to 9.6 percent and in the Senate from 13.3 percent to 10 percent. During the year there were four women in the 20-member national cabinet, three women in the 30-seat Senate, and nine in the 73-seat House of Representatives. Two female associate justices sat on the five-member Supreme Court. Women constituted 33 percent of local government officials and 13 percent of senior and deputy ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law does not provide explicit criminal penalties for official corruption, although criminal penalties exist for economic sabotage, mismanagement of funds, bribery, and other corruption-related acts. Corruption persisted throughout the government, and the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: Some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Low pay for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability exacerbated official corruption and contributed to a culture of impunity. The government dismissed or in some instances suspended officials for alleged corruption and recommended others for prosecution. On May 11, Global Witness released a report that alleged several serving and former senior officials of the government received L$95 million ($1.1 million) in bribes from British firm Sable Mining to obtain an iron ore concession. On May 12, the president appointed a special task force led by Minister of State Without Portfolio Jonathan Koffa to investigate the allegations and recommend prosecution if warranted. On May 25, Speaker of the House of Representatives Tyler and Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman were indicted for bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, solicitation, and facilitation, based on recommendations by the special task force. In September controversy regarding the indictment led to Tyler’s removal from office.

Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors. Corrections officers sometimes demanded payment to escort detainees to trial.

Police corruption was a problem. The LNP investigated reports of police misconduct or corruption, and authorities suspended or dismissed several LNP officers. For example, in February the LNP suspended eight officers from the Criminal Services Division and requested the Ministry of Justice investigate their alleged facilitation of armed robbery. The case was pending with the Ministry of Justice at year’s end. In June, LNP authorities dismissed, arrested, and jailed an officer for allegedly taking more than L$1.5 million ($16,725) from 20 individuals as “rent payments” and in September dismissed two officers and suspended seven others for various acts, including extortion and harassment of members of the public.

Financial Disclosure: By regulation senior officials must declare their assets before taking office. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

Public Access to Information: The law provides that the government release upon request information not involving national security issues. Some transparency advocates stated the law did not provide citizens adequate access to verify the proper spending and accounting of government funds.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views, although sometimes slow to act on requests for assistance on investigations associated with the prosecution of individuals who committed atrocities during the civil war.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice Human Rights Protection Division convened monthly coordination meetings that provided a forum for domestic and international human rights NGOs to present matters to the government, including proposed legislation. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) acted as an independent check on the actions of the government in line with its mission to monitor human rights violations in the country. Its work plan included the Palava Hut mechanism, through which community members came together in their towns and villages to discuss grievances and seek reconciliation at the community level. The mechanism was launched in 2012 but remained in the development process with limited geographical reach. During the year the INCHR revamped its operations, including development of a new strategic plan of action, appointment of new staff and human rights monitors, and revitalization of the Palava Hut process.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. The inauguration of President Keita and the subsequent establishment of a new National Assembly through free and fair elections ended a 16-month transitional period following the 2012 military coup that ousted the previous democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. The restoration of a democratic government and the arrest of coup leader Amadou Sanogo restored some civilian control over the military.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Despite the peace accord signed in June 2015 between the government, the Platform of northern militias, and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), violent conflict between CMA and Platform forces continued throughout the northern region. Terrorist groups not party to the peace process–including Ansar al-Dine, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (FLM)–carried out attacks against the military, armed groups, and civilian targets throughout the northern and central regions.

Abuses committed against civilians during violent clashes between Platform and CMA fighters in and around the region of Kidal constituted the most significant human rights problem. Abuses included arbitrary detention, destruction and seizure of property, and killing of civilians. Violent clashes in the city and region of Kidal targeted rival fighters and civilians, resulting in deaths, injuries, arbitrary detentions, disruption of humanitarian assistance, and property loss. The inability to resolve the violence delayed implementation of the peace accord in the north, which prolonged the lack of basic services. Violent clashes in February and March in the Menaka area between armed elements allied with CMA and Platform forces also targeted civilians and resulted in numerous deaths.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary killings by government forces; disappearances; abuse of detainees, including torture; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary detentions; judicial lack of independence and inefficiency; restrictions on speech, press, assembly, and association; official corruption; rape of and domestic violence against women and girls; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); human trafficking; societal discrimination against black Tuaregs, who were subjected to slavery-related practices; discrimination based on sexual orientation; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and albinism. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. Coup leader Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in December, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until early 2017. While the International Criminal Court convicted one person on a war crimes charge relating to the destruction of religious sites in Timbuktu, impunity for serious crimes committed in the north continued.

Despite the June 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, sexual violence, torture, and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of AQIM, killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in the north leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were accused of numerous human rights abuses in Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests (see section 1.g.).

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to MINUSMA, government forces tortured eight detainees and subjected seven to abuse between March and September.

Human Rights Watch noted allegations of torture by military forces, particularly against members of the Fulani ethnic group in the central part of the country. In one incident military personnel arrested 11 local Fulani following attacks in the Mopti Region during the first half of the year. According to human rights observers, three of the 11 died during detention at the Nampala military base, and others showed signs of torture. No charges were brought by year’s end against the soldiers reportedly responsible.

The case against a soldier who allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl in August 2014 remained open. The military released the suspect in September 2014 and, at year’s end, had not responded to requests by the civilian prosecutor to produce the suspect for trial. Despite the military’s lack of cooperation, the prosecutor continued to pursue the case.

There was limited progress in investigations into the disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets in 2012 (see section 1.a.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: As of September 8, the Bamako Central Prison held 1,445 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for men, women, or children.

During the year 27 prisoners and detainees died. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), an independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Approximately half of the 27 died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration.

Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources prevented authorities from maintaining control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: Prison recordkeeping was inadequate, and authorities took no action during the year to improve it. Authorities did not use alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders.

There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners made verbal complaints during CNDH prison inspections, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the north. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces and Platform and CMA forces detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing northern conflict, particularly in the wake of clashes in Kidal and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, National Police, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 1,000 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the north, there were many reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

In the wake of July 19 attacks in Nampala near the Mauritanian border, the DGSE detained several Fulani individuals. Critics claimed the government had no evidence to support the charges and that authorities detained the individuals simply because they were Fulani.

On May 4, Bamako’s Court of Appeals tried Lieutenant Mohamed Ouattara–a paratrooper arrested in 2014 along with Amara Sylla, Souleymane Sangare, Dramane Traore, and Thierry Diarra–for allegedly planning to threaten the president’s safety. The court sentenced Mohamed Ouattara and Amara Sylla to five years’ imprisonment, acquitted Dramane Traore, and sentenced Souleymane Sangare to life in prison. Diarra still awaited trial at year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and within one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 70 percent of inmates awaited trial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. They were promptly released if they win the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

As of September 29, authorities had detained 474 persons in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: In March, Ousmane Diarra, a writer and librarian at the French Institute in Bamako, claimed he was threatened for making comments on Islamic extremism and the politicization of Islam. The threats reportedly were made by telephone, through intermediaries, and on the street.

Press and Media Freedoms: A 2000 press law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. It also criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy.

In January a journalist working in Djenne, Mopti Region, reported receiving death threats via text messages from an unknown sender due to his radio presentation on reducing the risk of Islamic radicalization among youth.

The government continued investigating radio host Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, known as Ras Bath, for “demoralizing the armed forces” and other charges. Bathily’s supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated.

Two French journalists complained government security forces targeted them, including by firing tear gas directly at them, while they covered August 17 protests against the arrest of Ras Bath.

Violence and Harassment: In March a radio presenter in Mopti Region claimed he was beaten by two unidentified gunmen, who accused him of encouraging his audience to denounce jihadist activities during his talk show. The gunmen reportedly threatened to kill the announcer if he continued to talk about Islamist activities in Mopti Region.

Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations.

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving better press coverage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to the internet on August 17, when authorities blocked social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, after violent protests occurred following the arrest of popular radio host Ras Bath. The government restored access to the sites August 20.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to the expense. Outside Bamako access to the internet was very limited. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 8 percent of residents had access to the internet at home in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. For example, on July 12, three protestors in Gao were killed and approximately 30 injured when national police fired into a crowd protesting the installation of interim authorities in the city.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

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, and citizens exercised that right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. Legislative elections also occurred in 2013, and independent domestic and international observers characterized them as credible and transparent. In the areas where they were conducted, communal elections held on November 20 were largely considered free and fair. Security concerns in some northern and central parts of the country prevented the holding of communal elections in 58 of the country’s 703 communes.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women in the political process, and women participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. A law passed in November 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was not fully implemented by year’s end. Female candidates met the 30-percent threshold for the November 20 communal elections, but not all candidate lists contained at least 30 percent female candidates. There were only 14 women in the 147-member National Assembly and seven women in the 34-seat cabinet led by Prime Minister Modibo Keita. There were four women on the 33-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court.

The National Assembly had at least 16 members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included pastoral and nomadic ethnic minority members.

Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar al-Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.

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. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes. There were reports of uniformed police or individuals dressed as police directing stopped motorists to drive to dark and isolated locations where they robbed the victims.

During the year an anticorruption agency initiated an investigation into charges that Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Martin Pierre Dakono, Deputy CEO Hamidou Coulibaly, and accountant Moussa dit Almamy Sofara of the Mutual Savings and Loan of Education and Culture mismanaged up to 1.4 billion CFA francs ($2.4 million) from the worker’s pension fund.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures was not operational by year’s end, and few officials had filed. In 2014 President Keita submitted his annual financial statement and written declaration of net worth to the Supreme Court, although he filed no subsequent financial updates. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be public, this did not occur.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally granted such access to citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. Journalists, however, had difficulty accessing information on military procurement, contracts, or operations deemed sensitive by the government. The national budget was available to the public upon request. If authorities refused requests for information, persons could appeal to an administrative court, which must respond within three months. The government generally respected these rules, although officials sometimes requested bribes to provide requested information. The government may refuse a request by citing national security.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution funded by the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the commission with a headquarters and small staff. Other human rights organizations criticized the CNDH as ineffective and lacking autonomy. They stated the Ministry of Justice had too much control over the CNDH budget and the commission’s large membership, which included several state representatives, impaired its ability to produce honest critiques of the government.

The commission of inquiry established by the National Assembly in 2014 to investigate violence between the government and armed groups in Kidal had not released a report on its findings by year’s end.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry in 2014 to investigate forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in 2012. None of the commissions had released any public reports by year’s end.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2015 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights violations stemming from the 2012 crisis, had not initiated any investigations by year’s end.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is a highly centralized Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The Senate and National Assembly exercise legislative functions but were weak relative to the executive. Voters elect municipal councilors, who, in turn, elect senators. Voters reelected President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to a second and final five-year term in 2014. In 2013 Union for the Republic (UPR), the president’s party, won 76 of 147 seats in the National Assembly in direct legislative elections, which some opposition parties boycotted. Several political parties, but not the major opposition parties, agreed in late October to hold a referendum on proposed amendments to the constitution, but it had not taken place by year’s end.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The chief human rights problems were use of torture by law enforcements officers; arbitrary arrests; holding individuals in lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention; harsh, overcrowded, and dangerous prison conditions; continuing slavery and slavery-related practices; and, trafficking in persons. Violations of freedom of the press, association, and conscience were also of serious concern.

Other human rights problems included incarceration of children with adult prisoners; government influence over the judiciary; arbitrary limits on freedom of assembly; public corruption; and restrictions on religious freedom. By law only Muslims may be citizens. Other reported human rights abuses included gender-based violence against women and girls; discrimination against women; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; political marginalization of sub-Saharan (non-Arab) ethnic groups and of the Haratine caste of slave descendants; racial and ethnic discrimination; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with HIV/AIDS; child labor; and, inadequate and selective arbitrary enforcement of laws, including labor laws.

The government took modest steps to punish officials who committed violations and prosecuted a number of violators, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by the authorities.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security and law enforcement officials tortured their members. Methods of abuse reportedly included beatings, stripping of clothing, and denial of food. There were credible reports of torture, beatings, and abuse in police detention centers and several prisons throughout the country, and in gendarmerie and military facilities. Defendants reported that police took them to the beach, partially buried them, and subjected to mock executions. Other defendants testified in court they were beaten, or tied to chairs for days at a time.

In August 2015 the government adopted a law against torture that requires the establishment of a mechanism for its prevention. This law considers torture, acts of torture, and inhuman or degrading punishments as crimes against humanity not subject to a statute of limitations. The law specifically covers activities in prisons, rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law, places of custody, psychiatric institutions, detention centers, areas of transit, and border crossing points.

In April the government created the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) as an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The MNP had not launched any investigation by year’s end.

On August 9, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), an active antislavery and “Haratine rights” NGO, reported that 13 of its members were tortured. These individuals were arrested and convicted in connection with a June 29 riot in Nouakchott in which several police officers were injured. The IRA complained that authorities arrested and held these activists incommunicado for nearly two weeks, the maximum allowable period of such detention under antiterrorism legislation. The IRA also stated that their activists were regularly tortured and humiliated while in police custody. Some IRA defendants testified they were not tortured, while others said they were tortured and named their alleged torturers. At their August 3 trial, Moussad Ould Bilal Ould Biram, the first defendant interrogated, said that he was tortured badly. Abdellahi Ould Maatallah, the next defendant to testify, also recounted being beaten and insulted. The arrests took place during Ramadan, and many defendants complained that police failed to feed them after sunset ended the day’s requirement to fast. The defendants, their lawyers, and several other IRA members said they repeatedly drew the attention of authorities and the MNP to these alleged abuses without any reaction from the prison administration, the MNP, or the prosecutor.

On December 7, the news website al-Akhbar reported child detainees in the Central Prison of Nouakchott were regularly tortured. Prison authorities denied the allegation.

On February 2, the news website Cridem reported that the UN Rapporteur on Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments, at the end of a 10-day visit to the country, asked authorities to implement existing laws and protect suspects and detainees from torture and ill treatment. Cridem also reported the UN rapporteur stated that some prisoners, specifically Salafist terrorists, were tortured, but authorities did not conduct any investigation of these allegations.

