Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The national police and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces.
Several killings occurred after the government enacted measures to combat COVID-19, referred to by presidential decree as the “state of emergency” in May and “state of calamity” in June, which required police and the armed forces to guarantee compliance with measures including wearing masks, physical distancing, and restrictions on citizens’ movements. Credible reports between May and July documented that security forces killed at least seven persons while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
On August 22, a team of police officers and Angolan army soldiers approached a group of young men in Zango 3, in the Viana municipality of the capital of Luanda, for failure to wear masks. One of the young men tried to escape to his home 30 feet away, and a soldier shot him in the back and killed him. According to the Luanda Provincial Command, the Criminal Investigation Service and the Military Judiciary detained the soldier and summoned the team to provide testimony regarding the shooting.
On September 1, pediatric doctor Silvio Dala died while in police custody after his arrest for driving his car without wearing a face mask. According to police, Dala was driving alone when stopped by police and taken to a police station where he fainted and hit his head. Police stated the trauma from the fall caused extensive bleeding and Dala died en route to the hospital. The autopsy concluded that Dala died of natural causes.
Police declared Dala was arrested because he violated the requirement to wear a face mask inside vehicles and because the police wanted to ensure Dala would pay a token fine at the site of his arrest. The Angolan Medical Union, several members of parliament, and numerous social media postings objected to the official police version of Dala’s death. The subsequent public outcry after Dala’s death contributed to the government ending the requirement to wear face masks inside vehicles when the driver is alone.
On November 11, during a protest in Luanda to demand better living conditions and local elections, Inocencio de Matos, age 26, was killed when police attempted to disperse demonstrators. Police took him to the hospital where he was treated by a medical team but subsequently died. Witnesses said that police shot and killed him. According to the autopsy report, he died of “physical aggression with a nonspecified object.”
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions.
Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses both on the way to and inside police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).
Several reports indicated that police used excessive force to enforce the state of emergency implemented to combat COVID-19. On March 30, a video shared widely on social media showed police beating several men with nightsticks while the men laid prostrate on the ground inside a police station.
On October 24, a peaceful demonstration against the government demanding employment and local elections was violently repressed with several persons injured, 103 persons detained on charges of disobedience, and unsubstantiated reports of two persons killed. According to one human rights lawyer, Salvador Freire, some of the detainees, in particular the organizers of the demonstration, were subjected to harsh and violent treatment while in custody.
Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.
Physical Conditions: The director of the Institutional and Press Communication Office of the Ministry of Interior, Waldemar Jose, said the country’s 40 prisons are overcrowded. Prisons have a total capacity for 21,000 inmates but hold more than 26,000 inmates, with half of those inmates held in pretrial detention. Jose said the prison system holds an excessive number of prisoners in pretrial detention due to a backlog of criminal cases in the court system.
Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates. Authorities also held short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence or while awaiting release warrants issued by higher courts. Many prisoners were held in pretrial detention longer than permitted under law, which ranges from four to 14 months depending on the severity and complexity of the alleged crime.
On June 23, a sub-attorney general said that in Malanje province, many criminal files sit on judges’ desks awaiting a court hearing, while higher court judges delay issuing a release warrant, leading to overcrowding in local prisons.
The director of Luzia jail in Saurimo in Lunda Sul province, said the jail held two inmates in pretrial detention for more than five years. The jail also held many prisoners who had served their sentence and awaited a release warrant.
Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. There were no reports of cases of deaths in prisons related to the physical conditions of jails. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.
One human rights lawyer described the conditions at the Cabinda civil jail, where three of his constituents are in pretrial detention, as terrible. He said prisoners had no potable water for drinking or bathing; prisoners defecated in the same location where they ate; eight inmates shared a single cell, and others were obliged to sleep in the corridors. There was no social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons by impeding their ability to enter the prisons.
Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions. Members of the National Assembly conducted independent visits to prisons. On February 27, parliamentarians visited the Peu-Peu jail in Cunene province.
Improvements: Following the “state of emergency” for COVID-19 that took effect on March 27, the PGR released approximately 1,000 detainees held in pretrial detention who did not present a danger to the community. The PGR said the release was conducted to improve prison conditions that had deteriorated due to the overcrowding of inmates in the prison system.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.
According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.
The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.
By law, prosecutors must inform detainees of the legal basis for their detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If prosecutors are unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, prosecutors have the authority to release the person from detention. Depending on the seriousness of the case, prosecutors may require the detained person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.
If prosecutors determine a legal basis exists for the detention, a detained person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.
The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda, most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.
A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.
The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.
On March 27, prison authorities suspended all visits to detainees and inmates due to the “state of emergency” for COVID-19. Prison officials allowed lawyers to visit clients and allowed relatives to receive information about family members in custody. The suspension of visits continued through May 25 when the subsequent “state of calamity” entered into force. Presidential Decree 142/20 published on May 25 provided that visits to inmates were allowed on June 29, July 13, and July 27 for separate classes of inmates. Subsequent updates to the “state of calamity” on July 7, August 9, and September 9 did not mention visits to prisons. As of December there were no additional provisions that allowed families to visit their relatives in prison.
The wife of an inmate in the Kakila prison said that since the “state of emergency” began she could no longer visit or contact her husband and that she was only able to leave food at the front gate of the jail to be delivered to her husband. She said prisoners at Kakila jail lacked running water for more than one month.
Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations. Government authorities claimed known agitators, who sought to create social instability, organized many of the public demonstrations.
On August 5, in the Dande municipality of Bengo province, police arrested four activists (Domingos Periquito, Domingos Jaime, Gomes Hata, and Manuel Lima) who attempted to organize a protest against the lack of potable water. Domingos Jaime, a rapper known as Jaime MC, was hit by a police vehicle and later taken to the hospital. Police charged the activists for failure to wear face masks, but a judge dismissed the charges. Following the dismissal, Criminal Investigation Services returned the activists to the police who filed new charges for disobedience to authorities. The activists were convicted and given a one month suspended sentence converted to a fine. The activists had no money to pay the fine and remained in police custody until they were able to collect the fine amount.
On October 24, 103 persons were arrested in Luanda during a peaceful demonstration demanding improved employment conditions and local elections. Among those detained were persons from the surrounding area who were forcibly taken into custody without having participated in the demonstration. Of the 103 persons detained, six were released before trial, 26 were acquitted, and 71 were convicted of disobedience and fined.
Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to five years in pretrial detention. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.
The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. The judicial system was effected by institutional weaknesses including political influence in the decision-making process. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs to foster the independence of the judicial system.
There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court, in part because the court remained the only appellate court in the country. A 2015 law established another level of appellate courts to reduce delays. Two of these courts were inaugurated in Benguela and Lubango but were not operating at year’s end. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings.
Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional community leaders (known as sobas) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.
Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.
Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings, from the moment of being charged through the close of all appeals.
In July the National Assembly unanimously approved a new procedural penal code to clarify the roles of each party in the judicial process, introduce rules that speed up judicial processes, and provide new procedural rules for both claimants and defendants.
By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.
A separate juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.
The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
In Cabinda province authorities detained three activists of the Cabinda Independence Union on June 28 and 29. Authorities detained Mauricio Gimbi, Andre Bonzela, and Joao Mampuela and accused the men of carrying pamphlets with the slogans, “Down to arms, down to the war in Cabinda”; “Cabinda is not Angola”; and “We want to talk”. The men appeared before a government attorney on June 30 who ordered their pretrial detention. Authorities subsequently charged the men with rebellion and criminal association.
The lawyer for the men, Arao Tempo, appealed the pretrial detention. On August 21, the Provincial Court of Cabinda decided to hold Gimbi and Mampuela in pretrial detention and release Bonzela pending the payment of a substantial fine. Tempo said the fine would be an impossible sum to pay due to the poor social and economic conditions of the Cabindan people. The three activists remained in jail. On November 15, human rights lawyer and head of the pro bono organization Associacao Maos Livres, demanded their release.
Damages for human rights abuses may be sought in provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. During the year the National Assembly approved a new procedural penal code that allowed victims of human rights abuses to seek compensation from the state. The rules provide that the state must compensate victims who are illegally detained or arrested, are under excessively long pretrial detention, are not released in due time against a legal provision or a court decision, or are victim of a gross judicial error. Public agents responsible for actions that abuse human rights should in turn compensate the state.