The United Nations reported that in the year to December 20, it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Mauritanian peacekeepers for incidents that allegedly occurred during the year. The allegations involved personnel deployed to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. According to the United Nations, both allegations were pending investigation by the United Nations and the Mauritanian government at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Prison authorities kept a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities throughout the country regardless of their sentences. They held convicted prisoners with pretrial detainees in the same facilities. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security for visitors. Prisoners often rebelled and disobeyed authorities in protest against violence and inhumane treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and dangerous inmates sharing cells with less dangerous ones obliged prisoners to live in a climate of violence, and some had to pay bribes to other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Human rights groups continued to report prisons were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Physical Conditions: The Mauritanian Observatory for Human Rights reported in 2015 that there were seven main prisons, four in Nouakchott and three in the interior. It continued to denounce the poor conditions of these prisons. There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital, Nouakchott, and the other in the second largest city, Nouadhibou. Most supervisors were men; there was a severe shortage of female supervisors. Male guards provided security at women’s prisons because the all-male National Guard was assigned this task nationwide. There were some women supervisors in prisons, but they were not from the National Guard. An Italian NGO operated a detention center for minors, the only facility that came close to meeting international standards. These prisons were in addition to detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

Prisons remained overcrowded. For example, Dar Naim Prison, the main civil prison in Nouakchott, had a capacity of 300 inmates but held 595, of whom 239 were convicted prisoners and 356, pretrial detainees. Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with convicted and often dangerous prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates in the women’s prison of Nouakchott, a practice criticized by the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). Conditions of detention for women were generally better than for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded.

The Salah ad Dine Prison, the maximum-security facility in Adrar, remained open and held incommunicado a number of inmates convicted of terrorism related offenses.

Due to deteriorating conditions, authorities closed the juvenile detention facility at Beila and transferred 62 children between the ages of 15 and 17 to Nouakchott’s Central Prison and 15 to the prison in Nouadhibou. The minors had contact with adult prisoners, including those convicted of terrorist offenses and other violent crimes. The Ministry of Justice sometimes gave temporary custody of the children of prisoners to another family member to remove them from confinement.

Authorities reported seven inmate deaths during the year. The cause of death of two of the seven inmates was infectious diseases. Upon the death of an inmate in custody, the family of the deceased has the right to request an autopsy. During the year, only one family member asked for an autopsy. The result showed death was due to natural causes.

According to the Mauritanian Observatory for Human Rights, access to food for most prisoners was generally inadequate, as were sanitary conditions in prison kitchens. Medical facilities and staff were similarly inadequate, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Prison. The government allocated a budget of 600 ouguiyas ($1.71) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies. Generalized corruption in the prison system, smuggling of medicines, and lack of skilled medical staff accounted for most deficiencies. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

Administration: Efforts to improve recordkeeping continued to progress slowly. Local NGOs reported prison officials often misplaced prisoner files, leading in some cases to postponement of release. In January prisoners who had completed their sentences rioted at Nouakchott Central Prison after authorities failed to honor their scheduled release dates.

Independent prison ombudsmen did not exist, but authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH. Regulations also allowed inmates to choose one of their own to represent them in dealings with the administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity.

Effective May 1, the previously weekly visits by imams to prisoners increased to three visits a week, and every week the Penitentiary Administration chose an imam to conduct the Friday prayer in all prisons.

The government acknowledged the allegations regarding inhumane conditions but rarely took corrective action.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to terrorism suspects. The ICRC worked with prison authorities to improve conditions of detention and the treatment of inmates by renovating infrastructure and providing food, medical assistance, water, sanitation, prison management advice, and legal safeguards through protection of prisoners’ rights and contact with their families. The ICRC conducted frequent visits to the Dar Naim, the Central Prison in Nouakchott, and to prisons in Aleg, Selibaby, and Kaedi. Corrections officials continued to allow access to several prisons in Nouakchott to diplomatic personnel, who had the opportunity to interview prisoners and staff members.

Improvements: In August the ICRC renovated and equipped the prison in Kaedi. The NGO Noura Foundation conducted sanitation and hygienic training in the prisons of Nouakchott and Aleg. Caritas Mauritania opened a library in the Dar Naim Prison to enable prisoners to access reading materials. It also implemented an awareness program to fight the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

The Ministry of Justice undertook several measures to improve conditions and reduce overcrowding, including the deportation of foreign prisoners to their home countries, pardons, commutation of sentences, or conditional release of prisoners convicted of minor crimes. Prison officials held female prisoners in Nouadhibou in a separate facility within the walls of the main prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities did not observe these prohibitions. In some cases, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization, the National Police is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas. The National Guard, under the same ministry, performs limited police functions in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, including prisons. For instance, regional authorities may call upon it to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s newest police force, the General Group for Road Safety, maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country.

Police and gendarmes were poorly paid, trained, and equipped. Corruption and impunity were serious problems. Police and gendarmes reportedly regularly sought bribes at nightly roadblocks in Nouakchott and at checkpoints between cities. There were numerous reports police at such roadblocks arbitrarily detained individuals, often without probable cause, for several hours or overnight.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires duly authorized arrest warrants, although their issuance was uncommon. Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of an investigation. The law requires that in most cases courts review the legality of a person’s detention within 48 hours of arrest, but police may extend the period for an additional 48 hours, and a prosecutor or court may detain persons for up to an additional 15 days in national terrorism cases. Authorities generally respected the two-week deadline for formally arraigning or releasing terrorism suspects in national security cases. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but frequently either legal representation was unavailable or attorneys did not speak a defendant’s language. There was a bail system, but judges sometimes refused such requests arbitrarily or set inordinately high bail.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists (see section 2.a.). Police arrested a number of human right activists and journalists without charge or hearings.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although no statistics on the average length of detention were available. Security force members sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than regulations allow, often due to lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, or to obtain confessions. By law authorities may hold a minor for no more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports many individuals, including minors, remained in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A detainee has ability to challenge lawfulness of his or her detention before a court under two circumstances. If a person remains arrested after the end of his/her legal period of detention, the detainee has the right to complain before a court against the administration of the prison or the penitential authority that arrested the detainee. Secondly, if the detainee disagrees with his/her sentence, he or she has the right to call for an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not autonomous. The executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Observers often perceived many judges to be corrupt and unskilled.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for due process, and defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants did not often learn of the charges until the investigation was complete. Authorities generally provided defendants with free interpretation as required; however, the quality of these services was generally poor. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial. They also have the right to be present during trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities rarely respected this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases. Defendants have the right to access government held evidence, although in practice it was difficult to obtain such evidence. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Court proceedings are by law conducted in Arabic, and interpreters are not always available for those defendants who do not understand that language. Some bilingual judges speak with defendants in French.

Sharia is, in part, the basis for law and court procedures. Courts did not treat women equally with men in all cases.

A special court hears cases involving persons under age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults did, and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years. Juvenile offenders between ages 12 and 17 generally served sentences at detention centers for minors, although several NGOs expressed concern regarding the holding of youthful offenders in the general population, including with more dangerous inmates, at Nouakchott Central Prison.

On August 3, the trial began of 23 men charged in connection with a June 29 riot in Nouakchott during which several police officers were injured. On August 23, local press reported that the EU delegation in the country described the rumored verdict as severe, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the trial was riddled with irregularities, a charge denied by the public prosecutor.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On August 18, the criminal court of Nouakchott sentenced 13 members of the IRA to sentences ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. The court convicted them of leading an unarmed rebellion, violence against police officers, armed assembly, and membership in an unregistered organization. They were widely considered political prisoners, as the court sentenced some purely for membership in an unregistered organization. Some others were shown during the trial to have been present at the riot, but had not directed or participated in the violence. The court convicted and sentenced others for involvement in the riot, although the trial showed they were not present at the riot. Authorities also charged 10 non-IRA members in connection with the riot. The court convicted seven, and acquitted and released three.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complaints of human rights violations fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court, but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chamber of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Persons may sue at the Administrative Court and appeal to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Real property ownership in the southern regions has been controversial since the government expelled tens of thousands of non-Arab sub-Saharans from communities based in the Senegal River Valley (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) from 1989 to 1991 amid tensions with neighboring Senegal. Many non-Arabs were dispossessed of their land, which regional officials subsequently sold or ceded to Beydane (“Arabo-Berbers” or “White Moors” (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Although the government continued to make modest efforts to indemnify returning deportees, it did not fully restore their property rights. The government reimbursed some in cash, and provided jobs for others.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who oppose government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government has used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government owned two daily newspapers and most broadcast media; five radio stations and five television stations were independent. Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year, incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.

For example, on April 16, Deyloul (a news website close to the opposition) reported two journalists (Jedna Deida of Mauriweb and Babacar N’Diaye of Cridem news websites) were tried on April 15. They were arrested and then released following a complaint for defamation filed by the eldest son of President Aziz.

Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reported incidents of violence against and harassment of journalists. On January 27, the president of the country’s journalist syndicate, Moctar Salem, stated during a television broadcast that 12 journalists faced complaints filed by various government officials with the Ministry of Justice–a tactic used by the government to intimidate journalists.

For example, on January 25, Sidi Ali Ould Belemech, a journalist with the Mourassiloun news website, was detained and questioned by police after Ministry of Finance official filed a complaint against Belemech for criticizing him.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.

On February 15, the Wali (provincial governor) of Hodh El Chargui Region prevented a press crew from the Essirage news group from completing interviews with some communities that were in conflict over a well. The crew allegedly lacked formal authorization from authorities in Nouakchott.

In February the government notified all private media outlets of a temporary suspension of all government funded subscription services and commercial advertising, which had provided financial support to private media. The government stated it planned to use the six billion ouguiyas ($17 million) typically spent annually on media subscriptions and advertising to more equitably support private media. Because of the suspension, however, the private media struggled to survive. On September 18, private media around the country organized a “Day without Press” to protest the government’s subscription and advertising suspension, which remained in place at year’s end. This was the country’s first media strike since 1991.

Some journalists practiced self-censorship when covering topics deemed sensitive, including the military, corruption, and the application of sharia, and there were reports police detained and questioned journalists in connection with their coverage of those topics as well as of slavery.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 15 percent of the population used the internet.

The parliament adopted a bill on cybercrime in December 2015 that establishes protection of systems and data. Journalists alleged the legislation would permit authorities to prosecute them for almost anything published online. The legislation would also bring encryption technology under heavy state regulation, and nullify previous laws extending protections to journalists using digital technologies.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply to the local administrative chief for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that suggested the application of political criteria.

On several occasions, officials with the IRA and other organizations reported security force members arrested their activists for failing to obtain the local prefect’s permission to hold a rally.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right.

All local NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Generally, if the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the NGO may proceed with its work, although it was not considered officially registered.

On August 2, the newspaper Calame reported police closed the office of the Progressive Forces for Change, previously the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania, for unauthorized activities.

The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 7,000 local NGOs did so. IRA Mauritania, whose president challenged President Aziz in the 2014 presidential election, has been awaiting official recognition since 2008. Other similar organizations have received government permission to operate. In August a court sentenced 13 IRA members to three to 15 years’ imprisonment for their membership in the unregistered organization and participating in a Nouakchott riot on June 29. President Aziz has publicly stated more than once that IRA has never applied for recognition, a claim denied by the IRA vice president.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage, and conducted by secret ballot.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In June 2014 President Aziz won reelection to a second and final five-year term with approximately 82 percent of the vote. Although some opposition groups alleged procedural irregularities and inconsistent application of vote counting policies, the Constitutional Council and international observers endorsed the results of the election.

In 2013 the president’s party, the UPR, won 76 of 147 seats in the National Assembly in direct legislative elections, which some opposition parties boycotted.

Voters last elected members of the Senate in 2006. New elections to choose two thirds of the Senate were to have occurred in 2011 but were indefinitely postponed.

On February 11, the Constitutional Council invalidated a government decree calling for renewal of two-thirds of the Senate as unconstitutional. Instead, the council ordered the government to hold elections for the entire senate.

In a May 3 speech, President Aziz announced his intent to dissolve the Senate and replace it with regional councils to focus on development. Such action would require constitutional amendment to abolish the senate and replace it with an indirectly elected body.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government often favored individuals based on political ties.

The Beydane (Arabs) account for at most 30 percent of the population but occupied about 80 percent of top leadership positions. Haratines (Arab slave descendants) constitute at least 45 percent of the population but held less than 10 percent of the positions. The sub-Saharan ethnic groups (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) make up about 25 percent of the population and account for less than 10 percent of top leadership positions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did so. The law reserves at least 20 seats in the National Assembly for women. Following the 2013 legislative elections, 31 women held seats in the 147-member National Assembly. Of the country’s 29 ministers, eight were women, three were Haratines, and six were from non-Arab, sub-Saharan ethnic groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and officials often engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Corrupt practices were widely believed to exist at all levels of government. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was rampant.

Corruption: Corruption and impunity were serious problems in the public administration, and the government rarely held officials accountable or prosecuted them for abuses. There were reports government officials frequently used their power to obtain favors such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, special grants of land, and preferential treatment during bidding on government projects. Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement but also common in the distribution of official documents, fishing and mining licenses, land, bank loans, and tax payments. Although there was a slight increase in prosecutions for corruption during the year, authorities rarely jailed those found guilty. Instead, they were usually required only to return the funds in question.

On May 27, the Criminal Division for Economic and Financial Crimes arrested Jemila Mint Mohamed, a government employed accountant for project “VAINCRE,” a French-funded development project. Authorities charged her with embezzling 700 million ouguiyas ($2 million) from the project, but released her on bail.

In 2015 authorities arrested 32 employees of the state treasury for fraud and the embezzlement of more than one billion ouguiyas ($2.8 million) and dismissed many financial auditors who overlooked the embezzlement in regional treasury services. The embezzlement network extended to the fishing, foreign customs, and health sectors, and led the minister of finance to resign. In August the court convicted 12 of the 32 and sentenced them to two to three years’ imprisonment. Investigation for the remaining 20 was ongoing and they remained in detention awaiting trial.

The 2015 anticorruption law was unevenly enforced and mostly used as a weapon against opponents of the regime. The law defines corruption as “all exploitation by a public agent of his position for personal purposes, whether this agent is elected, or in an administrative or judicial position.”

Financial Disclosure: The government enforced the requirement that senior officials, including the president, file a declaration of their personal assets at the beginning and end of their service. The information is not available to the public. The last public accounting of President Aziz’s personal assets took place in 2010; the president of the Supreme Court declared Aziz did not have to renew the public declaration when he was reelected in 2014. Members of his first administration who resigned in the wake of his reelection had not declared their assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally granted some access to citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. The government did not fully implement the law, since the law still requires adoption of implementing legislation before it can take effect.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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 were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commissariat for Human Rights and Humanitarian Action designs, promotes, and implements national human rights policies. During the year its budget increased to 595 million ouguiyas ($1.7 million), a 20 million ouguiyas ($57,143) increase compared with 2015. The commissariat managed government and internationally funded human rights and humanitarian assistance programs.