SOS Habitat brought a lawsuit alleging that the government failed to comply with a judicial decision to compensate a victim of an unlawful killing. The NGO sued on behalf of the family of Rufino Antonio, age 14, who was killed by soldiers in August 2016 while protesting against the demolition of a neighborhood in the Zango area of Luanda province. The Luanda Military Court sentenced four soldiers to prison terms ranging between one and 18 years in prison, and ordered each soldier to pay a compensation fee to Rufino’s family of 1,000,000 kwanzas ($1,740). The family has not received the payments from the government or the convicted soldiers.
The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution recognizes the right to private property and establishes that the state protects the property rights of all citizens, including of local communities, only allowing expropriation for reasons of public use. The constitution also provides that all untitled land belongs to the state, with no exceptions for pastoralists or traditional societies.
In the municipality of Quipungo in Huila province, farmers and herders of the Kakoi-Mangango community said their land was taken by the communal administrator of Cainda without notice and given to farmer Fernando Abilio Lumbamba. The local farmers tried to protest to the municipal authorities but were threatened with arrest by the communal administrator, who said the land in question belonged to the state. One local NGO wrote a letter on behalf of the local farmers to the Huila governor Luis Nunes denouncing the expropriation of the land.
The constitution and law prohibit the arbitrary or unlawful interference of privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained that the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were credible reports from civil society groups that police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against citizens.
For example, on March 24, police fatally shot University of Abomey Calavi student Theophile Dieudonne Adjaho during a demonstration staged by the National Federation of Beninese Students. The students were demanding cancelation of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as protesting arrests at previous demonstrations.
Authorities have not investigated this killing or the killings of civilians in connection with the 2019 legislative elections during which civil society groups stated police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against protesters. During May 2019 postelection clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Cotonou, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported at least two deaths, including a female bystander who was shot when a Beninese Armed Forces member fired to disperse crowds. Although the president acknowledged that four civilian casualties occurred during the protests, he made no further comment. Although investigations of police and military personnel conduct were not generally made public, there was no indication during the year that any were conducted.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but such incidents continued to occur.
The penal code prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On April 28, a video circulated on social media showing a police officer beating a motorbike taxi rider and his female passenger for failing to wear facemasks mandated by COVID-19 enforcement measures. The beating took place on a Cotonou street in the presence of three other officers. On April 19, the Republican Police director general issued a statement deploring the incident and stating that the responsible police officers had been identified and would be punished. On April 30, the officer responsible for the beating and those who witnessed it were arrested but not charged. By ministerial order the officers were administratively sanctioned for use of excessive force.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions web platform, there was one allegation submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There were also three open allegations from prior years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including one each from 2019, 2018, and 2016. As of September the government had yet to report on any accountability measures taken in the four cases. All four cases involved accusations of exploitative relationships with adults.
Authorities rarely held police accountable for misconduct, and impunity remained a problem. The Inspectorate General of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious cases involving police personnel. There were no reports, however, that any investigations were conducted. The government provided some human rights training to security forces, often with foreign or international donor funding and assistance.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food, and sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: According to the Benin Bar Association, conditions in the country’s three prisons and eight jails were inhuman due to overcrowding, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. The 11 facilities held approximately 9,000 inmates, significantly exceeding a capacity of 5,620 inmates. Convicted criminals, pretrial detainees, and juveniles were often held together. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support.
During the year the government reduced overcrowding through the administrative release of 1,300 persons. In April and May, authorities released 439 prisoners on parole to reduce COVID-19 transmission. In addition the Beninese Human Rights Commission reported that authorities released a number of pretrial detainees in February after it urged judicial authorities to review cases of pretrial detainees and release those for whom there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecution.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment upon instruction by the Beninese Human Rights Commission. Prison authorities allowed visitors, but according to NGO reports, prison officials sometimes charged visitors a fee that was substantial for the average person.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Representatives of religious groups–the Prison Fellowship, Caritas, the Prisons Brotherhood, and Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture–and NGOs–Amnesty International, the Beninese Human Rights Commission (an independent government entity), the Friends of Prisoners and Indigents Clinic, and Prisoners without Borders–visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. The commission also urged prison directors to provide adequate health care to inmates.
Improvements: The Directorate of Prison Administration implemented a centralized record-keeping system for Ministry of Justice officials to enable it to better track remand periods and court hearings and thus facilitate prompt release of prisoners at the end of their sentences. The installation of new generators and solar lighting, the construction of new dormitories and wells, septic tank maintenance, and the purchase of beds and medical supplies improved prison conditions during the year.
The government began implementing a program to provide more permanent health-care assistance to prisoners as opposed to ad hoc health care from NGOs. For example, on October 14, the Beninese Prison Agency deployed seven doctors and three psychologists to provide health-care services to prisoners in all 11 prisons.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, Republican Police occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is by law 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 the arrest or detention is deemed unlawful.
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 of arrest, but these requirements were not always observed.
After examining a detainee, a judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs, a judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours 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 awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail and have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or prevented access to an attorney.
The government sometimes provided counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases. Persons in rural areas accused of serious crimes often lacked adequate legal representation because defense attorneys were predominantly based in Cotonou and generally did not work on cases in rural areas.
There were credible reports of individuals held beyond the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, 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: Unlike in 2019 there were no reports of arbitrary arrest. Nevertheless, some NGOs believed the practice might have continued, especially in the rural areas where individuals are not aware of their right to file complaints.
On June 18, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2017 arrest and detention of Armand Pierre Lokossou–who was charged with criminal breach of trust and held until January–violated the arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention provisions of Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases at five years and for misdemeanors three years. Approximately two-thirds of inmates were pretrial detainees. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.
Detainees held beyond pretrial limits may obtain recourse from the Constitutional Court. On June 4, the court ruled that judicial officials violated the code of criminal procedure when a Liberty and Detention Court judge failed to order the release of a pretrial detainee after six months’ detention. In February the Beninese Human Rights Commission ordered the release of a Cotonou Prison pretrial detainee held for three years after a court ordered his release pending trial in 2016.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, the president heads the High Council of the Judiciary that governs and sanctions judges. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government continued to make substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.
In 2018 the National Assembly passed a bill creating the Court to Counter Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET). Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bill establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles. CRIET decisions could not be appealed to intermediate appeals courts–designed to correct errors such as a lack of jurisdiction, failure to provide a legal basis for a decision, or action by a court exceeding its authority–but had to be filed directly with the Supreme Court. Intended in part to quell domestic and international criticism, on April 21, the National Assembly revised the CRIET law to provide for appeals to be filed within the CRIET structure.
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, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney.
By law courts must provide indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was rarely available, especially in cases handled in courts located in remote areas. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French 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; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. The nongovernmental Organization for the Defense of Human and Peoples’ Rights reported that there were political prisoners at the Cotonou, Parakou, Abomey, and Akpro-Misserete prisons. Additionally, Amnesty International and other NGOs stated that several individuals arrested for involvement in postelection protests in 2019 were detained for politically motivated reasons.
The government permitted access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the Beninese Human Rights Commission.
There were credible reports the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes against specific individuals located outside the country.
In April 2019 a Spanish court rejected the government’s request for the extradition of former minister of finance Komi Koutche, who had been arrested during a stopover in Madrid in 2018 based on an Interpol (International Police Criminal Organization) Red Notice. The court cited lack of evidence to substantiate the request, potential political motivation for the request, and CRIET’s inability to provide for a fair trial due to its lack of independence from the government. On April 4, CRIET tried Komi Koutche in absentia, found him guilty of embezzlement of public funds and abuse of office while head of the National Fund for Microcredit, and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment. Koutche remained in self-imposed exile at year’s end.
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; however, citizens may cite 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. Unlike in prior years, appeals may no longer be filed with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On April 23, the government withdrew its 2016 declaration filed with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that provided for Beninese citizens and NGOs to file complaints and appeal adverse court rulings to the court. The country’s withdrawal followed an April 14 decision by the court ordering Benin to postpone communal elections after Sebastien Ajavon, a prominent government critic and leader of the opposition party Union Sociale Liberale (Liberal Social Union), filed a complaint alleging that his party had been wrongfully excluded from participation in the elections. In a separate case brought by Ajavon, the court ordered the government to repeal a 2019 amnesty law.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Botswana Defence Force has a judge advocate general that would investigate any such cases; the Botswana Police Service would conduct an internal investigation into these types of allegations with a referral to civilian prosecutors if necessary.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but unlike in years prior to 2019, there were no reports of police using such tactics. Some laws prescribe corporal punishment for convicted offenders in both criminal and customary courts. Human rights groups viewed these provisions as cruel and degrading; the Court of Appeals ruled these provisions do not violate the constitution’s provisions on torture or inhuman treatment. In April police reportedly used excessive force in at least one instance while enforcing the 2019 COVID-19 lockdown regulations in Lobatse, where two persons were beaten and injured. President Masisi released a statement vowing to investigate the incidents thoroughly and pledged not to tolerate abuse by security forces. The government did not release further information on the investigation following this statement. On September 29, police also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at university students in Palapye who were protesting nonpayment of their student allowances. Students alleged police used excessive force to break up the protests, while police said the students set fires and refused to disperse. Two students were arrested and charged with incitement to violence and disobedience of the law.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.
Physical Conditions: Authorities occasionally held juveniles with adults, although only for a few days while the juveniles awaited transport.
The Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally. In previous years journalists reported allegations of authorities abusing asylum seekers in the FCII, but there were no reports of such abuses during the year. There was no school at the center, and international observers expressed concern some children were separated from parents at a young age. The government considered FCII to be a transit center for refugees, but some refugees previously spent several years there while awaiting review of their cases. Although in 2019 the government moved remaining long-term residents to the nearby Dukwi Refugee Camp, there was no protocol in place to prevent arrivals from spending long periods in FCII while their cases were processed. There were no significant reports regarding conditions at other prisons that raised human rights concerns.
Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought by inmates against prison officials and took disciplinary or judicial action against persons responsible for abuses. The law requires the minister of defense, justice, and security to appoint a committee to visit prisons on a quarterly basis and allows religious authorities to visit with prisoners. The government enforced this law. Prisoners in general may also attend religious services.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to meet with prisoners and permitted independent human rights observers to visit prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons. Representatives of diplomatic missions have also been allowed access to the FCII.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and provide for the right of any person to challenge his or her detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) officers received human rights training at the country’s International Law Enforcement Academy.
Police must produce an arrest warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate upon the presentation of compelling evidence, except in certain cases, such as when an officer witnesses a crime being committed or discovers a suspect is in possession of a controlled substance. Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) personnel have the power to enter premises and make arrests without warrants if the agency suspects a person has committed or is about to commit a crime (see also section 2.a.).
The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent and to file charges before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities generally respected these rights. There were no reports of denial of a suspect’s right to an attorney during the first 48 hours after arrest and the right to arraignment before a magistrate. A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of detention that may be renewed every 14 days. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a person’s detention. Heavy court caseloads occasionally delayed this determination. Authorities generally informed detainees of the reason for their detention, although there were some complaints this did not always occur. There is a functioning bail system, and detention without bail was unusual except in murder cases, where it is mandatory. Detainees have the right to contact a family member and hire attorneys of their choice, but most could not afford legal counsel. There were no reports authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.
Pretrial Detention: A writ of pretrial detention is valid for 14 days and is renewable every 14 days. Some detainees, however, waited several weeks or months between the filing of charges and the start of their trials. Pretrial detention in murder, rape, livestock theft, and robbery cases sometimes exceeded a year, but there were no reports of instances in which the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentences actually imposed. Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 25 percent (2015 data) of prisoners, according to the NGO World Prison Brief. Delays were largely due to judicial staffing shortages and a backlog of pending cases.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities generally informed them promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals if he or she cannot understand the language of the court. Trials in the civilian courts are public, although trials under the National Security Act may be secret. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. In capital cases the government provides legal counsel or private attorneys to work pro bono for indigent clients. Courts tried those charged with noncapital crimes without legal representation if they could not afford an attorney. As a result many defendants were not aware of their procedural rights in pretrial or trial proceedings. Defendants may question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and to appeal. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. The constitution states these rights extend to all citizens. Some NGOs provided limited, free legal assistance.
In addition to the civil court system, a customary or traditional court system also exists. According to traditional practice, a tribal chief presides over most small villages. While customary (traditional) courts enjoyed widespread citizen support and respect, they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal court system. Although defendants may confront, question, and present witnesses in customary court proceedings, they do not have legal counsel, and there are no standardized rules of evidence. Customary trials are open to the public, and defendants may present evidence on their own behalf. Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal leader or elected by the community, determine sentences. Many tribal judges were poorly trained. The quality of decisions reached in the customary courts varied considerably, and defendants often lacked a presumption of innocence. Tribal judges applied corporal punishment, such as lashings on the buttocks, more often than did civil courts. Those convicted in customary courts may file appeals through the civilian court system.
A separate military court system does not try civilians. Military courts have separate procedures from civil courts. Defendants in military courts are able to retain private attorneys at their own expense and view evidence to be used against them. Defendants in military court may have their cases transferred to the civilian judicial system. In addition military personnel may sue other military personnel in civilian civil court.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
In the formal judicial system, there is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including for human rights cases, which includes a separate industrial court for most labor-related cases. Administrative remedies were not widely available. By mutual agreement of the parties involved, customary courts, which handle land, marital, and property disputes, tried most civil cases but; they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal judicial system. Although individuals and organizations may file complaints regarding domestic decisions with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the country has not ratified the protocol that established the court, which means the country does not always implement the court’s rulings.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the DISS had developed capabilities for online surveillance. The BPS also used online surveillance of social media as part of COVID-19 state-of-emergency measures.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports state security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (see section 1.g.).
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, on April 9, government security forces executed 31 unarmed Fulani men in the town of Djibo in the northern Sahel Region hours after arresting them during a counterterrorism operation. Residents later interviewed regarding the incident attributed the killings to the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes, a mixed counterterrorism force (composed of members of the army and gendarmerie) based nearby. On April 10, the Defense Ministry’s director of military justice announced the opening of an investigation and later recommitted to investigating these and other similar killings on July 3. The president also reiterated this commitment. There were no updates regarding the investigation by year’s end.
On May 11, gendarmes, accompanied by several local members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (Volontaires pour la defense de la patrie or VDPs), arrested 25 suspected terrorists trading in the market in Pentchangou near Tanwalbougou in Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region); 12 of the detainees died later that night, reportedly while in police custody. Local and international human rights advocacy groups claimed that the prisoners, all of whom were ethnic Fulani/Peuhl, were executed and suggested that the security services had profiled members of the Fulani ethnic group. On May 27, the Fada prosecutor declared a preliminary probe could not determine the cause of death of the 12 detainees but stated they were not executed. As of November the case was under investigation by the military tribunal.
In July a security officer was arrested who had headed a June 29 operation in Tanwalbougou (Est Region) that led to the death of seven civilians.
According to a local human rights group, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de l’homme et des peuples or MBDHP), on May 4 and 5, VDPs arrested Idrissa Barry, a councilor; Amadou Diande, another councilor; and his son Adama Diande, a community health worker, in the vicinity of Barsalogo, Centre-Nord Region. Their families found them fatally shot and killed.
On March 8, at least 43 Fulani men were killed in the commune of Barga in the Nord Region. While the government blamed the attack on violent extremist organizations, local media and observers reported the attackers were members of government-condoned vigilante groups known as Koglweogo, who reportedly believed the Fulani were harboring terrorists.
Extremists carried out more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths, targeting traditional, religious, and political leaders; humanitarian workers; members of government security forces; VDPs; and civilians. For example, on July 6, extremists killed the mayor of Pensa in Bam Province and later killed six soldiers and three VDPs who deployed in response to the initial attack. On August 7, unidentified armed individuals attacked a cattle market in Namougou village in the Est Region, killing at least 20 persons and wounding many others. On August 8, a truck loaded with animal feed transported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the city of Djibo was attacked by unidentified armed individuals. On August 11, Souaibou Cisse, Grand Imam of Djibo, was kidnapped by unidentified gunman and was found dead on August 15 in Tibere village, three miles from Djibo. On November 11, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorists ambushed a military convoy in Oudalan Province in the Sahel Region, killing 14 soldiers and injuring others (see section 1.g.).