The CNDH, an independent ombudsman organization, includes government and civil society representatives. It actively monitored human rights conditions and advocated for government action to correct violations. Its annual budget was 105 million ouguiyas ($300,000). The CNDH produced an annual report on thematic topics, conducted regular investigations, and made recommendations to the government.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. Following a February 21 first round of presidential elections, a run-off was held on March 20 in which incumbent President Issoufou Mahamadou won 92 percent of the vote; principal rival Hama Amadou received 8 percent. Observers from the African Union declared the election generally free and fair, despite an opposition boycott, several irregularities, and Amadou’s imprisonment from November 2015 until March on what he claimed were politically motivated charges. Observers also characterized the February 21 National Assembly elections as free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. In December 2015 the government announced it had foiled an attempted coup allegedly involving military officers and several members of the opposition.

The most serious human rights problems included attacks by armed groups that resulted in death, disappearances, and abuse; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; and trafficking in persons, including forced labor and caste-based slavery.

Other human rights problems included: security force killings of civilians and abuse of detainees; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference in the judiciary; forcible dispersal of demonstrators; and restrictions on freedoms of press and assembly. The government restricted opposition political parties. Corruption was pervasive, and discrimination and violence against women and children were problems, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child prostitution. Societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community was a problem. Forced labor, child labor, and discrimination in employment on the basis of sex and disability continued.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity was a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government charged child soldiers, when apprehended, with providing material support to a terror organization and detained them to await trial.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and abused civilians.

Security officials reportedly inflicted severe pain and suffering on detainees in Diffa Region to secure information. These activities occurred during the state of emergency in Diffa. Security forces singled out members of the Bororo Fulani and Buduma ethnic groups for abuse; both groups were widely viewed as supporting Boko Haram.

UN investigations determined that Nigerien police forces serving in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti sexually exploited an adult in February. Another investigation determined that Nigerien military forces serving in the UN operation in Cote d’Ivoire sexually exploited two adults in September 2015. Investigations continued into additional incidents involving Nigerien forces in Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. The government removed the implicated peacekeepers from UN peacekeeping missions and began investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 38 prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Guards subjected prisoners to humiliating treatment.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in all facilities. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. Large numbers of individuals detained and charged with terror offenses exacerbated overcrowding in Diffa, Niamey, Koutakale, and Kollo prisons and the Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism (SCLCT) detainee processing centers in Niamey and Diffa. Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters that were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes, although they held some juvenile prisoners with adult prisoners. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred from malaria and meningitis, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Several prison facilities reported severe malnutrition. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate. There were no official penal or judicial alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Judicial authorities and the governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisons had no ombudsmen, but prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year the government separated juvenile detainees held on terrorism charges from the general adult population by housing them in designated juvenile facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge for more than 48 hours, but police occasionally violated these provisions.

Prior to the February parliamentary and first-round presidential elections, authorities detained members and supporters of opposition political parties, including singer Habsou Garba, who was charged with inciting civil disobedience before being granted provisional release.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. During the year the government renewed a state of emergency in Diffa Region. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Police were largely ineffective due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols were sporadic, and the emergency response time in Niamey could be 45 minutes or more. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had basic weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops acted as prison guards but had no prison-specific training. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.

The gendarmerie is responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity was a widespread problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. The law allows individuals to be detained for 48 hours without charge and an additional 48 hours if police need more time to gather evidence, although authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day time period begins once suspects reach the Niamey SCLCT; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey. Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of funds prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Although the law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 30 months for serious crimes and 12 months for less serious offenses (with special extensions in certain sensitive cases), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. In November approximately 66 percent of prisoners nationwide were awaiting trial. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. By contrast, high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections.

Customary courts and traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil issues. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of the traditions, heads these courts. Formal law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Authorities provided free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. The government has a legal obligation to inform defendants of all evidence against them, and defendants have access to government-held evidence. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of jurisdictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources were common.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In late 2015 and early 2016, authorities detained 13 members of the opposition MODEN-FA Lumana Party, including party head Hama Amadou. Hama and eight other members subsequently were granted provisional release, but four still awaited trial on charges of assisting a purported planned coup in December 2015. Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may also appeal decisions to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes threatened and arrested journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: On June 14, authorities detained Abdoul Moumouni Ousmane after he posted comments on Facebook critical of the government. Ousmane was given a six-month suspended sentence for attempting to foment a coup.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists to arrest, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting.

For example, on June 8, security forces arrested two journalists and a printer at independent newspaper Le Courier for “divulging documents” related to a criminal investigation of Ministry of Public Health officials accused of corruption in the administration of an employment examination. The two journalists, Moussa Dodo and Ali Soumana, were convicted and given three-month suspended sentences; the printer was acquitted and released.

The minister of communications revoked the press credentials of French journalist Nathalie Prevost after she reported critically on military developments in Diffa Region. The CNDH expressed concern over attacks on fundamental liberties, including the detention of journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa Region grants the government the authority to censor media for security reasons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities detained activists and charged them for expressing political opinions on social media. Sonitel, the government-owned telecommunications company, indefinitely blocked access to certain websites, such as those of Boko Haram, under orders from the High Commission for New Technology and Communication.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 2.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice.

The government banned planned opposition political rallies in February and April.

Municipal authorities often denied official permission for opposition demonstrations and rallies. For example, in October police in Zinder city forcibly dispersed university students protesting delayed education subsidy payments.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 21, the country held a first round of legislative and presidential elections in which incumbent President Issoufou Mahamadou won 48.4 percent of the vote in a field of 15 candidates. On March 20, the president won 92 percent of the vote in a second round election against runner-up Hama Amadou. Amadou–who spent the majority of the election season in prison on fraud charges he claimed were politically motivated–received 8 percent of the vote. Amadou’s supporters boycotted the runoff, citing complaints including lack of media access. Observers from the African Union declared the election generally free and fair, despite numerous irregularities and Amadou’s imprisonment. A coalition led by the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) backed Issoufou and won 118 of 171 National Assembly seats in the legislative elections. The opposition MODEN-FA Lumana party won 25 seats, and the National Movement for the Development of Society won 20 seats. PNDS party member Brigi Rafini retained his post as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized voter registration efforts, noting some citizens were not able to register and citing concerns about inflated registration figures in some regions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 26 of 171 National Assembly seats (15 percent). All major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” specifically ethnic minorities and nomadic populations.

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 often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem. The government publicly acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly financed and trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education.

An investigation uncovered a corrupt civil servant recruitment scheme at the Ministry of Public Health. Several high-level officials were implicated.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and they complied. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. The National Register and the press published the initial statements and updates. Copies of the statements were forwarded to the government’s fiscal services. Filers must explain any discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions. The law does not allow designated officials to purchase or rent, by themselves or through other parties, any government-owned property or to bid for government contracts. The High Authority to Combat Corruption and Related Crimes and the State Inspectorate have investigative roles, with the State Inspectorate being more administrative.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for access to public information and administrative documents, and the High Council of Communications provided such information. Requesters could also obtain many documents from individual ministries and the national archives. The law provides a list of “communicable” and “noncommunicable” documents and establishes procedures for accessing them and paying related costs. If officials deny access to a document, they are required to notify the requester in writing and provide the legal grounds for denial. The law provides an appeal mechanism for review through the national mediator, and legal complaints were referred to the Administrative Court. It also provides for sanctions against agencies, individual civil servants, and users for noncompliance.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights issues, including prison and detention center conditions. The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as an official government ombudsman, including on some human rights issues. The CNDH and the mediator operated without government interference, although they often lacked the resources necessary to carry out their work effectively.

The government gave mandates to and partially staffed the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, but it did not fully fund them.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist group Boko Haram, and its splinter group Islamic State-West Africa, continued. The military drove the insurgents out of major population centers, but they remained in control of rural areas and capable of conducting complex attacks and suicide bombings. Casualty figures increased, and reports of serious human rights abuses by both Boko Haram and security forces continued.

The most serious human rights abuses included those committed by Boko Haram, which conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of 1.8 million persons, and the external displacement of an estimated 191,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In its response to Boko Haram attacks, and at times in response to crime and insecurity in general, security services perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, rape, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, looting, and destruction of property.

The country also suffered from ethnic, regional, and religious violence. Other serious human rights problems included vigilante killings; prolonged pretrial detention, often in poor conditions and with limited independent oversight; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; discrimination based on ethnicity, regional origin, religion, and disability; forced and bonded labor; and child labor.

The government took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

Boko Haram’s numerous attacks often targeted civilians. The group, which recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers, carried out bombings–including suicide bombings–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The government investigated these attacks but prosecuted few members of Boko Haram; it detained the vast majority of suspected Boko Haram supporters in military custody without charge.

Abductions by the group continued. The group subjected many abducted women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages and rape. The government investigated attacks but rarely prosecuted Boko Haram members; it detained the vast majority of suspected Boko Haram supporters in military custody without charge.

The United Nations and other international organizations reported that vigilante groups, collectively known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), which at times aligned with the military against Boko Haram, continued to recruit and use, sometimes by force, child soldiers. The government prohibited these actions and maintained that CJTF forces aligned with the government did not employ child soldiers. Nonetheless, the Borno State government continued to provide financial and in-kind resources to some members of the CJTF, which was also at times aligned with the Nigerian military in operations against Boko Haram.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of December only the states of Anambra, Ekiti, Enugu, and Lagos had adopted it. Final passage of an antitorture bill, initially passed in 2015 by both houses of the National Assembly but returned by President Buhari to the Senate for amendments, was pending.

The Ministry of Justice established a National Committee against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, continued to prevent NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and police often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.

In September AI reported police officers in the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. For example, SARS officers in Enugu State reportedly beat one victim with machetes and heavy sticks, releasing him only after payment of 25,500 naira ($81). In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups continued to accuse the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of demonstrators, criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. Military and police reportedly used a wide range of torture methods, including beatings, shootings, nail and tooth extractions, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. For example, in July a police inspector allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl in Mkpat Enin, Akwa Ibom State. As of December there were no reports of any investigation into the incident.

Police continued to use a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a non-sharia court. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases had reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.

There were no reports of canings during the year. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.

In January a sharia court in Kano confirmed the death sentence for blasphemy of an Islamic cleric and eight others. They had allegedly made blasphemous statements the previous May at a religious gathering in honor of the founder of the Tijaniya sect. As of December the case remained on appeal.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, and other abuses. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g).

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of March they held 63,142 prisoners. Approximately 72 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. There were 1,225 female inmates as of September 2015. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. In 2013 the NPS reported there were 847 juvenile inmates in juvenile detention centers, but prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.

Prisoners and detainees, the majority of whom had not been tried, were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the number of prison deaths during the year.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

In general prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Infants born to inmate mothers usually remained with the mother until weaned. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. According to the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), in 2013 there were 69 infants in prison with their mothers. Results of a survey of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria and released in March revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to a report by the NGO CURE-Nigeria, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain female hygiene items.

Generally, prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military prisons reported by domestic and international human rights groups–including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State–continued to operate (see section 1.g.). In May AI reported that at least 149 individuals, including 12 children and babies, had died since January at Giwa Barracks. According to the report, overcrowding coupled with disease and inadequate access to food and water were the most likely causes of the increase in mortality at the installation. The military reportedly detained many of those at Giwa Barracks during arbitrary mass arrests based on random profiling rather than reasonable suspicion of supporting Boko Haram. The military publicly denied the findings of the report but worked with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and by October had released 876 children previously detained at the facility. It was unclear following their release how many other children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities.

In 2014 AI reported the mass extrajudicial executions of more than 600 recaptured prisoners at Giwa Barracks following an escape attempt. In 2013 AI had revealed the existence of previously unknown military detention facilities in the Northeast–including Giwa Barracks, and the Sector Alpha (also called “Guantanamo”) and Presidential Lodge (also called “the Guardroom”) facilities in Damaturu, Yobe State. According to AI, the military subjected detainees in them to inhuman and degrading treatment; hundreds allegedly died due to of extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, or starvation. In response to the Giwa Barracks allegations, the military indicated it would conduct an investigation. As of December the military had not released any reports of an investigation.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, and authorities did not take steps to improve it. Authorities maintained records for individual prisoners in paper form inconsistently and did not make them widely accessible.

While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.

The country does not have an ombudsman to serve on behalf of convicted prisoners and detainees. The ACJA provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducts prison audits and in September announced the start of a new one. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the last audit report it publicly released was in 2012. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons under the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to police detention and NPS facilities. It was also able to visit some military detention facilities.

Improvements: Some individual attorneys general and prison administrators worked to improve local facilities and processes. CURE-Nigeria worked with the chief justice of the FCT to review the cases of FCT inmates incarcerated in neighboring states while awaiting trial or after having served their sentences.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Force (NPF) is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by the president and reporting to the minister of interior, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters that necessitate the temporary deployment to a state of additional law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.

The Department of State Services (DSS) is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.

Due to the inability of law enforcement forces to control societal violence, the government increasingly turned to the armed forces in many cases. In July, for example, the military launched Operation Accord to tackle an increase in the number of herder-farmer conflicts throughout the country.

The police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish security force abuse and corruption. The police and military remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution of suspects. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command under the Armed Forces Act. In March the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, although as of December that office’s mandate remained unclear and no investigations had been formally initiated.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused. The law requires that, even under a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely under investigative detention. Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees alleged police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security force personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, reportedly continued to round up individuals during mass arrests, often with no evidence against them.

Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NPS figures from March, 72 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees can challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC. For example, in April an Abuja court ordered the EFCC to pay the sum of 10 million naira ($31,750) as damages to the former acting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party after declaring his arrest and subsequent detention by the commission illegal.

Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition, the pay for court officials was low, and they often lacked proper equipment and training.

There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and received requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.

Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if involved in civil disputes with Muslims.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of December no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia law experts often advise them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. The law grants defendants the right to apply directly or through a lawyer for access to government-held evidence.

Authorities did not always respect these rights. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, no law prevents a trial from going forward without counsel, except for certain offenses that carry the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the term allowed by law (see section 1.c.).

Human rights groups alleged the government denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. Despite announcements in 2015 that the government was preparing to prosecute 350 Boko Haram suspects in custody, as of December there were no reports of the government initiating their prosecutions. Thousands of other individuals suspected of association with Boko Haram remained in detention with no investigations or prosecutions initiated against them.

Under common law women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by a four-member court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.

In May the NA announced a special court-martial to try two generals on unspecified charges. In September the court convicted one of them of indiscipline and reduced his rank. In August the NA convened a court-martial to try 16 soldiers and four officers for offenses allegedly committed during operations in the Northeast. Their cases were pending as of December.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no new reports of political prisoners or detainees. Persons arrested in previous years for alleged treason remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.