Ethnic Fulani (Peuhls), who were often recruited by extremist groups, were disproportionately the target of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to their perceived sympathies with Islamic extremist groups.
There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, VDPs, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region. Burkinabe security forces also reportedly committed abuses while conducting counterterrorism operations in Mali. In particular, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division documented 50 alleged “arbitrary” executions by the Burkinabe Armed Forces between May 26 and 28. As of year’s end, there was no update to these cases.
There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians suspected by security forces of committing acts of terrorism. For example, Amnesty International reported on the disappearances of 34 persons attributed to security forces in March and April, and HRW reported on the disappearances of at least 180 persons in the area around the town of Djibo in the Sahel Region between November 2019 and June, which HRW said available evidence suggested had been carried out by security forces.
Extremists were also suspected in numerous disappearances (see section 1.g., Abductions).
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by the military, gendarmerie, police, VDPs, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to terrorists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.
A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the Ouagadougou’s House of Arrest and Correction (MACO) occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.
In March the MBDHP accused defense and security forces of inflicting acts of torture against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.
On July 10, a gendarme and a soldier reportedly raped two girls in Ouagadougou during an arrest for lack of identity documents. On July 24, the two were sentenced to four and three years, respectively, in prison.
On August 14, a gendarme reportedly tortured a 16-year-old minor in the Boucle du Mouhoun who refused his advances. The gendarme placed an order at the restaurant where she worked and asked the girl to deliver it to his home, where he handcuffed her, forced her to wear gris-gris (type of amulet common in parts of West Africa), and put chili pepper into her vagina. On October 20, he was given a five-year prison sentence by the Banfora Court (with possibility of parole after two years) and ordered to pay the victim 500,000 CFA francs ($900) in damages within a period of three months.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation from 2015 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving 10 peacekeepers who engaged in transactional sex with an adult. As of September the government was still investigating the allegation and had not provided accountability measures taken.
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 in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison (HSP) in Ouagadougou, which mostly houses suspected terrorists, was at double its designed capacity, housing more than 900 inmates. Almost all were in pretrial detention.
Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.
Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the HSP there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.
Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.
In April the government released 1,207 prisoners from prisons nationwide in response to COVID-19, an estimated 16 percent reduction of the prison population. Pardons depended on the age and health of prisoners, and only those who had already served at least half of their sentence were eligible. Prisoners convicted of banditry, terrorism, and female genital mutilation (FGM) were excluded from the measure. While this reduction provided relief to sanitary conditions in chronically overpopulated facilities, the facilities continued to operate at more than double their original capacity.
Administration: The government issued a May 20 statement reiterating the local prosecutor’s commitment to a criminal investigation into the May 11 death of 12 detainees who were “suspected terrorists” in Tanwalbougou, Est Region, as well as a government administrative inquiry into the same incident (see section 1.a. and 1.g.).
On August 4, the director of the Ziniare prison, Kalfa Millogo, was arrested for extortion of funds from detainees.
Because of COVID-19, the government suspended visits to all prisons from March 19 until further notice. Parcels and meals coming from outside for inmates, as well as visits by lawyers to their clients, were authorized, subject to compliance with the prevention system against COVID-19 set up in penitentiary establishments by the Ministry of Health in early March.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit 2,800 prisoners in eight facilities in Ouagadougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Ouahigouya.
Improvements: As part of the fight against COVID-19, the French government and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement in late June to strengthen the management of COVID-19 at the MACO and at the HSP.
In October the government completed the construction of a new detention center with a designed capacity for 500 inmates and a new administrative building for prison personnel in the civil prison of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of the country. The new detention center has 76 collective cells and 15 individual cells. The cells include showers, toilets, as well as collective visiting rooms and three individual visiting rooms for detainees’ lawyers.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court.
By law police and gendarmes must usually 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. 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. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members 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. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with 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.
Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the HSP remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.
Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. During the year the courts began ordering the release of suspected terrorists against whom there was insufficient evidence to move to trial on criminal charges, according to reports from HSP officials in Ouagadougou. On February 6, an HSP official reported that during January, 39 adult male terror suspects held at HSP were ordered to be released by the military and civilian courts. Some who were released unconditionally for a lack of evidence were to remain under court supervision pending further investigation of their cases. More than half of the released suspects were from the community of Djibo in the embattled Sahel Region close to the border with Mali.
The HSP population grew steadily, from 550 in October 2018 to more than 900 in pretrial detention as of August, and the government had not yet successfully prosecuted a single terrorism case through to completion. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial.
In September the government completed construction of a second courthouse in Ouagadougou to focus on terrorism cases. The national counterterrorism court (which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases) at this new courthouse was not operational by year’s end. The Superior Council of Magistrates named the judges to sit in the new tribunal and increased the staff to manage a growing caseload of unresolved terrorism cases.
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.
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 trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused terrorists.
Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. 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.
The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious 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. 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 they 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 government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.
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 January, after diplomatic negotiations, the military prosecutor granted a six-month permission to Djibril Bassole to receive medical care in France. Bassole, former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, was sentenced in September 2019 to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Ouagadougou military court for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. Bassole signed a declaration of honor in which he pledged “to appear in court as soon as [his] medical treatment is completed.” In addition, the former minister deposited the sum of 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) as a bond. Bassole, who was to return to Burkina Faso on June 29, requested and was granted a temporary extension of his stay in Paris.
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman 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 (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. 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.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigations techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.
In 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was most recently extended in January for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.
According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.
The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings, abductions, attacks on schools and mining sites, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Security forces also were responsible for killings and other abuses.
Killings: According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, as of November 14, there were more than 2,200 conflict-related fatalities since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by both security forces and various armed groups.
HRW issued a report in July documenting 180 civilian deaths, the majority of whom were Fulani men, between November 2019 and June, allegedly at the hands of security forces around Djibo in the Sahel Region.
On June 29, security forces reportedly arrested 12 Fulani men near Tanwalbougou (Est Region). Seven of the 12 were found dead on the outskirts of the village, in the same area where security forces allegedly killed 12 others while in detention the month before (see section 1.a.). The other five were released in a nearby village, after allegedly being tortured to the point of requiring urgent medical care.
In addition to large numbers of attacks against civilians perpetrated by armed groups and security forces alike, there were numerous attacks by extremists against security forces throughout the year (see section 1.a.).
As of August extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam had conducted 22 attacks against political leaders and village officials in various locales, unlike in prior years when there were few known incidents of apparent targeted assassinations. In March a former mayor, a deputy mayor, three village chiefs, one prince, and two village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. In May, four village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. On June 13, the deputy mayor of the commune of Solhan, Sahel Region, was killed. In July a mayor and two municipal councilors were killed in the Centre Nord Region.
Armed groups also took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and VDPs, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On January 4, a provincial government-sponsored bus convoy carrying children back to school after winter holidays triggered an IED believed to have been planted by extremists in Sourou Province. The blast killed 14 passengers, including seven schoolchildren. On July 12, Mathias Tankoano, the president of the Higher Council of Communication (CSC), and his security escort escaped an ambush by unidentified armed individuals employing a remotely controlled IED.
Extremists often targeted religious houses of worship and faith leaders. In December 2019 extremists killed 14 worshipers including the pastor during Sunday mass in their church in Hontoukoura village, (Komondjari Province, Est Region). On February 10, extremists abducted seven persons at the home of a pastor in Sebba, Sahel Region; five bodies, including that of the pastor, were found the following day. On February 18, extremists stormed Pansy village (Yagha Province, in the commune of Boundore) killing 24, including a pastor of the International Missionary Society, and they burned a Protestant church. On August 11, extremists kidnapped the imam of Djibo Grand Mosque in the Nord Region, while he was travelling back from Ouagadougou. He was found dead on August 15 in the outskirts of Djibo.