Press and Media Freedoms: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2016, described the press as “partly free.” A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government. Because newspapers and television were relatively expensive and literacy levels low, radio remained the most important medium of mass communication and information.

Violence and Harassment: Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.

For example, in May a journalist was driving to an assignment when he saw two police officers beating up a driver and his passenger by the side of the road. When he stopped to film the scene, one officer tried to prevent him from doing so while the other slapped him. After a struggle, the officers arrested the journalist and took him to the police station in Mushin LGA, Lagos State. After threatening him, the police released the journalist.

In August EFCC agents arrested a popular blogger known as Abusidiqu after he published a post highly critical of the head of the EFCC. He was released two days later, amid widespread criticism of his arrest.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they must dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

Journalists practiced self-censorship. Local NGOs claimed security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense and requires defendants to prove the truth of the opinion or value judgment contained in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. This limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty of two years’ imprisonment and possible fines.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. Rising internet usage in the country was due to growing cell phone usage, although high-speed broadband penetration increased from 10 percent in 2014 to 14 percent during the year. According to the World Bank, 47 percent of individuals used the internet in 2015.

Human rights advocates and business executives expressed concern over the inadequacy of laws to protect personal data and privacy rights. Some civil society organizations, government officials, and business executives expressed concern over the broad powers the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 gives law enforcement and other security agencies to intercept private communications. According to civil society organizations, business executives, and network providers, the government in the past conducted massive surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications, and on occasion compelled network operators to release political dissidents’ communication data.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government occasionally banned gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states, due to fears they might heighten interreligious tensions. In October several northern states enacted restrictions on religious activities shortly before the Shia commemoration of Ashura. When the IMN attempted to observe Ashura, security forces seeking to enforce the restrictions killed at least 15 IMN members. In November a similar situation between the IMN and the NPF during a pilgrimage march in Kano State resulted in the death of one police officer and more than 40 IMN members.

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, a law prohibiting marriages and civil unions among persons of the same sex, criminalizes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organizations (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis.

Security services continued to use excessive force to disperse demonstrators during the year (see section 1.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. In October the government of Kaduna State proscribed the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace, and ordered the arrest of IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa for allegedly violating the ban. As of December Musa was in hiding.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of September, 40 parties were registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), an increase from the previous 28. The constitution requires political party sponsorship for all election candidates.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: INEC is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. From November 2015 to August, INEC conducted 139 elections, including end of tenure and by-elections. There were allegations of malpractices in some elections, and INEC suspended 22 of them due to violence.

Many elections, such as the Ondo State gubernatorial election in November, were relatively peaceful. Significant violence and intimidation of voters and election officials by political operatives, however, marred several of the off-cycle and rerun elections. As a result, INEC postponed elections in some states.

There were several instances of INEC canceling, postponing, and rerunning gubernatorial or state legislative elections. In July INEC postponed rerun legislative elections in Rivers State. In the commission’s view, incidents of violence in several of Rivers’ LGAs, inflamed political rhetoric, and attacks against INEC facilities in the state threatened the exercise. The elections had originally taken place in 2015, but an election petition tribunal cancelled the results and ordered a rerun in response to a suit alleging intimidation of voters, unavailability of results sheets, the disappearance of electoral materials, and noncollation of results in several LGAs. According to NGO observers, serious irregularities marred the Three Rivers rerun elections in December. These included breach of the code of conduct and rules of engagement by the security forces and overt bias by electoral managers and others. There were serious cases of violence perpetrated by the NPF, NA, and DSS that resulted in several deaths. At least one police officer was killed. There was evidence of election malpractices and ballot hijacking by party agents under the watch of INEC and security agents.

Civil society organizations reported no legal restrictions on their ability to comment or observe parts of the electoral process. They reported aspects of the electoral process, however, remained opaque, allegedly because of deliberate attempts to undermine or circumvent the integrity of the process by stakeholders or because of INEC’s financial or logistical constraints. According to some civil society organizations, attempts to disenfranchise voters were on the rise through circumvention of permanent voter card procedures and targeted electoral violence. In response to some of these trends, INEC regularly cancelled votes from polling units that failed to use card readers properly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minority members from voting, running for office, or serving as electoral monitors. There were no incidents or reports of deliberate exclusion of any group from participating in the political process. Observers attributed fewer leadership opportunities for women in major parties and government, particularly in the North, to religious and cultural barriers. Women occupied approximately 5 percent of National Assembly seats, and six of the 36 cabinet members were women. Few women ran for elected office at the national level: in 2015 just 128 women of 746 total candidates (17 percent) and 270 of the 1,772 House of Representative candidates (15 percent) were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) holds broad authorities to prosecute most forms of corruption. The EFCC writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. In October the ICPC had 82 prosecutions underway and 1,311 open investigations, and it had secured eight convictions between September 2015 and August. The EFCC had 66 corruption cases pending in court, had secured 13 convictions during the year, and had 598 open investigations.

Although ICPC and EFCC anticorruption efforts remained largely focused on low- and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election both organizations started investigations into and brought indictments against various current and former high-level government officials. Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both ICPC and EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.

EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC. In a case brought by the EFCC, in November a federal court convicted four firms allegedly used by a former aide of former president Goodluck Jonathan of laundering 1.67 billion naira ($5.3 million) in stolen funds. In its pursuit of corruption, the EFCC often did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards. In November the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice declared unlawful the arrest and detention in November 2015 of former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki. A court had released him on bail in a case brought by the EFCC for the alleged diversion of 13.6 billion naira ($43.2 million) intended to purchase military materiel during the Jonathan administration.

In October and November, the DSS arrested several federal judges, including some Supreme Court justices, for corruption. Prominent civil society representatives denounced the arrests, alleging that as a domestic intelligence agency the DSS lacked the necessary law enforcement powers. Subsequent to their arrests, the government indicted some of the judges for various crimes, ranging from immigration violations to money laundering.

Despite the announcement in 2015 of measures to tackle rampant police corruption and the 2013 propagation of a police code of conduct, as of November there were no reports of pending corruption cases against police officers.

Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCBTA) requires public officials–including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, cabinet ministers, and legislators (at both federal and state levels)–to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming and after leaving office. The constitution calls for the CCB to “make declarations available for inspection by any citizen of the country on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.” The law does not address the publication of asset information. Violators risk prosecution, but cases rarely reached conclusion.

In 2015 the CCB brought charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal–a court created by the CCBTA to try violations of that act–against Senate President Bukola Saraki for false declaration of assets. In November the tribunal adjourned the trial until 2017.

Public Access to Information: The law allows any person to request information from a government office. The office must grant access to the information, explain why access was denied within seven days of receiving the request, or transfer the request to the appropriate office within three days. By law all public offices must keep records and ensure that information, except as otherwise noted, is “widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic, and online sources.” The law provides immunity for public officers against any form of civil or criminal proceeding for “disclosure in good faith of any information” pursuant to the law, except for that information covered under the criminal code, penal code, and the Official Secrets Act. This exception hinders disclosure and access to information. The law provides a 30-day period during which anyone denied access by any public institution may submit the matter to court for a judicial review. The law includes a fine of 500,000 naira ($1,590) for any institution or public officer who wrongfully denies access to information or records. Destruction of records is a felony punishable by a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment. Immunity from this law, however, is provided for the president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, and all state governors. The law requires each public institution to submit an annual report on freedom of information requests and compliance to the attorney general and to make such information available to the public by various means; such information, however, was difficult to locate.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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 sometimes cooperated and responded to their views, but on some occasions dismissed allegations quickly without investigating the charges.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the NHRC as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The NHRC monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The NHRC investigates allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of NHRC awards and recommendations as court decisions.

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall to succeed Abdoulaye Wade as president for a seven-year term. In 2012 Sall’s coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the elections as largely free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, and discrimination and violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Other major human rights problems included security force abuse, including torture, arbitrary arrest, questionable investigative detention, and lack of judicial independence. Corruption–particularly in the judiciary, police, and executive branch–was a problem. Child abuse, early and forced marriage, infanticide, and trafficking in persons occurred. Violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued, as did discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forced labor, including by children, was a problem.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a fourth year. Gunmen associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), however, continued to rob and harass local populations. While there were occasional unplanned skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, neither side conducted offensive operations. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were occasional reports government officials employed them.

Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by law enforcement, including cruel and degrading treatment in prisons and detention facilities. In particular, they criticized strip search and interrogation methods. Police reportedly forced detainees to sleep on bare floors, directed bright lights at them, beat them with batons, and kept them in cells with minimal access to fresh air. The government claimed these practices were not widespread and that it usually conducted formal investigations into allegations of abuse. Investigations, however, often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.

On July 29, the Appellate Chamber of the Criminal Court of Dakar acquitted Cheikh Diop and Cheikh Sidaty Mane, who were sentenced in 2015 to 20 years’ imprisonment in connection with the 2012 lynching of Fode Ndiaye, a police officer. Ndiaye was killed in clashes between police and opposition supporters holding a peaceful rally to protest former president Wade’s attempt to stand for a third term. According to Amnesty International, Diop and Sidaty were convicted despite their statements police had tortured them into confessing. In a statement to the press after their release, the two men reiterated their allegations of torture. Amnesty called on authorities to investigate, but no investigation had been initiated by year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was endemic. For example, Dakar’s main prison facility, Rebeuss, held more than twice the number of inmates for which it was designed. Female detainees generally had better conditions than did men. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile boys were often housed with men or permitted to roam freely with men during the day. Girls were held together with women. Infants and newborns were often kept in prison with their mothers until age one, with no special cells, additional medical provisions, or extra food rations.

In addition to overcrowding, the National Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified lack of adequate sanitation as a major problem. Poor and insufficient food, limited access to medical care, stifling heat, poor drainage, and insect infestations also were problems throughout the prison system.

On March 28, four juvenile detainees at Rebeuss Prison went on a hunger strike to protest lengthy pretrial detention and poor prison conditions. The government subsequently increased the daily allotment for prisoner food and care to 680 CFA francs ($1.15) in all prisons. Despite the increase, prison conditions remained unsatisfactory. In late August several prisoners in Kaolack engaged in a hunger strike to protest conditions. In September hundreds of prisoners in Rebeuss engaged in a two-week hunger strike to protest lengthy pretrial detention and poor prison conditions. This hunger strike culminated in a September 20 prison riot, during which at least one prisoner died. On September 21, in solidarity with their fellow inmates in Rebeuss, prisoners in Thies engaged in a one-day hunger strike. Following these incidents, authorities announced they would construct additional prison facilities and hire additional prison staff.

According to 2014 government statistics, the most recent available, 50 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2014.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. In 2014, however, prisoner complaints of harsh treatment prompted at least two inspections by the National Prevention Mechanism, which subsequently criticized living conditions and lengthy pretrial detention. The inspection resulted in the filing of criminal charges against two prison officials, and the case continued at year’s end.

Prison officials kept some records on prisoners and detainees, but computerized records were inaccurate due to inadequate staff training and power shortages at many government facilities. Authorities did not use alternatives for sentencing nonviolent offenders. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. Prisoners generally had reasonable access to visitors and some access to lawyers, and they could observe religious practices. Unlike in previous years, authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but there was no evidence that officials conducted any follow-up investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local human rights groups, all of which operated independently, and international observers. The National Observer of Detention Facilities had full and unfettered access to all civilian prison and detention facilities, but not to military and intelligence facilities. The observer published an annual report, although the 2015 report had not been published by year’s end.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside of major cities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, gendarmes, and the army, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption. The Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) is in charge of investigating police abuses but was ineffective in addressing impunity or corruption.

An amnesty law covers police and other security personnel involved in “political crimes” committed between 1983 and 2004, except for killings in “cold blood.”

The Regional Court of Dakar includes a military tribunal, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. The tribunal is composed of a civilian judge, a civilian prosecutor, and two military assistants to advise the judge, one of whom must be of equal rank to the defendant. The tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. The military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires warrants issued by judges for police to make an arrest, police often lacked warrants when detaining individuals. The law grants police broad powers to detain prisoners for long periods before filing formal charges. The DIC may hold persons up to 24 hours before releasing or charging them. Authorities did not promptly inform many detainees of the charges against them. Police officers, including DIC officials, may double the detention period from 24 to 48 hours without charge if a prosecutor so authorizes. Investigators may request that a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. For cases involving claimed threats to state security, the detention period may extend to 192 hours. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International criticized for the resulting lengthy detentions. Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. Except for the first 48 hours of detention, the accused has the right to an attorney, and an attorney is provided at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. Indigent defendants did not always receive attorneys in misdemeanor cases. A number of NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 28, four members of the coalition Non aux APE, including coalition leader Guy Marius Sagna, were arrested while protesting against the signing of an Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and 16 West African states, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. Apart from the EU, the country was a member of each organization. On June 3, one day prior to the opening of the annual summit of ECOWAS heads of states and governments in Dakar, authorities arrested eight members of the coalition, including Sagna; on June 6, they were released without charge. Again on September 22, authorities arrested Sagna during another Non aux APE demonstration coinciding with a visit to Dakar by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Sagna was released on September 24. In all three instances, authorities allowed demonstrations to proceed but arrested Sagna and others for not complying with police orders for not complying with police orders to vacate certain areas and resisting arrest.

Pretrial Detention: According to a 2014 EU-funded study, more than 60 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. The law states an accused person may not be held in pretrial detention for more than six months for minor crimes; however, authorities routinely held persons in custody until a court demanded their release. Judicial backlogs and absenteeism of judges resulted in an average delay of two years between the filing of charges and the beginning of a trial. In cases involving allegations of murder, threats to state security, and embezzlement of public funds, there were no limits on the length of pretrial detention. In many cases pretrial detainees were held for longer than the length of sentence later received.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. According to Freedom in the World 2016, “inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council.” Authorities did not always respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. All defendants have the right to a public trial, to be present in court during their trial, to confront and present witnesses, to present evidence, and to have an attorney (at public expense if needed) in felony cases. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them promptly and in detail with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense. Nevertheless, case backlogs, lack of legal counsel, judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined these rights.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice. These rights extend to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights violations in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. At times prosecutors refused to prosecute security officials, and violators often went unpunished. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.

In October police arrested a French national for making death threats, defamation, and blasphemy. Following his arrest, the accused reportedly admitted to police that he maligned Islam as a “terrorist religion,” the Quran as a “book of lies,” and the Prophet Muhammad as “the terrorists’ guide.” In November a court sentenced him to six months in jail for several offenses, including religious insult, criminal breach of trust, and unlawful access to personal electronic data.