On January 20, extremists killed 36 civilians in Nagraogo and Alamou villages in Barsalogho Commune, Centre-Nord Region. Returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the victims. On January 25, extremists stormed the village of Silgadji (Tongomayel Commune, Soum Province, Sahel Region) and killed 39 civilians of different religious backgrounds. Press and security services reported that on May 29, extremists attacked a convoy of local shopkeepers returning from the local market in Loroum Province’s Titao town, killing 16 civilians. On May 31, extremists fired upon the crowd at the cattle market in Kompienbiga village, near Pama, killing 25 and injuring others.
On June 26, armed attackers ambushed a convoy of merchants, under escort by VDPs, on the Titao-Solle road in Loroum Province (Nord Region). Despite a prompt reaction from the Solle military detachment, six VDPs and one soldier were killed and several others injured.
On July 13, 20 gunmen attacked the villages of Gabougou and Fondjoma in Matiakoali Commune, in the East. They allegedly killed five persons and abducted two others. Two days later the same gunmen reportedly returned to these villages claiming that they had a list of 30 individuals they would execute. Many in the villages fled.
On July 21, the body of a VDP from Peela village in Tangaye, abducted two days earlier by extremists, was discovered by fellow VDPs. They had to move the body from a distance using a rope because the body had been covered in explosives.
Communal tensions, often exploited by extremists, security forces, and VDPs, sometimes resulted in interethnic clashes.
An investigation by the government remained open with no charges made following the January 2019 attack by members of Koglweogo against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho that killed 46 civilians. On February 4, authorities provisionally released the Koglweogo vigilante group leader Boureima Nadbanka and one other Koglweogo member, of 13 who had been arrested in December 2019; the releases followed protests by Nadbanka’s supporters who had blocked roads to pressure the government into releasing him.
Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. In August media sources reported the kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Lanfiera (Centre Ouest Region) by unidentified armed individuals. On August 27, extremists kidnapped two retired civil servants on the Namissiguia-Djibo road at an illegal checkpoint and released them on September 5 in the village of Bourro, 19 miles from Djibo (Sahel Region). On September 18, the chief of Djibasso village, in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, was kidnapped and remained missing at year’s end.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to HRW, the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization, and the MBDHP, on several occasions security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).
In July witnesses said extremists raped two women in a village in the Nord Region.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups that recruited and used children, information from the Ministry of Justice reported the presence of a few children, estimated to be 12-14 years old, held in detention centers on terrorism charges, which indicated that armed nonstate groups may have recruited minors. As of September officials from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that eight minors, arrested with alleged terrorists, were detained at the HSP and the MACO. Several minors arrested and detained as terror suspects were released to NGOs and the Red Cross for return to their families.
Other Conflict–related Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of September 15, 2,300 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and more than 11,200 teachers (section 6, Children). In a May report, HRW documented the alleged use of 10 schools by government security forces for military purposes in Centre-Nord and Sahel Regions in 2019, including three occupied as bases for six months to a year. In at least eight cases, the schools had reportedly closed due to insecurity prior to the occupation. In July at least 13 schools were burned in the municipality of Tansarga, in the Est Region; reports indicated that up to 20 armed individuals went from village to village ransacking and burning the schools. On September 15, extremists set fire to the elementary school, communal high school, town hall, and prefecture in Tansarga, Est Region.
Local authorities in the Sahel, Nord, and Est Regions reported that extremists had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. According to the independent nonprofit news organization The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with an estimated 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection for affected civilians against abuses and violations, but civilians and civilian services remained extremely vulnerable and in many cases were directly targeted by armed groups.
Throughout the year armed groups attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. According to UN Population Fund, as of July approximately 113 health centers were closed and 156 were idle due to terrorist activity, depriving 1.5 million persons of access to health care. Multiple sources reported that on June 24, unknown attackers seized a World Food Program (WFP) truck in Soum Province (Sahel Region). The attackers stole the truck’s cargo (35 metric tons of vegetable oil for WFP’s nutrition distribution) and abducted the driver and his apprentice for several hours before releasing them and the vehicle the same night.
On August 27, unidentified armed individuals caused a serious water shortage in Titao after they broke into a sector of the city of Titao, in Loroum Province (Nord Region), and destroyed machinery used to pump water to treatment stations of the National Office for Water and Sanitation. The assailants also stole the battery and starter, reportedly for use in making IEDs.
According to a report commissioned by the government, extremist attacks on gold mining sites gave them access to gold as a source of funding, as well as to explosives for the production of IEDs. The report revealed that since 2016, armed extremist groups had reaped 70 billion CFA francs ($126 million) from attacks on mining sites.
Extremist groups also forced women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forced men to wear religious garb, prevented children from going to non-Quranic schools, and prohibited civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, and frequenting bars at the risk of beatings or death.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents, including police, the National Intelligence Service (SNR), military personnel, and elements of the Imbonerakure, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ligue Iteka continued operating from outside the country and documented 205 killings by the end of September, as compared with 281 the previous year. Many were allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal to allow international bodies authorization to enter the country. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare. Responsibility for investigating such killings lies with the Burundi National Police, which is under the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, while the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution.
In its September report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government, but who conducted face-to-face or remote interviews with more than 300 victims, witnesses, and other sources living both in the country and in exile, reported that summary executions and arbitrary killings continued. Despite the fact that bodies bearing signs of violence continued to be found in public places, authorities made no attempt to establish the victims’ identities or the circumstances of their death, making it more difficult for the COI and NGOs to document. In addition, the COI reported numerous cases of disappearances, and it was difficult to determine how many of these were cases of forced disappearance or were killings. Some victims were found dead a few days after their disappearance with injuries indicating they had been executed. The COI report concluded that “human rights violations were mainly committed by members of the Imbonerakure and local administrative officials acting alone or jointly with police or the National Intelligence Service.” The COI also reported that, “Acting in place of the authorities, Imbonerakure have killed persons accused of ordinary crimes, including theft and witchcraft, thus arrogating to themselves the right to dispense justice.” Victims were generally perceived as opponents of the government or the ruling party or, first and foremost, members of the new political opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL), registered in February. Some media outlets reported that Burundian nationals who returned to the country after having sought refuge abroad were also targeted, as were young men following travel abroad, who were accused of belonging to or supporting armed opposition groups. As in past years, the COI report stated that there was reason to believe that abuses committed by Burundian authorities constituted crimes against humanity.
According to the COI report, during the electoral period numerous members of the main opposition party CNL were killed in reprisal for legitimate political activities. Violent clashes between the Imbonerakure and members of the CNL resulted in injuries and deaths on both sides but with primary responsibility attributed to the Imbonerakure, often with tacit support of police and local authorities.
According to a report by the NGO Ligue Iteka, Bosco Ngabirano, a CNL member, was killed on March 29 in Ryansoro commune, Gitega Province, by a group of Imbonerakure. The report indicated Seconde Ndayisenga, the administrator of the commune, ordered the killing. Ngabirano was killed by machete and his tongue was cut out. He was buried on April 1 at the request of the commune administrator and Gitega governor without the presence of his family members who requested an investigation into his killing before burial. As of November, authorities had not initiated an investigation.
On September 17, the rebel group Red Tabara claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Bujumbura Rural, Rumonge, Kayanza, and Bururi Provinces that reportedly killed 28 members of the security forces (police and army) and 15 Imbonerakure, according to the movement’s spokesperson. The spokesperson stated that six members of the movement were killed during the attacks. Local administrations attributed the attack to “unidentified armed groups aiming to disrupt security of the country.”
As of September 21, at least 29 grenade attacks had taken place throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities and 69 injuries. Although the number of attacks was slightly lower than the previous year, the number of fatalities and injuries increased. The identification of the perpetrators and motives behind the attacks was often unclear. While the apparent motives were presumably political for some of the attacks that specifically targeted members of political parties, police, and other security service members, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas.
Following the elections, President Ndayishimiye made efforts to curb the violence and engage the country’s youth in positive economic efforts, including by creating an initiative to lower youth unemployment and establishing a bank that provides loans to young entrepreneurs.
On December 28, the first prosecution and sentencing took place against a high-level member of the Imbonerakure. The former vice president of the Gitega chapter of the Imbonerakure, Aime Irambona, was sentenced to four years in prison for premeditated murder in the slaying of a workman who stole items from his home. Five other plaintiffs were also prosecuted in the case and received sentences that ranged from 18 months to life in prison. Aime Irambona is a close relative of President Ndayishimiye and was prosecuted by the newly elected government, despite his membership in the ruling party’s youth wing that typically has impunity for its actions, including intimidation through violence.
There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident. The COI report noted that some victims associated with the opposition or without political affiliation disappeared after refusing to join the ruling political party or the Imbonerakure. A victim’s last sighting was often at the time of abduction by the Imbonerakure or SNR. The NGOs Ligue Iteka and SOS Torture Burundi regularly reported disappearances, which were sometimes later determined to be killings when bodies were discovered. As of mid-September, Ligue Iteka documented 30 disappearances, down from 35 the previous year. It linked six disappearances to the Imbonerakure, two to police, 16 to the SNR, one to the military, and five to unidentified actors. Lack of access to reliable reporting, caused in part by restraints on civil society, limited the ability of human rights organizations and researchers to gather complete data. Disappearances of persons returning from exile were also reported. There were no reports of efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.
On April 3, military officers under the orders of Major Gilbert Manirakiza, the officer in charge of military intelligence at Mabanda camp, kidnapped Come Niyongabo, a former member of the FAB (the former Burundian army). Niyongabo’s family was unable to locate him, and the military denied detaining him.
The constitution and law prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September, Ligue Iteka reported 103 such cases, down from 201 the previous year, attributing 70 to members of the Imbonerakure, eight to police, five to members of local government, and 20 to the SNR. According to Human Rights Watch, some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they fled the country after they or their family members suffered violence, including rape, torture, and illegal detention by members of the Imbonerakure. The press reported throughout the year that Imbonerakure members arrested, threatened, beat, tortured, or inflicted a combination of the foregoing on members of the CNL party.
The COI report concluded that acts of torture continued to be committed, including sexual and gender-based violence affecting mostly women and girls but also men. Such violence aimed at intimidating, controlling, repressing, or punishing women and men for their supposed or actual political opinions, their refusal to join the ruling party, or their links with an armed movement. According to the COI, assailants beat, kicked, or struck victims with sticks or batons while wounding others with sharp objects.
The COI report linked acts of torture to members of the Imbonerakure, often acting alone but sometimes in concert with or with approval from police or local administrative officials. Imbonerakure were regularly deployed to supplement or replace security forces, particularly in rural areas, at the request of or with the consent of senior officials of the SNR, police, the Office of the President, and local authorities.
On March 1, in Gisuru commune, in Ruyigi Province, a group of Imbonerakure beat Pascal Bizumuremyi, a member of parliament from the CNL party and also a police officer. The group was working to prevent CNL members from opening party offices in the region. The group of Imbonerakure was arrested but released without charges several days later.
There were few reports of investigations or prosecutions for serious abuses of human rights. The extent of impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and their proxies, particularly the Imbonerakure. Factors contributing to impunity included the ruling party’s reliance on the Imbonerakure to repress political opposition. There are no significant mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses. The COI report stated, “Imbonerakure enjoy considerable latitude in carrying out their activities, conferred on them by the Burundian authorities who have the means to control them, as well as almost total impunity.”
The UN Secretary-General’s Strategic Assessment Mission for UN Engagement in Burundi noted, “In July and August 2020, the Government took notable steps to fight impunity. It arrested and prosecuted members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party youth league Imbonerakure, senior police officers and local administrative officers for extortion and other criminal offenses, thus increasing the cautious optimism from civil society and political actors that the new administration will bring about change. However, the prevailing view conveyed by several stakeholders is that more steps need to be taken for Burundi to promote accountability and meet its international human rights obligations.”
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were seven open allegations submitted in previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burundian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including two from 2019, one from 2018, two from 2017, one from 2016, and one from 2015. As of September, the government had not announced whether it had taken any measures to establish accountability in the seven cases that were still open. Four of the cases involved an alleged exploitative relationship with an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, the alleged rape of a child, and the alleged solicitation of transactional sex by two peacekeepers with two adults. The other three open cases each involved multiple charges: One of the cases involved the alleged rape of an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, and two allegations of rape by two peacekeepers of an adult. A second case involved the alleged rape of two adults, the alleged sexual exploitation with two adults, alleged sexual activity with a child, and alleged transactional sex with an adult. The third case involved two allegations of sexual activity with a child.
Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life -threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. The COI and several other credible organizations also continued to report that the SNR, police, senior government officials, and other security organizations maintained clandestine detention facilities to which no independent monitors were granted access.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a severe problem. The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of August, there were 12,109 inmates, including 5,168 pretrial detainees, in 13 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 12,109 inmates, 646 were women and 144 were juveniles. Authorities held 144 juveniles, of whom 129 were convicted and 15 were pretrial detainees, in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities. They were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 87 infants and small children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 771 percent of capacity, and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 552 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in secret detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Ngozi. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets and bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, and lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities.
According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria. Many died from disease. There were media reports of prisoners presenting COVID-19 symptoms including some who died, particularly in Bujumbura’s Mpimba Central and Ngozi prisons. There was no official information regarding cases of COVID-19 in prisons. Authorities took some measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including suspension of visits in all prisons after April 1, although family members were still permitted to bring prisoners necessities such as food. The International Committee of the Red Cross provided assistance to prison authorities for constructing quarantine sections in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each inmate received on a daily basis approximately 12 ounces of cassava, 12 ounces of beans, and, on some days, oil and salt. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals. The banned NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-Burundi) reported a shortage of medicines in prison clinics. It also reported that prisoners, particularly those held on politically motivated charges, had difficulty obtaining permission to seek treatment in hospitals outside prison, and those who did were discharged before they were fully recovered.
Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but authorities rarely investigated the complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that any abusers were held to account or punished.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by some independent nongovernmental observers.
The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the African Union (AU), and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and known SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to prisoners held in known detention facilities, but were not able to access clandestine SNR detention sites.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions.
Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish an investigation and present evidence before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension for additional investigation. Police rarely respected these provisions.
A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges for continued detention, initially for 14 days, and then for an additional seven days if required to prepare a case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing heavy case backlogs or improper documentation by police. Authorities acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common.
Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a problem in the eight provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.
Judges may release suspects on bail but rarely did so. They did, however, often release suspects on their own recognizance. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. The SNR denied lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a token monetary fine and imprisonment for 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in an arbitrary arrest. There were no reports this law was applied. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the Imbonerakure. The COI report described a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, but it did not provide statistics. As of September, Ligue Iteka documented 916 arbitrary arrests, an increase from 598 in the previous year, including 154 by the Imbonerakure, 589 by police, 39 by the military, 81 by local administration officials, and 53 by the SNR. Authorities especially targeted members of the CNL party and their supporters, making a total of 409 arrests. Authorities also arrested members of other opposition parties in connection with legitimate political activities. Authorities often accused them, along with CNL members, of organizing or taking part in “illegal meetings” or seeking to “disrupt the election.” Authorities arrested some opposition members, after they fought with members of the Imbonerakure who were attempting to disrupt their opposition election rallies. Sometimes authorities arrested the relatives of CNL or opposition party members who could not be located.
According to the COI report, most arrests were arbitrary because they were conducted illegally, on vague grounds, or in breach of established judicial procedure, such as when carried out by the Imbonerakure or local administrative authorities who were not authorized to make arrests, other than while a crime is being committed.
On May 4, in Giheta commune, Gitega Province, the manager of Kibimba hospital, Samson Gahungu, was arrested by Alexis Manirakiza, the local administrator of the commune. Gahungu was accused of tearing up a picture of the then National Council for Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) presidential candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, posted at the entrance of the hospital.
On July 10, Terence Mushano, vice president of the CSO AC-Genocide Cirimoso, was arrested with journalists from the Iwacu Press group before interviewing them concerning the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre of students at the University of Burundi. They were arrested for planning an interview within the airport premises without prior authorization. The Iwacu journalists were released several hours later but Mushano was transferred to a holding facility of the judicial police, where he was accused of “undermining public security.” He was temporarily released on personal recognizance on July 15, pending trial at a later date.