In June a court in Kolda sentenced Islamic preacher Ibrahima Seye, arrested in October 2015, to one year’s imprisonment for glorifying terrorism, inciting civil disobedience, and religious intolerance. Considering the sentence too light, the prosecutor on October 11 appealed the decision to the Dakar Court of Appeals, which sentenced Seye to 30 months in prison, where he remained at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private, independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), five privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff.

Censorship and Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.

On February 26, police seized files from the premises of Walf Fadjiri, an independent media outlet. The files featured a discussion between a journalist and an opposition activist on the March 20 constitutional referendum (see section 3), during which the journalist insinuated the president was using the referendum as a first step to legalize homosexuality. On February 29, police questioned the journalist about the broadcast for 10 hours.

On March 20, the day of the referendum, authorities attempted to shut down Walf Fadjiri for allegedly violating the electoral code by announcing election results while the polls remained open. Due to the presence of a crowd outside the station premises, authorities were unable to shut down the station, which continued to broadcast without interruption.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. Unlike in previous years, authorities did not use these laws to block or punish critical reporting and commentary.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 58 percent of individuals had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Some groups complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Other groups were denied such authorization.

In February, for example, the government denied authorization to civil society groups calling for a rally in Dakar to campaign for a “no” vote in the March constitutional referendum.

The government forcibly dispersed demonstrators. For example, in January the government used teargas to disperse a demonstration against homosexuality by a coalition of 17 organizations; authorities had earlier denied the group a permit to demonstrate. Police detained 11 participants who defied the ban and subsequently released them without charge.

On October 14, a coalition of opposition parties, the Front for the Defense of Senegal, held a demonstration in Dakar that drew more than 15,000 demonstrators. Prior to the demonstration, the prefect of Dakar granted the coalition permission to march but altered the proposed route, which triggered a clash when police blocked demonstrators from their initially planned route. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, a few of whom were detained and subsequently released on October 16. Some demonstrators also were injured, including former prime minister Abdoul Mbaye.

In January members of the main opposition Parti Democratique Senegalaise–Toussaint Manga, Bocar Niang, Gallo Tall, Aminata Sakho, Djibril Sarr, Daouda Dieye, Pape Fall, and Serigne Ndame Dieng–were released on bail. In February 2015 the eight had been remanded to custody pending trial for participating in an unauthorized public rally.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In March 2012 voters elected Macky Sall to succeed Abdoulaye Wade as president for a seven-year term. In July 2012 Sall’s coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local NGOs and observers from the EU, African Union, and ECOWAS characterized the elections as generally free and fair.

On March 20, voters approved a referendum on 15 constitutional amendments, the most important of which reduced the length of future presidential terms from seven to five years. Other clauses reaffirmed the presidential limit of two consecutive terms, expanded the size of the constitutional council, permitted the Senegalese diaspora representation in the National Assembly, and created a formal position for the leader of the opposition. President Sall supported the referendum.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. In 2010 the government passed a gender parity law requiring the candidate lists of political parties to contain equal numbers of men and women for elected positions at all levels, from city councils to the National Assembly. While the number of women in elected positions has increased, the law has not significantly expanded their role in exercising political authority since it does not apply to party leadership positions or to other important decision-making bodies such as the cabinet and the judiciary. In some regions, including the holy city of Touba, the gender parity law has not been implemented at all.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government often did not enforce the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In May the country’s National Anti-Corruption Agency (OFNAC) published it first annual report, which concluded that bribery, misappropriation, abuse of authority, and fraud remained widespread within government institutions, particularly in the health and education ministries, the postal services, and the Transport Administration. OFNAC attributed corruption to inadequate public access to information, dysfunctional internal compliance monitoring, and inadequate control mechanisms. The report singled out two of the president’s allies as among the most corrupt. Two months after the report was published, the president dismissed OFNAC president Nafy Ngom Keita, who claimed her dismissal was politically motivated. Authorities countered that Keita’s three-year contract had expired.

On June 24, the president officially granted early release to Karim Wade–a former government minister and the son of former president Wade–who was sentenced in 2015 to six years’ imprisonment for illicit enrichment. Sall also released two of Wade’s associates, Alioune Samba Diasse and Ibrahim Aboukhalil. The government did not release Wade’s seized or frozen assets.

The case of Abdoulaye Balde, the mayor of Ziguinchor and a former cabinet minister, remained pending before the Court for the Suppression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI) at year’s end. The CREI had frozen Balde’s assets in 2015 pending a corruption investigation.

Financial Disclosure: In 2014 the National Assembly passed a law requiring the president, cabinet ministers, speaker and chief financial officer of the National Assembly, and managers of public funds in excess of one billion CFA francs ($1.7 million) to disclose their assets to the National Anticorruption Commission. Failure to comply may result in a penalty amounting to one-quarter of an individual’s monthly salary until forms are filed. The president may dismiss appointees who do not comply. Disclosures, except for the president’s, made under the law are confidential, and unauthorized release of asset disclosures is a criminal offense. In May, OFNAC released its 2014-15 annual report, which revealed only 52 percent of government officials subject to disclosure (292 out of 565) had complied by the June 2015 deadline. The president, prime minister, speaker of the National Assembly, and all cabinet members had complied; the head of the armed forces, however, had not.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law provide citizens the right to access government information, but authorities did not follow consistent practices in determining the grounds for nondisclosure, establishing deadlines for responding to requests for information, or charging processing fees. The government did not have an appeals mechanism to review disclosure denials or public outreach activities or training for public officials on the release of government information.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On May 30, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) sentenced former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and sexual slavery. The EAC is a hybrid court established by the government in collaboration with the African Union, within the country’s legal system, to try Habre as well as the other “persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habre’s rule. On June 10, Habre’s lawyers appealed the decision. No date for hearing the appeal had been set by year’s end, and Habre’s assets remained frozen. On July 29, the EAC ordered Habre to compensate his victims between 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) and 20 million CFA francs ($34,000) each, depending on the severity of abuse. Three judges–two Senegalese and a presiding judge from Burkina Faso–oversaw the trial, which began in June 2015 and was open to the public and widely covered by local and international press.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, had limited funding, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In 2012 the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party won an expanded majority in parliament, and citizens re-elected President Ernest Bai Koroma in peaceful multiparty elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The Office of the Attorney General reported that, although the government had not made a formal announcement, all of the state of emergency measures expired on August 7 by virtue of statutory lapse provisions in the constitution. As of the end of October, however, neither President Koroma nor parliament had formally confirmed this.

The most significant human rights problems included unlawful killing and abusive treatment by police, prolonged detention and imprisonment under harsh and life-threatening conditions, and widespread official corruption in all branches of government.

Other major human rights problems included a lack of universal access to justice; discrimination and violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; trafficking in persons, including forced child labor; official and societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals; and discrimination against persons with disabilities.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, but impunity existed.

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, although there were reports police and other security personnel continued to use excessive force. As of August prison authorities reported that corrections officials no longer used caning or other forms of corporal punishment in prisons and detention centers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, lack of clean water, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: As of August the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Watch (PW) reported that, with the exception of the Female Correctional Center at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (FCCSL), the country’s 17 prisons and detention centers were seriously overcrowded. PW reported, however, that with the exception of the FCCSL, conditions in detention centers in the rest of the country, including lighting and ventilation, for male prisoners, were generally better than for female prisoners.

Unlike in previous years, the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) confirmed that as of October, no prison or detention center facility held male and female prisoners together.

As of November 2015 the country’s 17 prisons, designed to hold 1,785 inmates, held 3,323. The Freetown Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, held 1,545 persons: 713 convicted prisoners, 235 prisoners on remand, and 597 prisoners on trial. In some prisons, cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more prisoners. As of August prison authorities reported 23 deaths in prisons and detention facilities due to malaria, respiratory infections, and typhoid fever but claimed none of the deaths was due to actions of staff members or other prisoners.

Human rights observers reported detention conditions remained below minimum international standards because of overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and insufficient medical attention. Prison cells often lacked proper lighting, bedding, ventilation, and protection from mosquitoes. Most prisons did not have piped water systems, and some prisoners lacked sufficient access to drinking water.

PW reported that to control overcrowding in common areas, authorities confined prisoners to their cells for long periods without an opportunity for movement.

The Bureau of Prisons received only 16,600 leones ($2.27) per prisoner per day for food rations. Conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown. Cells were often dark with little ventilation. Overcrowding in some police cells continued to be a problem. Lack of adequate physical facilities created life-threatening conditions for detainees. Inmates slept on bare floors, using their own clothes or cartons as bedding, and used waste buckets as toilets.

Few prisoners had access to adequate medical facilities, and clinics lacked supplies and medical personnel to provide basic services. One doctor staffed the Freetown Male Correctional Center clinic. There were 30 nurses in the country’s 17 prisons and detention centers. Prisons outside Freetown sent patients to local government hospitals and clinics. Authorities allowed only emergency patients to visit the clinic outside of the assigned schedule. Officials treated female prisoners as outpatients or referred them to local hospitals for special care, but doctors and nurses in these hospitals often refused to treat prisoners or provided inferior care because of the government’s failure to pay medical bills. Prison authorities and the HRCSL reported that there was no discrimination against prisoners with disabilities, and PW reported it had no information regarding abuse of prisoners with disabilities.

PW reported a shortage of prison staff resulted in a lack of security that endangered prisoners’ safety.

Several prisons held infants, most of whom were born in prison and initially kept there with their mothers. Once these children were weaned, authorities released them to family members or the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, which placed them in foster care.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs was responsible for all services except security in juvenile facilities. Authorities sent offenders under age 18 to “approved schools,” or reformatory institutions. Although authorities made some effort to avoid detaining juveniles with adults, they frequently imprisoned minors with adult offenders. PW reported authorities often sent young adults over age 18 to the approved schools, while some children under 18 were sent to prison. As of August the National Legal Aid Board reported that, unlike previous years, authorities no longer held children under 18 years of age with adults at the Freetown Male Correctional Center.

At times police officers had difficulty determining a person’s age, given the lack of documentation, and they often depended on circumstantial evidence, such as possession of a voter registration card or affidavits from parents, who may have reasons to lie about their child’s age. In some cases police officers inflated the ages of juveniles to escape blame for detaining them. Several boys reported they were victims of physical and sexual abuse, including sodomy, by older prisoners. In the three juvenile facilities, detainees did not have adequate access to food and education and sometimes were unable to attend court hearings due to lack of transportation.

A lack of juvenile detention centers in many districts meant minors were frequently detained with adults in police cells.

In most cases pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. The Office of the Attorney General reported that as of August, of the 3,341 persons held in the prisons and detention centers, only 1,461 had been convicted.

Administration: Human rights groups reported that recordkeeping was inadequate and performed on ledgers, which could be lost or destroyed. There was no prison ombudsman, but senior prison officials were available to respond to complaints. NGOs reported that prisoners raised concerns to them about prison conditions, on condition that their concerns, if raised to prisons authorities, would be anonymous.

Although authorities officially permitted regular family visits, according to NGOs family members often had to pay bribes to gain visiting privileges.

Prisoners refrained from filing complaints directly with prison authorities because they believed such actions would spur retaliation by judicial authorities.

PW and other NGOs investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Prison rights advocacy groups reported that authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. International monitors had unrestricted access to the prisons, detention centers, and police holding cells. The HRCSL monitored prisons on a monthly basis.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights groups indicated that police occasionally arrested and detained persons arbitrarily. The government allows both the SLP and chiefdom police to hold suspects in police detention cells without charge or explanation for up to three days for suspected misdemeanors and up to 10 days for suspected felonies. Chiefs sometimes subjected women and children to arbitrary detention and imprisoned them unlawfully in their homes or “chiefdom jails” (see section 6, Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The SLP, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement and maintaining security within the country, but it was poorly equipped and lacked sufficient investigative, forensic, and riot control capabilities. The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities through the “Military Aid to Civil Power” (MACP) program, which authorizes assistance to police in extraordinary circumstances upon request. On August 16, police reportedly fatally shot two youths at a demonstration in Kabala called to oppose the announced relocation of a youth skills center (see section 1.a.).

On July 9, President Koroma instructed the RSLAF to use the MACP to deter political violence that had erupted in by-elections in Kailahun District. NGOs reported the RSLAF and the SLP used force on the civilian population.

While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the SLP and the RSLAF, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, at times impunity was a problem.

As in previous years, human rights groups expressed concern that police corruption remained a serious problem. Some police and guards stole from detainees, exacted bribes at checkpoints, falsely charged motorists with violations, impounded vehicles to extort money, and accepted bribes from suspects to drop charges or to have their rivals arrested and charged with crimes.

In exchange for kickbacks, police reportedly arrested persons without charge for civil causes, such as alleged breach of contract or failure to satisfy a debt.

The Police Complaints, Discipline, and Internal Investigations Department (CDIID) heard complaints against police officers. It conducted all hearings and trials related to complaints against lower-ranking police officers. Officers often used an appeals process. After the CDIID imposes disciplinary measures on an SLP officer, the officer is also subject to trial in civilian court in cases involving criminal charges. A Police Council, which included the vice president, minister of internal affairs, inspector general, and others, accepted written complaints against senior police officers.

The SLP confirmed that police continued to receive professional, leadership, and human rights training, and before deployment new recruits received a six-month introductory course, which included a human rights component.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for searches and arrest of persons taken into custody on criminal grounds, but arrest without warrant was common. PW and Timap for Justice reported most arrests were made without warrants and that the SLP rarely followed proper arrest procedures.

The law requires authorities to tell detainees the reason for arrest within 24 hours and charge them in court within 72 hours for suspected misdemeanors or within 10 days for suspected felonies. Detainees, however, were not always informed promptly of charges brought against them. According to NGOs and prisoners, authorities routinely brought remanded prisoners to court on a weekly basis to be remanded again to circumvent the legal restrictions.

There were provisions for bail and a functioning bail system, but authorities applied the system inconsistently and sometimes demanded excessive bond fees.

Detainees have the right to access family members and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Lawyers generally were allowed unrestricted access to detainees, but only an estimated 5 to 10 percent of inmates received legal representation. Only defendants in the military justice system had automatic access to attorneys, whose fees the Ministry of Defense paid. Although there were 28 state counsels (attorneys), the majority worked in the capital and were often overburdened, poorly paid, and available only for more serious criminal cases. Although the law provides for attorneys at state expense, state attorneys were overburdened, and indigent detainees did not usually receive legal advice prior to trial.

There were no reports of suspects held under house arrest or being detained incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of individuals being held for questioning for longer than permissible under law.

On April 27, at SLPP headquarters in Freetown, authorities arrested and detained for two weeks, before granting bail, 30 SLPP supporters for reportedly holding a public parade without authorization and unruly conduct. On August 29, a magistrate court sentenced seven of the accused to six months and one to nine months in prison for “unlawful procession” and damage to public property. As of October the other 22 persons remained on bail, awaiting sentencing.

Pretrial Detention: The Office of the Attorney General reported that, as of August, of the 3,341 persons held in prisons and detention centers, only 1,461 had been convicted, 926 were on remand, and 954 were on trial. PW reported that due to a severe shortage of legal professionals, 70 percent of prisoners were waiting to be charged or tried, or their trials were not completed. Pretrial and remand detainees spent an average of three to five years in pretrial detention before courts examined their cases or filed formal charges. In extreme cases the wait could be as long as 16 years. In May the Legal Aid Board secured the release in tranches of more than 500 inmates who had been held in prisons and detention centers for lengthy periods and had not been indicted, or were held on flimsy charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but independent observers believed the judiciary was not always independent and acted under government influence, particularly in relation to corruption cases.

In addition to the formal civil court system, local chieftaincy courts administer customary law with lay judges. Appeals from these lower courts are heard by the superior courts.

The limited number of judicial magistrates and lawyers and high court fees restricted access to justice for most citizens.

The RSLAF has its own military justice system, although soldiers can also be tried in civilian courts for some crimes. The sometimes ad hoc decision regarding which justice system to use was subject to pressure from the Office of the President and senior RSLAF leadership.

If a case remains in military channels, military police conduct an investigation and forward the findings to the Ministry of Defense Law Office, which decides whether to handle the offense through a “summary dealing” process or a court-martial.

Summary dealing cases are limited to low-level military offenses. The commanding officer determines the punishment, the most severe of which is a 28-day custodial sentence. The court-martial hears all civilian and serious military offenses committed by military personnel and cases involving senior officers. Such cases are tried before a civilian judge and board; the latter determines guilt or innocence, and the former the sentencing recommendation. The court-martial heard an average of four cases per year. As of October there had been no court-martial hearings during the year.

The military justice system has an appeals process. For summary dealing the defendant can appeal for the redress of complaint, which goes to the next senior ranking officer, while the civilian Supreme Court hears appeals in a court-martial. The redress system, however, reportedly was corrupt.

Traditional justice systems also functioned, especially in rural areas. Paramount chiefs maintained their own police and courts to enforce customary local laws. Chieftaincy police and courts exercised authority to arrest, try, and incarcerate individuals. They sometimes abused that power. The government sent growing numbers of paralegals to rural areas to provide access to justice and training for chiefdom officials.

Traditional trials were generally fair, but there was credible evidence that corruption influenced many cases. Paramount chiefs acting as judges routinely accepted bribes and favored wealthier defendants.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial for all defendants, but this right was not always enforced.

As of January authorities ensured that each district in the country had at least one magistrate, but the lack of judicial officers and facilities regularly resulted in long trial delays. Some cases reportedly were adjourned 40 to 60 times. Trials are public, but NGOs reported that due to corruption, they were not always fair. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence. While defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, many were not afforded access to counsel. The law provides for attorneys at public expense if defendants are not able to afford their own attorneys. These attorneys continued to be overburdened with cases, however, which affected indigent defendants’ opportunities to receive legal advice prior to trial or effective counsel effective.

Defendants were not always informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always have access to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare their defenses, although they generally did not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants could confront or question witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and access government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Police officers, many of whom had little or no formal legal training, prosecuted a majority of cases on the magistrate level. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Although the law provides defendants with the right to appeal, delays in the appeals process were excessive, sometimes lasting more than two years. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Traditional justice systems continued to supplement the central government judiciary, especially in rural areas, in cases involving family law, inheritance, and land tenure. The customary law guiding these courts was not codified, however, and decisions in similar cases were inconsistent. Paramount chiefs sometimes referred cases to police to give arrests for civil complaints the appearance of legitimacy. Local chieftains at times exceeded their mandates and administered harsh punishments.

Laws on gender equality were inconsistently enforced, and many traditional courts continued to ignore the rights of women regarding family law and inheritance. Juveniles were afforded few rights in the traditional justice system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Both the central government judiciary and customary law courts handled civil complaints. Corruption influenced some cases and judgments, and awards were inconsistent. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs, but enforcement was difficult. Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through regular access to domestic courts. Individuals could also seek redress from regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, but there were exceptions.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government officials used criminal libel provisions of the Public Order Act (POA) to impede witness testimony in court cases, including anticorruption matters, and to target persons making statements the government considered to be against the national interest. While there is no hate-speech law, at times authorities used hate speech as a justification under the POA for restricting freedom of speech.

On November 18, police arrested and jailed for two days Boakai Kokofele and university student Theresa Mbomaya, who reportedly sent messages on WhatsApp on November 17 which the government deemed were directed at “inciting unlawful protests.” Prosecutors charged that Mbomaya and Kokofele violated the POA by encouraging citizens to set fire to vehicles in Freetown and use police officers’ family members as human shields if police tried to apprehend student protestors. On November 21, a magistrate court granted Mbomaya and Kokofele bail, and, as of December 8, both remained on bail awaiting trial.

Press and Media Freedoms: International media could operate freely but were required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communications and the government-funded Independent Media Commission (IMC) to obtain a license. Most registered newspapers were independent, although several were associated with political parties. Newspapers openly and routinely criticized the government and its officials as well as opposition parties. While independent broadcast media generally operated without restriction, there were exceptions. On June 17, the High Court acquitted radio journalist David Tam Baryoh of defamation under the POA of 1965; Baryoh had asked the minister of transport and aviation on a radio broadcast about the minister’s purchase of 100 buses from China.

On June 6, the IMC suspended 11 media houses for reportedly not paying fines the IMC Board had imposed in relation to complaints about their news coverage.

Violence and Harassment: During July police questioned and detained four journalists in relation to several libel and defamation-related complaints by ministers or members of parliament. Among those detained was journalist Sam Lahai, following a complaint from the Office of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs about an article in which Lahai questioned whether the deputy minister had interfered with the sovereignty of a local district council. On July 23, police questioned and detained Lahai but on July 25, released him on bail. On July 21, authorities issued a warrant to arrest al-Jazeera journalist Nena Davries for purportedly making false statements relating to an interview with the musician Emmerson Bockarie.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported 2.5 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Due to the need to combat the Ebola epidemic that occurred between May 2014 and November 2015, the government issued in August 2014 and August 2015 state of emergency measures that limited freedom of assembly and association, including the activities of “secret societies” that perform traditional cultural initiation and other practices. On August 15, the Office of the Attorney General reported that, although the government had not made a formal announcement, all of the state of emergency measures had expired on August 7, by virtue of statutory lapse provisions in the constitution. As of October 31, neither President Koroma nor parliament had formally confirmed the end of the state of emergency.

As of October, nine persons arrested and detained without trial in April 2015 for demonstrating in front of a foreign embassy were awaiting a trial date; they were directed to report monthly to the SLP Criminal and Investigations Division (CID).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections held in 2012, the ruling APC won an expanded majority in parliament, and voters re-elected President Koroma. Domestic and international observers noted the benefits of incumbency gave the APC a significant competitive advantage but still characterized the elections as free, fair, transparent, and credible, commending the 87 percent turnout among registered voters. The opposition SLPP alleged widespread voter fraud and refused to accept the results of the polls until almost a month later.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. As of August, 11 political parties were registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission. Opposition parties complained that the ruling APC engaged in intimidation of other parties. In June supporters of the opposition Alliance Democratic Party reported that supporters of the ruling APC smeared feces on the party’s Lunsar office and attacked the vehicle of the leader of the party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Women have the right to vote, but husbands or other patriarchal figures were known to influence their decisions. Of the 124 parliamentarians, 14 were women. As of August women led four of the 23 ministries. Seven of the 26 judges on the three highest courts were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 149 chiefdoms).

All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.

Ethnic affiliations strongly influenced political party membership for the two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Themne, each of which accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. The Mende traditionally supported the SLPP and the Themne the APC. Other than the Limba, the third-most-populous ethnic group, who traditionally supported the APC, the other ethnic groups had no strong political party affiliations. Opposition parties regularly accused President Koroma of giving preference to Northerners in filling government positions. As of August, Northerners occupied 66 percent of cabinet offices, ministers from the South and East 17 percent, and those from the Western Peninsula held the remaining 17 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Substantial corruption existed in the executive (including the security sector and migration management), legislative, and judicial branches. 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. Police and prison staff regularly extorted or solicited bribes from detainees and convicted prisoners. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem.

Corruption: For example, as of August the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had indicted two officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food Security for conspiracy to commit a corruption offense and misappropriation of public property.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officers, their spouses, and children to declare their assets and liabilities within three months of assuming office. It also mandates disclosure of assets by government ministers and members of parliament. The ACC is empowered to verify asset disclosures and may publish in the media the names of those who refuse to disclose and petition the courts to compel disclosure. Failure to disclose also carries a penalty of up to 20 million leones ($2,740) and one year in prison. The particulars of individual declarations were not available to the public without a court order.

Public Access to Information: The law requires public authorities to grant citizens access to government-held information. The law, which was effectively enforced, incorporates a sufficiently narrow list of nondisclosure exceptions, a reasonably short timeline for disclosure, and reasonable processing fees. It includes civil and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The Right to Access Information Commission is tasked with enforcing the law in relation to access to information. Applicants for information may appeal a disclosure denial to the commission and subsequently to the courts.

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

The government, including security forces, was generally responsive to human rights concerns raised by the HRCSL but was at times slow to support the HRCSL or implement its recommendations. A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to the views of local and international NGOs and generally acknowledged the problems presented. They often scheduled forums in conjunction with NGOs to discuss such topics as women’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities.

Most domestic human rights NGOs focused on human rights education. A few NGOs, including the Campaign for Good Governance, LAWCLA, Timap for Justice, the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, and Access to Justice, monitored and reported on human rights abuses.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee operated without government or party interference. It focused on keeping human rights issues on the parliamentary agenda, paving the way for the passage of amended laws and ratification of international conventions, and doing public outreach.

The Gambia

Executive Summary

The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. Human rights organizations and opposition parties, however, claimed the government repeatedly took steps to restrict the democratic space. In 2011 voters reelected President Yahya Jammeh to a fourth term in a peaceful, orderly election; however, international observers considered it neither free nor fair. President Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), continued to dominate the political landscape, winning an overwhelming majority of national assembly seats in the parliamentary elections in 2012 and local assembly seats in local elections in 2013. Six of the seven opposition parties boycotted or otherwise did not participate in both the National Assembly and local government elections to protest government intervention and intimidation of opponents.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The regime responded with excessive force to peaceful public protests on April 14, April 16, and May 9. More than 70 supporters of the United Democratic Party (UDP) were arrested; several were beaten and tortured during the three protests. Thirty of the detainees were convicted on July 20 and July 21, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Two of the detainees died in custody.

During a period of political crisis, President Jammeh first accepted, and then rejected, the results of a December 1 presidential election in which he was defeated by Adama Barrow, the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties, in what international observers assessed to be a fair and democratic vote. On December 9, Jammeh declared that a new election would be conducted, and during the month he authorized three petitions challenging the election results in the Supreme Court. Jammeh refused to leave power despite visits by the UN special representative of the secretary general for West Africa and the Sahel and two high-level Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) negotiating teams. Several individuals wearing T-shirts with the slogan “#Gambia has decided” were arrested between December 9 and the end of the year. The military occupied the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission on December 13. In December Jammeh also refused the requests of several local religious, professional, nongovernmental, and civil society organizations that he hand over power peacefully to President-elect Barrow.

The most serious human rights abuses reported included torture, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged pretrial and incommunicado detention; enforced disappearances of citizens; and government harassment and abuse of its critics. Officials routinely used various methods of intimidation to retain power.

Other reported human rights abuses included a corrupt and inefficient judiciary; poor prison conditions; denial of due process; restrictions on privacy and freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; corruption; violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; trafficking in persons, including child prostitution; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor.

The government enacted laws banning FGM/C and early and forced marriage and took steps to prosecute or punish some individuals who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and the lack of consistent enforcement remained problems.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces tortured, beat, and mistreated persons in custody. Police arrested three men on May 11 and charged them with sedition after they allegedly said in a private conversation overheard by a government official the president disliked the Mandinka ethnic group. On June 21, defense counsel Abdoulie Fatty contested the admissibility of the defendants’ statements, alleging that his clients had been physically and psychologically tortured, threatened with electric shock, and held at gunpoint to compel them to sign statements of guilt written by the police. On June 29, the magistrate ordered the suspects to testify and to narrate the circumstances under which their statements were given. The case remained underway at year’s end.

In 2014 the government prevented UN special rapporteurs from investigating reports of torture and extrajudicial execution, having initially permitted them to conduct this investigation. The team’s preliminary findings indicated the NIA consistently practiced torture. Police reportedly tortured individuals suspected of common crimes. The UN findings indicated the NIA tortured detainees for days or weeks; methods included severe beatings, electric shock, asphyxiation, and burning. According to Human Rights Watch, methods also included water torture, rape, and simulated burial.

Security officers arrested opposition activist Nogoi Njie on April 14 for taking part in an unauthorized’ protest. In a May 11 affidavit, Njie specified how she and her codetainees were abused by the NIA at its Banjul headquarters. Nogoi stated she was handcuffed and beaten with hoses and batons while water was poured over her and that she was threatened with death.

During the year there were no known prosecutions in civil or military courts of security force members accused of mistreating individuals. The 2001 Indemnity Act gives the president authority to prevent the prosecution of security force members for acts committed during a “state of emergency” or an “unlawful assembly.”

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prison cells were overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated. Inmates complained of poor sanitation and food, and occasionally of having to sleep on the floor. One prisoner reported that she was held in a cell that often experienced total darkness for long periods at night and was often subject to electrical shocks due to faulty wiring in the cell, a situation that was not addressed. Officials allowed detainees to receive food from the outside prior to conviction, but required convicted inmates to eat only meals supplied by the prisons. Medical facilities in prisons were poor, and authorities sent sick inmates to a hospital in Banjul or nearby health centers for examination and treatment. Former inmates and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported a high prisoner-mortality rate. Reports indicated prisoners died of neglect or lack of access to health care. During the summer, temperatures in cells became extremely high, and there were no measures to reduce heat. Authorities at the NIA held most detainees in solitary confinement and often in dark, rat- and insect-infested rooms.

In 2015 Mile 2 Prison, which has an intended capacity of 450 inmates, held 536 prisoners and detainees, including six women.