In May 2019 the duly elected leader of the Adventist Church in Burundi, Pastor Lameck Barishinga, and church administrator Pastor Lambert Ntiguma were arrested at Bujumbura International Airport while trying to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend an executive committee meeting of the East-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They both remained in prison without charges.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. By law authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of August, however, 43 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees, according to the director of prison administration. Authorities held some suspects without formal charges. According to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, the average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, but some persons remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases, the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance because public prosecutors failed to open case files or the files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, there was no record that any person was able to do so successfully.
Serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of trials. Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there were instances when authorities bribed or subjected members of the judiciary to political influence to drop investigations and prosecutions or predetermine the outcome of trials or not to seek enforcement of court orders. According to the COI report, the rules of criminal procedure were rarely observed. Warrantless arrests of political opponents were routinely carried out, pretrial detentions were illegally extended, and judges used confessions obtained under torture as a basis for convicting defendants.
The COI report stated that the judiciary continued to be used as a tool of political repression and was biased in favor of the CNDD-FDD party. Imbonerakure involved in clashes with members of CNL were rarely prosecuted or punished. The Ministry of Public Security consistently identified members of the CNL as responsible for “90 percent” of such incidents without carrying out investigations. There were allegations the public prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the security services and national police. Prosecutors and members of the security services sometimes ignored court orders for the release of detainees after judges had determined that there were no legal grounds for holding them.
By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including by questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in most cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.
All defendants except those in military courts have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.
Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally were open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, in cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.
While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.
On August 9, the Kayanza High Court sentenced Augustin Manirishura, Christophe Ndayishimiye, and Chadia Mbaririmana to 30 years in prison for an alleged attempt to assassinate the president. They were arrested after a group of persons threw stones at President Ndayishimiye’s motorcade. During the trial the three accused did not have access to lawyers because the trial was held within three days of the incident and the defendants were not able to afford attorneys. The prosecutor initially charged them with “breach of public safety and not alerting the concerned services that the head of state was in danger” and requested a prison sentence of seven years. At the ruling, the judge announced the court reclassified the charge as an attack and plot against the head of state without giving further explanation. Media outlets reported the sentence was politically motivated.
In August, Dieudonne Nsengiyumva, a former representative of the Imbonerakure in Nyabihanga commune in Mwaro Province, and Boris Bukeyeneza, a current Imbonerakure member in the same commune, were sentenced by Mwaro District Court to 15 years in prison for the murder of Richard Havyarimana, a member of the CNL opposition party.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; estimates by human rights groups ranged from a few hundred to as many as 4,000. Many of the examples cited in section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, qualified also as political prisoners or detainees. The government denied incarcerating persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Throughout the year there were regular arrests and detentions of members of opposition political parties, mainly from the CNL but also other parties, such as Union for Peace and Democracy-Zigamibanga. Others, mainly young men, were arrested or detained under suspicion of having cooperated with armed rebel groups. In many cases alleged political prisoners remained in pretrial detention; in other cases they were released without explanation or, more frequently, after paying a monetary fine.
On October 2, authorities arrested former independent member of parliament Fabien Banciryanino as he was giving a press conference at his home in Bujumbura. Banciryanino was charged with threatening state security, slander, and rebellion. In February, Banciryanino cited numerous human rights abuses when he voted against a bill to give then president Nkurunziza the title of “supreme guide of patriotism.” Banciryanino remained in detention.
In 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion. International and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. In 2018 Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment. Rukuki appealed the conviction, and in July 2019 his conviction was upheld by the Bujumbura Court of Appeals. On June 30, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Court of Appeals, stating that “the sentence was a violation of civil and political rights.” The Supreme Court ordered Rukuki’s trial to be reheard by a newly set up Court of Appeals, but no trial date was fixed as of November.
Amnesty: On January 30, four Iwacu journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “a failed attempt of complicity in undermining the internal security of the state.” Human Rights Watch described the arrest as an “attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work.” On December 24, President Ndayishimiye pardoned the journalists; they were released the same day.
There were credible reports that the government attempted to use international law enforcement tools for politically motivated reprisals against specific individuals located outside of the country. Human Rights Watch reported that authorities collaborated with Tanzanian officials to arrest, torture, forcibly repatriate, and detain without charges refugees and asylum seekers residing in Tanzania for allegedly “attempting to destabilize the country.”
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five CSOs closed by the government challenged the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of September the cases remained in process.
In the wake of violence, repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 420,000 citizens fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. There were reports that, since 2015, government officials and private citizens seized land that was owned or legally occupied by fleeing refugees, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented others from occupying lands belonging to refugees.
The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. A 2018 law provides for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice of warrantless searches to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.
Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and conducted general vehicle inspections and searches. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with an increase in reported searches in the weeks leading up to elections. During these searches, security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency.
Some media outlets reported their websites and social media platforms were blocked or not accessible to the general public.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the event of such a killing, the Ministry of Internal Affairs would investigate the National Police, the Ministry of Justice investigates the Judicial Police, and the Ministry of Defense–specifically the Military Judicial Police–investigates the armed forces. The Attorney General’s Office plays an investigative and prosecutorial role in cases involving civilian police, while a military court tries members of the armed forces.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of violence and sexual abuse by police against detainees and violence by prison guards against prisoners. As of August the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship reported eight complaints of police abuse during the year and 14 for all of 2019.
According to media reports, a woman who in 2019 had accused three police officers in Santa Catarina on the island of Santiago of rape and cruelty during detention withdrew her complaint upon receiving an 800,000 escudo ($8,200) payment from one of the accused. One officer remained in detention and faced charges of prevarication and abuse of power, while another faced charges of torture and cruel and degrading treatment. In March the National Police announced that its internal investigation had found incongruences that placed the victim’s version of events in question, absolved the accused, and warranted a full determination of the facts to initiate a criminal process against the complainant for making a false accusation. In April, however, a review by the Ministry of Internal Affairs recommended that the two officers stand trial. The Ministry found insufficient evidence for charges against the third officer. An expert report by the Portuguese Judicial Police compiled in June at the request of the country’s authorities concluded on the basis of DNA tests that the rape had occurred. A court issued a three-year suspended sentence to one of the officers in November.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship follows up with the National Police when it receives information regarding abuses. In January prison officers received training abroad in correctional facility management with a focus on balancing security with human rights.
Although the government took steps to improve prison conditions in some areas during the year, they remained deficient due to overcrowding and inadequate health and sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Of the five prisons in the country, three–in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Fogo–had populations that substantially exceeded capacity. Prisons in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Sal separated inmates by trial status, sex, and age. In Fogo officials established isolation cells that separated youths from adults. In Santo Antao inmates were separated according to trial status and crime but not age. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. Women were not incarcerated in regional prisons because of the lack of separate space for them. In the Praia and Sao Vicente prisons, women generally had more space per person and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners. The Ministry of Justice reported four deaths in prisons during the year and two in 2019, all at the Praia facility.
Inmates at the prison in Sal announced plans in October to stage a hunger strike to protest inadequate medical care and the poor quality of food. Corrections authorities continued to use solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners. Inmates in isolation had limited access to visitors and prison activities.
Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints; however, the semi-independent National Commission for Human Rights received prisoners’ complaints through regular prison visits, written communication, social media postings, and telephone calls from prisoners or their relatives. During 2019 and through August, the commission received complaints of inadequate provisions for health and hygiene, physical abuse by prison guards, inadequate access to lawyers, and substandard prison facilities. In addition, semi-independent “Provider of Justice” teams made unannounced visits to prisons to assess conditions. Corrections officials stated the complaints had been investigated. Prison visits were restricted to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meetings with legal counsel took place under controlled conditions to mitigate spread of the disease. Prison directors stated religious activities were permitted for all religious groups.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made visits to prisons to record conditions.