Administration: Officials generally allowed inmates to have visits, with the exception of political inmates, who reportedly were denied access to lawyers and family members.

Authorities sometimes investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions. A Prisons Visiting Committee, which included representatives of several government agencies, is empowered to monitor prison conditions. Former minister of interior Ousman Sonko stated that the committee visited the central prison weekly and submitted reports on substandard conditions.

The Office of the Ombudsman can investigate all complaints submitted to it, including those concerning bail conditions, pretrial detention, and confinement of juvenile offenders.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit the International Committee of the Red Cross or media access to monitor prison conditions. While local NGOs and diplomatic missions assisted prisoners, authorities did not allow them to monitor conditions.

In 2014 the government invited UN special rapporteurs investigating reports of torture and extrajudicial execution to visit. The government, however, canceled the invitation without explanation in August 2014 and rescheduled it for November 2014. After the UN special rapporteur team arrived, the government denied it access to the security wing of Mile 2 Prison, violating the agreed upon terms of reference. Consequently, the rapporteurs could not complete the full mandate of the mission.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and stipulate that authorities must charge or release any person arrested by police or other security agencies within 72 hours. There were, however, numerous instances of police and other security force members’ arbitrarily arresting and detaining citizens longer than 72 hours without formally charging them.

There were multiple examples of arbitrary arrest or detention similar to the following: On September 1, Momodou Sarjo Jallow was dismissed from his August 23 appointment as deputy minister of foreign affairs and arrested on September 2. On October 7, the Pointnewspaper reported that Jallow was represented by Senior Defense Counsel Antouman Gaye in proceedings at the Banjul Special Criminal Court, and that Jallow had been held by the NIA. While the authorities did not admit that Jallow was in NIA custody and Jallow never appeared in court, Justice Ottaba ruled on October 17 that Jallow should be granted bail in the sum of 200,000 dalasi ($4,550), with a property of the like sum, and two Gambian sureties.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Gambia Armed Forces are responsible for external defense and serve under the authority of the minister of defense, a position held by the president. Police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for public security. The NIA, which reports directly to the president, is responsible for protecting state security, collecting intelligence, and conducting covert investigations. The law does not authorize the NIA to investigate police abuses, but the NIA often assumed police functions such as detaining and questioning criminal suspects. The Department of Immigration, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for migration and border control.

Security force members frequently were corrupt and ineffective. Impunity was a problem, and police sometimes defied court orders.

The prosecution and legal affairs unit of the Gambia Police Force has two officers assigned to human rights issues, but they stated they received no complaints of abuses committed by police officers during the year. Observers believed citizens avoided reporting abuses to the unit due to fear of reprisal, lack of substantive redress, and a general mistrust of police. The Office of the Ombudsman appeared to handle most complaints against police officers (see section 5).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police and NIA officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Periods of detention generally ranged from a few to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities must charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. Authorities generally did not inform detainees promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system; however, prosecutors customarily opposed even applications for bail for detainees charged with misdemeanors and ordered lengthy adjournments to allow additional time to prepare their cases. Judges and magistrates sometimes set bail at unreasonably high amounts. Courts occasionally released accused offenders on bail only to have law enforcement personnel rearrest them as they were leaving court, sometimes to provide the prosecution more time to prepare cases.

In 2014 authorities reportedly arrested Seedy Jaiteh, human resources director of the state-owned telecommunications company GAMTEL, at his residence and drove him away in an unmarked car with tinted windows. Media reported authorities did not allow family members and lawyers access to him. He remained in detention at year’s end.

Officials did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members, although officials generally allowed convicted prisoners to meet privately with an attorney. The judiciary provided only those indigent persons accused of murder or manslaughter with lawyers at public expense.

Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the NIA and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” These detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution but have not been legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees, but such detentions continued to occur.

On April 27, defense lawyer Antouman Gaye, and his cocounsel, representing Ousainou Darboe, leader of the opposition UDP, told the Banjul High Court that “authorities have ignored the court’s order to grant the accused persons access to lawyers, family members, medical attention, and receive food from their family members.”

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested citizens routinely during the year (see sections 1.e., 2.a., and 5). In 2014 the president dismissed newly appointed Minister of Education Momodou Sabally, and he was held for 41 days by the NIA without charge. He was subsequently charged with abuse of office while serving in the presidential administration and held for approximately five months before being released on bail pending trial. The government dropped the charges without explanation in September.

On January 27, Foroyaa newspaper reported 30 female police and military personnel were arbitrarily detained at the Yundum Police Station and at Fajara Training School, on suspicion of skin bleaching, which President Jammeh banned in September 2015. The female detainees were released without charge or court appearance on February 2.

Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detention. In 2015 approximately 30 percent of inmates in the prison system were in pretrial detention; some had been incarcerated for several years awaiting trial.

The executive branch interfered in cases before the court; judges and magistrates routinely ignored or summarily dismissed a defendant’s challenge to arbitrary detention. In those cases where the court responded positively to legal objections to arbitrary arrests, the state invariably ignored the courts’ rulings.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but successful challenges are rare.

Amnesty: In 2015 the president pardoned 256 convicted prisoners and detainees, including several political prisoners. The president expanded this amnesty to include 12 detained family members of persons suspected of involvement in the failed coup of December 2014. The convicts included 53 foreigners; all were subsequently deported or allowed to leave.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the courts lacked independence, and corruption among judges and attorneys was reportedly common. Amnesty International noted the president’s power to remove a judge, nominally in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission, interfered with judicial independence. Judges presiding over “sensitive” cases who made decisions not considered favorable to the government risked dismissal.

There was little stability in senior judiciary positions; for example, Magistrate Omar Jabang was dismissed and arrested on May 3, allegedly for acquitting and discharging a businessman, Yusupha Saidy. Jabang was reinstated after a two-day detention at Police Headquarters in Banjul and continued to preside over cases.

Frequent delays and missing or unavailable witnesses, judges, and lawyers often impeded trials. Many cases were delayed because of adjournments to allow police or the NIA more time to continue their investigations.

To alleviate the backlog, the government continued to recruit judges and magistrates from Commonwealth countries, especially Nigeria, with similar legal systems. Authorities particularly subjected foreign magistrates and judges, who often presided over sensitive cases, to executive pressure.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the presumption of innocence, a fair and public trial without undue delay, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and the right of appeal. Officials, however, generally did not properly inform defendants of the charges against them. Officials provided interpretation into defendants’ local languages as necessary without cost from the moment charged through all appeals. By law no one may be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Trials generally were open to the public, unless closed-court sessions were necessary to protect the identity of a witness. Defendants can consult an attorney and have the right to confront witnesses and challenge evidence against them, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and appeal judgment to a higher court. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and officials did not deny these rights during the year; however, authorities rarely informed detainees of their rights or the reasons for their arrest or detention, according to Amnesty International. Lawyers of accused persons may request access to government-held evidence, but they rarely did so. In cases where the court orders a person who is granted bail to provide a “surety,” guarantors deposit their national documents, as required by the court, to facilitate the release of the accused persons on bail. Should the accused jump bail, the guarantors who deposited “sureties” are arrested.

Military tribunals cannot try civilians. A judge advocate presides over court-martial proceedings assisted by a panel of senior military officers. Unlike in previous years, recent proceedings were not open to media or the public. In April 2015 authorities issued a press release announcing the verdict in the trial by court-martial of six persons charged with treason and other offenses related to the failed coup attempt of December 2014. Authorities sentenced Lieutenant Colonel Sarjo Jarju, Lieutenant Buba Sanneh, and former private Modou Njie to death. Captain Abdoulie Jobe, Captain Buba K. Bojang, and Lieutenant Amadou Sowe received life sentences. On April 8, four of the convicts–Jarju, Sowe, Sanneh, and Njie–appealed their verdicts, but on June 10, the High Court dismissed their appeals on the ground it lacked jurisdiction, despite Section 130 (2) of the constitution that provides, “The Court of Appeal shall have jurisdiction in appeals from courts-martial in the manner provided by law.”

The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).

Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion; however, it requires women to show respect for their husbands and children for their parents.

Sharia applies in domestic matters, including Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts and district tribunals do not offer standard legal representation to the parties in a case, since lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year there were credible reports the government held civilians based on their political views or associations and held some incommunicado for prolonged periods. Political prisoners at year’s end included 30 supporters of the UDP, including the party leader and several executive members. The UDP supporters were arrested following peaceful protests on April 14 and 16 and a peaceful march on May 9. They were convicted on six of seven original charges and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on July 20 and 21. One of those convicted in association with the protests was found guilty, although the judge in the case noted in her written ruling the prosecution had not proved its case against the defendant. Authorities held these prisoners at Mile 2 Prison; by law they were denied visits from family members until three months after the date of conviction. More than 90 days after their arrest, the prisoners had still not been allowed visits by either family members or lawyers at year’s end. The government also did not allow international human rights organizations, local NGOs, civil society organizations, or the International Committee of the Red Cross regular access to these detainees. Fourteen UDP supporters, arrested during the peaceful May 9 march from the Banjul High Court to the home of UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, remained in custody and on trial.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The High Court has jurisdiction to hear cases concerning civil and human rights violations, although it may decline to exercise its powers if it is satisfied other adequate means of redress are available. The Indemnity Act prevented victims from seeking redress in some cases.

The government failed to comply with several court decisions pertaining to human rights. Several court orders authorizing visits by family members and receipt of food and clothing from outside the prison were ignored by the government in the case of the UDP supporters detained after the April 14 and April 16 peaceful protests. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. On August 6, the UDP filed a suit challenging the arbitrary arrest, assault, torture, unfair trial, conviction, and three-year sentence of 30 UDP members at the ECOWAS Court. The UDP was also seeking financial compensation totaling 310 million dalasi ($7.04 million) at the court.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, the government restricted these rights. The Freedom in the World 2015 report by Freedom House stated, “The government does not respect freedom of the press. Laws on sedition give authorities discretion in silencing dissent, and independent media outlets and journalists are subject to harassment, arrest, and violence.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who publicly or privately criticized the government or the president risked government reprisal.

On May 11, three men–Ebrima Keita, Musa Fofana, and Alasana Jallow–were arrested. They were arraigned before the Bundung Magistrate Court on May 24, charged with seditious intention and incitement of violence. In court the prosecutor claimed the three men were arrested because they said, “All members of the opposition parties should come together and organize a mass demonstration which will make it difficult for the security forces to handle. President Jammeh never liked the Mandinkas.” On May 30, the court granted bail to each of the accused in the sum of 50,000 dalasi ($1,140) with two sureties (financial deposits by persons who guarantee the accused will return to court). The matter was still before the court at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: Laws that impose excessive bonds on media institutions also require newspapers to reregister annually and mandate harsh punishment for the publication of so-called false information or undermining constitutional protections. According to Freedom House, these provisions gave authorities great power to silence dissent.

The 2013 Information and Communication Act criminalizes the dissemination of “false news” about government or public officials, inciting dissatisfaction or instigating violence against the government, or caricaturing or otherwise making derogatory statements against public officials on the internet. These crimes are punishable by hefty fines or a prison term of up to 15 years or both. Self-censorship among media professionals was common.

In July 2015 NIA officers arrested and detained Alagie Ceesay, managing director of private radio station Taranga FM, for several days at NIA headquarters. Taranga is the only radio station in the country that translates local newspaper articles into local languages, a practice that previously caused friction with authorities. Officials accused Ceesay of sharing by cellphone text a photograph of President Jammeh with a gun and five bullets pointed at his head. The inspector general of police charged Ceesay with “intent to raise discontent, hatred, or disaffection of the president” at the magistrate’s court. In August 2015 the director of public prosecution filed six other charges of “sedition and seditious intent” at the High Court, all related to the same photograph. In October 2015 magistrate Momodou Jallow, at the request of a police prosecutor, dismissed the charge against Ceesay, formally ending his trial in the lower court. The courts rejected his bail application four times. On April 22, the state-owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) announced Ceesay had escaped on April 20 while undergoing medical treatment at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul and stated that anyone aiding Ceesay’s flight would “face the full force of the law.” The case remained unresolved in the High Court at year’s end.

The independent Daily Observer newspaper favored the government in its coverage and editorials. Four other independent newspapers, including one published by an opposition party, remained highly critical of the government. A 2012 ban on the Daily News newspaper remained in force.

GRTS and nine private radio stations broadcast throughout the country. GRTS gave virtually no coverage to political opposition activities but provided extensive coverage of ruling party activities.

Violence and Harassment: Media restrictions remained stringent during the year. Numerous journalists remained in self-imposed exile due to government threats and harassment. While there were no reports of journalists being arrested and detained, human rights organization Article 19 received several reports of journalists receiving threatening phone calls after mentioning information critical of the government published by international media.

Officials routinely denied journalists from news outlets perceived to be critical of the government access to public information and excluded them from covering official events at certain venues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Private media outlets generally practiced self-censorship due to fear of reprisal by the government, and many refrained from publishing content deemed contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects. Nevertheless, opposition views regularly appeared in the independent press, and there was frequent criticism of the government in the English-language private press.

The Information and Communication Act created several new offenses for online speech that are punishable by a 15-year prison term or a fine of three million dalasi ($68,200) or both. The act criminalizes spreading false news about the government or public officials, making caricatures or derogatory statements regarding public officials, and inciting dissatisfaction with or instigating violence against the government.

National Security: Unlike in previous years, the NIA was not involved in the arbitrary closure of media outlets and the extrajudicial detention of journalists. The Gambia Press Union, however, claimed Alagie Ceesay, Radio Taranga FM manager, was tortured while in custody.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet or credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet users, however, reported they often could not access the websites of foreign online publications such as Freedom Online.

The Africa Market and Telecommunications Report for 2016 reported 18.6 percent of individuals used the internet during the year. In August the government reportedly restricted public access to Voice Over Internet Protocol services, including Skype and other popular social media applications, such as FaceTime, Facebook video messaging, and WhatsApp. These restrictions did not remain in place at year’s end.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In June 2015 hip-hop artist Ali Cham, known as Killa Ace, released a song critical of government actions, particularly its restrictions on free speech and press freedom, police brutality, corruption, and misuse of public funds. The song was available online. Although officials did not ban the song, Cham fled the country with his wife and daughter, saying he no longer felt safe after his parents received threatening inquiries from security officers.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, police systematically refused requests for permission to hold demonstrations, including peaceful ones, and occasionally refused to issue permits to opposition parties wishing to hold rallies.

On April 14, UDP supporters assembled peacefully at Westfield Junction in Serrekunda, the commercial center, and called for “proper electoral reform.” The UDP’s Youth Wing Leader, Solo Sandeng, who led the protest, was arrested along with an unspecified number of fellow protesters by officers of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU). The PIU reportedly used excessive force to disperse the crowds. Sandeng died in police custody soon after his arrest. UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, led a peaceful protest march on April 16, demanding the release of Sandeng “dead or alive.” Darboe was arrested, along with a relative, Fanta Jawara, a Gambian-American citizen. Members of the UDP executive, and several others were also arrested. The government described the protest as “illegal,” on the grounds the demonstrators did not have a police permit, even though the constitution allows for peaceful protests.

In April 2015 officers from the PIU and other security agencies armed with riot gear intercepted a team of officials and supporters of the opposition UDP, including leader Ousainou Darboe. The group arrived at the village of Fass Njaga, Choi, in the North Bank Region, on the first day of a 10-day campaign tour. The UDP decided to embark on the tour despite lacking a police permit for use of a public address system. Under the Public Order Act, political parties planning to hold public meetings must apply for a permit allowing them to use a public address system and must provide details of place, date, and time of each rally. The PIU prevented the UDP team from holding a meeting in Fass Njaga or proceeding on the campaign tour. A tense four-day standoff continued until police finally issued a permit allowing the UDP to continue its tour.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide the ability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; however, citizens were unable to exercise this ability fully in the 2011 presidential election due to government intimidation of voters and ruling party control of the media. The country held generally peaceful national assembly elections in 2012 and local government elections in 2013. The country has an independent electoral commission (IEC), but the president appoints members in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and the Public Service Commission. The current members of the commission have all exceeded their terms in office.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2012 voters elected members of the National Assembly. Six of the seven opposition parties boycotted the voting after the IEC refused to accept demands they had submitted, including for a postponement of the election. President Jammeh’s party, the APRC, won 43 seats, the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP) one seat, and independent candidates four seats. In August 2015 the NRP won another seat in a by-election in the Lower Saloum constituency, following the president’s dismissal of the APRC incumbent, Pa Malick Ceesay.

During local elections in 2013, independent candidates won 10 of the 45 wards in which they competed. The ruling APRC party and the NRP were the only parties that participated. Incumbent mayor of Banjul Samba Faal (APRC) lost to independent candidate Abdoulie Bah by a wide margin. In April 2013, before the election, the APRC expelled Bah from the party, citing “manners incompatible with the Party’s code of conduct.” Bah then decided to run as an independent and focused on the poor state of roads in Banjul.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The APRC held 42 of 48 elected seats in the National Assembly and continued to maintain tight control over the political landscape. An additional five seats were filled by presidential appointees. APRC membership conferred advantages, such as expediting government transactions, facilitating access to certain documents, and securing employment contracts. There were eight opposition political parties. In May 2015, six opposition political parties jointly presented a set of 13 proposals and demands for electoral and constitutional reforms before the commencement of a new electoral cycle in 2016. Neither the IEC nor the government met with opposition parties to address the proposals before the elections were held. IEC chairman Alieu Momarr Njai addressed one of the 13 concerns when he revitalized the Interparty Committee to serve as a forum for dialogue and cooperation. President Jammeh’s statement against members of the Mandinka ethnic group limited their rights for political participation. For example, during a June 3 political rally in Talinding, Kanifing Municipal Council, the president reportedly threatened to kill members of the Mandinka tribe, the country’s largest ethnic group (constituting 42 percent of the population). He reportedly said, “I will wipe you out and nothing will come out of it,” and “Anybody who dares to demonstrate, go ahead and see what will happen.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: Observers noted there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation. There were four women in the 53-seat national assembly: three elected and one nominated by the president. At year’s end there were five women in the 21-member cabinet, including the vice president. Of 1,873 village heads, only five were women.

No statistics were available on the percentage of ethnic minority members in the legislature or the cabinet. The president and many members of his administration are from the minority Jola ethnic group.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: There were prosecutions for corruption of several civilian officials during the year. For example, on June 20, the president dismissed 10 former and current senior officials of the Ministry of Petroleum, including former minister Sirra Wally Ndow-Njie, for allegedly appropriating funds from oil contracts. In a July 6 speech, the president stated the Ministry of Petroleum had signed an agreement with a bogus oil company in Dubai that resulted in the loss of 528 million dalasi ($12 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law subjects public officials, both appointed and elected, to financial disclosure laws, but the government seldom enforced these laws. The law mandates no particular agency to monitor and verify disclosures, but the president may appoint judicial commissions of inquiry to investigate any category of public officials or private individuals. The meetings of such commissions were public.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law do not provide for public access to government information. The law prohibits civil servants from divulging information about their departments or speaking to the press without prior clearance from their department heads.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated despite government restrictions, and they were sometimes able to investigate and publish findings on human rights cases. Government officials seldom were cooperative or responsive to their views. The British Home Office Country Information and Guidance Report on The Gambia in 2015 stated, “Some human rights activists who have (or have been perceived to have) criticized the government are at risk of being harassed, arrested, detained, intimidated and ill-treated by state agents. Reports note they have faced torture and enforced disappearance.”

The 1996 NGO Decree imposes a cumbersome registration process, allows the government to reject NGO registration applications even when formal registration requirements have been met, and requires annual submissions of budgets and work programs. The 2010 decision to place supervision of NGO activities under the Office of the President resulted in increased restrictions. Human rights organizations censored themselves and focused on nonsensitive problems; most human rights NGOs did not actively document or publicly report human rights abuses within the country due to fear of reprisal.

Although the government has often harassed, arrested, and detained human rights workers, there were no known detentions of human rights workers during the year.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government allowed visits related to human rights concerns during the year by the EU and other international governmental organizations, such as ECOWAS. The government offered no public response to reports issued by these organizations after the visits. A delegation from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights visited September 19-23. The visit was to gather information, encourage the government to improve its human rights record, and to support human rights campaigners. The delegation met with representatives of the National Assembly, Independent Electoral Commission, Ombudsman, women’s associations, and opposition parties. The EU Parliament expressed concern in a May resolution on the government’s violent repression of peaceful protests in April; the arrest and torture of protesters, including leading figures in the UDP; and serious concern about the likelihood of free and fair presidential elections in December. On May 5, an ECOWAS-African Union-UN Joint Mission met with government officials and opposition political parties. The mission reportedly expressed concern about the April 14 and April 16 protesters’ arrests, treatment, denial of bail, and lack of access to family members and lawyers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman operated a National Human Rights Unit (NHRU) to promote and protect human rights and support vulnerable groups. During the year the unit addressed complaints regarding unlawful dismissal, termination of employment, unfair treatment, and illegal arrest and detention. According to its report presented to the National Assembly on February 3, the Ombudsman’s Office received 127 complaints in 2014. Of these, authorities resolved 42 per cent of cases in favor of the complainants, dismissed 22 per cent for lack of merit, and discontinued 12 per cent considered frivolous; 2 per cent of complaints were withdrawn and 23 per cent left pending.

Togo

Executive Summary

Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in April 2015 in a process international observers characterized as generally free and fair. In 2013 the ruling UNIR (Unity) party won 62 of 91 seats in the National Assembly. International and national observers monitoring the election declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces.

The main human rights problems included overcrowded, harsh, and life-threatening conditions in prisons; lengthy pretrial detention; and official corruption and impunity.

Other human rights abuses included executive influence on the judiciary; government restrictions on freedom of press and assembly; rape, violence, and discrimination against women; child abuse, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation; and trafficking in persons. Official and societal discrimination persisted against persons with disabilities, regional and ethnic groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Child labor, including forced child labor, was a problem.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity was a problem.

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. In November 2015 the National Assembly passed a revised penal code. It defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for purposes such as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or intimidating or coercing a third person, or for any other reason based on discrimination of any kind.” On September 29, the National Assembly amended the penal code to remove the statute of limitation on torture. Conviction of torture is punishable by a sentence of 30 to 50 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 25 million to 100 million CFA francs ($42,560 to $170,242).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions and detention centers remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease, and unhealthy food. There were reports prison officials sometimes withheld medical treatment from prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. In 2015 there were 4,427 prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 118 women) in 12 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720. Men often guarded women. There were 27 juveniles held in the Brigade for Minors facility. Authorities placed the infants of female pretrial detainees and prisoners in the care of government-supported private nurseries. Officials held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent, prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.

There were 27 prison deaths from various causes, including malaria.

Administration: Recordkeeping was inadequate. No alternatives to incarceration exist, even for nonviolent prisoners. Many of those in pretrial detention qualified for release under a provision of law that provides for release of a detainee who had already served half the sentence corresponding to the charge. Because prison administrators did not maintain records of charges against detainees, officials did not know which detainees were eligible for release. There were no ombudsmen to assist in resolving the complaints of prisoners and detainees.

Although authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, they rarely investigated complaints and, when they did, did not release any findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by the Ministry of Justice visited prisons. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement with the government to gain similar access. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had access. The government holds an annual “Week of the Detainee” program during which all prison and detention centers are open to the public, allowing visitors to witness the harsh, sometimes deplorable, realities of prison life.

Improvements: Authorities employed conditional release and other measures to reduce overcrowding.

For example, on September 21, the government opened a modern prison in Kpalime, 82 miles northwest of Lome. It is designed for an inmate population of 1,000 and expected to relieve overcrowding at the Civil Prison of Lome by up to 40 percent. The prison includes a sports field, dining hall, and workshops.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police and the gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country, and the gendarmerie is responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provided intelligence to police and gendarmes but did not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection (MSPC), which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the MSPC on many matters involving law enforcement and security. The Ministry of Defense, which reports directly to the president, oversees the military. In November 2015 security forces responded to protests that turned violent in the northern city of Mango. This violence followed confrontations between local law enforcement officers and protesters that led to the deaths of at least seven protesters and the hanging of a police official. The security forces intervention lasted one day, during which time an additional protester was killed.

Police often failed to respond to societal violence. For example, on January 30, a mob in Lome burned alive a suspected motorbike thief.

Corruption and inefficiency were endemic among police, and impunity was a problem. There were reports of police misusing arrest authority for personal gain. Abuses by security forces were subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but such action seldom occurred. The government generally neither investigated nor punished effectively those who committed abuses. There were no training or other programs to increase respect for human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

There were no reports of persons arbitrarily detained in secret without warrants. The law authorizes judges, senior police officials, prefects, and mayors to issue arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them, and police generally respected this right. Although the law stipulates that special judges conduct a pretrial investigation to examine the adequacy of evidence and to decide on bail, authorities often held detainees without bail for lengthy periods regardless of a judge’s decision. Attorneys and family members have the right to see a detainee after 48 to 96 hours of detention, but authorities often delayed, and sometimes denied, access. All defendants have the right to an attorney, and the bar association sometimes provided attorneys for indigents charged with criminal offenses. The law gives indigent defendants the right to free legal representation, but the government has provided only partial funding for implementation.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were two reports of arbitrary arrest of participants in lawful demonstrations. On April 1, two protesters were arrested in Dapaong for criticizing the National Day celebrations and demanding justice for the seven persons killed during a November 2015 clash between security forces and protestors in Mango. Following their arrest authorities detained two additional protesters and charged them with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and destruction of public property. On September 6, authorities released the four. Although charges were not dropped, the government had yet to prosecute any of the four by year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: A shortage of judges and other qualified personnel, as well as official inaction, often resulted in pretrial detention for periods exceeding the time detainees would have served if tried and convicted. Pretrial detainees and persons in preventative detention totaled 2,800, or 63 percent of the total prison population.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law provide for the right of an arrested or detained person to challenge the lawfulness of detention, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds. An individual found to have been unlawfully detained may file for damages.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch continued to exert control over the judiciary, and judicial corruption was a problem. There was a widespread perception lawyers bribed judges to influence the outcome of cases. The court system remained overburdened and understaffed.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, but executive influence on the judiciary limited this right. The judicial system employs both traditional law and the Napoleonic Code in trying criminal and civil cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They have a right to a fair public trial without undue delay, to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trials were open to the public and juries were used. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to access government-held evidence relevant to their cases, but this right was not respected. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which are extended to all defendants including women, members of indigenous groups, older persons, and persons with disabilities.

In rural areas the village chief or a council of elders has authority to try minor criminal and civil cases. Those who reject traditional authority may take their cases to the regular court system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for wrongdoing, but the judiciary did not respect such provisions, and most citizens were unaware of them. Some past cases submitted to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States resulted in rulings the government did not implement.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 7.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2015 President Faure Gnassingbe was re-elected to a third five-year term with 59 percent of the vote. International and national observers monitoring the election declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings. Security forces did not interfere with voting or other aspects of the electoral process; they played no role and remained in their barracks on election day.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The UNIR party dominated politics and maintained firm control over all levels of government. UNIR membership conferred advantages, such as better access to government jobs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities. Some observers believed cultural and traditional practices prevented women from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, only 17.6 percent of parliamentarians were women (16 of 91). Members of southern ethnic groups remained underrepresented in both government and the military.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

The body officially responsible for combating corruption, the National Commission for the Fight against Corruption and Economic Sabotage, continued to lack a specific anticorruption legal mandate and was inactive. Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions, but their resources were limited, and they reported few results. Authorities established toll-free and text-messaging lines for citizens to report cases of corruption.

In August 2015 the National Assembly passed a law to create the High Authority for the Prevention of and Fight against Corruption. The law provides for a seven-person independent body to, among other things, hear complaints of corruption and refer them to legal authorities, work with the judiciary on strengthening countercorruption practices, educate the public, and oversee adherence of public officials to anticorruption statutes. The government had yet to appoint board members by year’s end.

Corruption: Government corruption was most severe among prison officials, police officers, and members of the judiciary. For example, on August 11, the High Judicial Court convicted the president of the Lome Court of Appeals of using his position illegally to sell an oceangoing vessel.

Financial Disclosure: Only the Togo Revenue Authority requires its officers to disclose their income and assets. No provisions in the constitution, law, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

Public Access to Information: Although the law provides for public access to government information, the government does not always respond to requests. Many documents were only available in hard copy.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated generally without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated but typically were not responsive to NGO recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A permanent human rights committee exists within the National Assembly, but it did not play a significant policymaking role or exercise independent judgment. In October 2015 the Council of Ministers gave jurisdiction over internal human rights matters to the Ministry of Justice; it remained unclear whether the change came with any additional authority or resources. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) is the government body charged with investigating allegations of human rights abuses. CNDH representatives visited many prisons, documented prison conditions, and advocated for prisoners, especially those in need of hospital medical attention. The CNDH also provided training in the preparation and submission of cases to the CNDH for investigation and redress.