Improvements: The Ministry of Justice reported completing infrastructure improvements at all five prisons, including to sanitary facilities, sewage systems, water systems, cells, walls, and visiting rooms. Under the government’s National Plan for Social Rehabilitation, the Ministry continued inmate vocational training programs in tailoring, sewing, and house painting.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant from the Attorney General’s Office unless police apprehend the suspect in the act of committing a crime. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. The National Commission for Human Rights reported detainees remanded to preventive detention on islands without prisons waited in police holding cells until they could be transferred to islands with prisons. 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 allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice. If a detainee is unable to afford a lawyer, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints one.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases nevertheless moved through the judicial system slowly because it lacked sufficient staffing and was inefficient. In 2019 a court issued a two-year suspended prison sentence to a foreign pilot for failure to render assistance in response to a request for a medical air evacuation notwithstanding the pilot’s compliance with national and international aeronautical regulations and expert testimony that air travel would likely have endangered the patient’s life.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges and receive 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 continue 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 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.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Courts handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or injunctions ordering the cessation of, human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available, although administrative remedies are rare.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. Most of the killings were associated with the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict). Additionally, many included unarmed civilians not in conflict-afflicted areas, and others resulted from the use of excessive force on citizens by government agents, including members of defense and security forces.
The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether security force killings, including police killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.
On July 23, the Douala-based private television channel Equinoxe TV reported that a taxi driver died in a health center after he was allegedly tortured at the 6th district police station in New Bell, a neighborhood in Douala. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mandela Center, on July 20, Mitterrand Tchouateum Nja parked his vehicle incorrectly and was subsequently punished for refusing to pay a bribe. Police commissioner Mvoundi Evina and members of the 21st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Terminus Saint Michel, including Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Nkimantap, brutally assaulted Tchouateum. After the assault, police detained Tchouateum at the 6th district police district. He was transferred to Nkoloulou district medical center on July 22 after his condition rapidly deteriorated. Tchouteum remained chained to his hospital bed until a few hours before his death, which came soon after his release from police custody. As of December 8, the Mandela Center had filed a complaint with the Military Tribunal in Douala, and the Military Tribunal had referred the case to the High Court. No criminal charges had been filed against the perpetrators of the attack as of December 15.
According to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (CHRDA), on August 13, Cameroonian soldiers raided the village of Mautu in the Southwest Region and killed seven unarmed civilians. The victims, including an elderly man and a pregnant woman known as ‘Mami Blessing,’ were reportedly shot at close range in their homes. Before these killings, the military raided a church on the outskirts of Mautu and shot the church’s pastor. The soldiers executed two boys alongside the pastor and shot another as he tried to escape. The soldiers allegedly invaded the church because the worshipers sympathized with separatist ideology. The CHRDA reported that they were unaware of any ongoing investigation into the incident.
On August 11, multiple media outlets reported the beheading of 32-year-old Comfort Tumassang by suspected Anglophone separatists. The incident took place in Muyuka, Southwest Region. A video circulating on social media that day showed a woman seated on the ground with her hands tied behind her. She begged for mercy before she was beheaded; her body was left in the street. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a second video, filmed before the killing, showing separatists interrogating and threatening Tumassang, whom they accused of collaborating with the military. The three main Anglophone separatist groups–the Ambazonia Governing Council, the “interim government” led by Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, and its splinter faction led by Samuel Ikome Sako–condemned the killing and denied responsibility for the crime.
On November 24, suspected Islamist terrorists attacked the village of Gabas, located within Mayo Tsanaga in the Far North Region, killing three civilians. On November 25, a member of the Gabas vigilance committee, Jean Baptiste Yagai, told the media that terrorists attacked at about 7:00 p.m., hours before the normal time that residents leave the village to hide in the surrounding hills every evening to avoid Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The assault on Gabas was the latest in a series of attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, especially within Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava. In November at least six civilians were killed in attacks in Mayo Sava, while five civilians were killed and at least four others abducted in Mayo Moskota.
While the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Unlike in the previous year, however, some information was made available concerning the outcome of investigations into abuses committed by security forces as well as the status of some ongoing trials. President Biya ordered an investigation into the February 14 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, Northwest Region. On April 22, the president released a summary of the investigation’s findings, identifying a sergeant, a gendarme, and a soldier as responsible for the killing of 13 civilians during the incident. President Biya reportedly ordered disciplinary action against the battalion commander, who oversaw the operation, and the arrest of the other three suspects. Their trial was expected to begin on December 17 at the Yaounde Military Tribunal. A total of 17 members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter were also charged but remained at large.
On September 21, the Yaounde Military Tribunal issued a sentence in the case against seven soldiers accused of the extrajudicial killing of two women and two children, believed to have taken place in 2015 in the village of Zelevet, Far North Region. The lead officer, Captain Etienne Fabassou, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and breach of regulations for his role and received a sentence of 10 years in prison. Sergeant Cyriaque Bityala, Corporal Barnabas Donssou Gorvo, and Soldier First Class Jean Baptiste Tchanga Chiengang were found guilty of murder and breach of regulations and were also sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of the remaining three soldiers, Soldier First Class Ghislain Landry Ntieche Fewou was found guilty of breach of regulations and sentenced to two years in prison. The two remaining soldiers were found not guilty. Both the prosecution and all those convicted filed appeals. In the case of the prosecution, the sentences were less than those the prosecution had requested.
As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists or their supporters. Multiple credible organizations documented the case of Samuel Abue Adjiekha (aka “Wazizi”), a news anchor for Buea-based independent radio station Chillen Muzik and Television Pidgin. Wazizi was detained on August 2, 2019, and pronounced dead on June 5. Wazizi was accused of having connections with armed Anglophone separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea on August 7, 2019, and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. In a June 5 press release, the Defense Ministry asserted Wazizi died of severe sepsis on August 17, 2019 (see also section 1.c.). On June 5, the French ambassador to Cameroon told the press at the end of an audience with President Biya that the president had promised to order an investigation into Wazizi’s death. As of mid-December, there were no developments reported on the investigation.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters and political opponents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated political opponents and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.
On July 2, the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union denounced the hijacking of Wazizi’s body as a move to conceal signs of torture on the journalist during his detention.
On July 7, according to CHRDA, 39-year-old Ben Uze was tortured and maimed by the military in Wum, Northwest Region. He reportedly sold 10 liters of palm wine and pineapples to soldiers, who took the items but refused to pay. An eyewitness reportedly told CHRDA that the victim reported the matter to the army commander, who accused him of associating with separatists. As a result, when Uze refused to pay the soldiers he encountered, they severely beat him, causing severe damage to his eye and groin area. Uze reportedly died of his injuries in a hospital.
In a September 24 preliminary report, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers claimed police violently suppressed the party’s peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, beating protesters and arresting journalists. They stated that police elements, who used water cannons, batons, and tear gas, injured demonstrators in cities throughout the country, including Douala, Bafoussam, and Kribi. The lawyers reported cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment at Yaounde central police station No. 1, listing Therese Assomo Ondoua, Nde Diffo Jaurel, and Wilfred Siewe as some of those tortured during their arrests. Anecdotal evidence and accounts by some protesters who were released corroborated the lawyers’ preliminary report.
Human Rights Watch reported that on May 30, separatists kidnapped and tortured a humanitarian worker in Bali, Northwest Region, accusing him of collaborating with security forces. They released him the following day, and he spent several days in a Bamenda hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained during his detention. The victim told Human Rights Watch that he was blindfolded and taken to a separatist camp on a motorbike. He was later taken to a second location, tied to a tree with a rope, and beaten and kicked before he was released.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, five allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also 29 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including 16 from 2019, four from 2018, four from 2017, two from 2016, and three from 2015. As of September, the Cameroonian government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 34 open cases. Of the open cases, nine allegedly involved rape of a child, 16 allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, five allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with an adult, one allegedly involved rape of an adult, and one allegedly involved sexual assault of an adult. There were also two cases that involved multiple instances within each case. One of those case allegedly involved four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. The other case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.
Credible organizations including the CHRDA reported that Reverend Thomas Nganyu Tangem died chained to his hospital bed in Yaounde in July. He was a member of the Mbengwi Monastery in the Northwest Region and was arrested at Mile 16 in Buea in 2018 and transferred to Yaounde where he was allegedly tortured while in detention for two years without charge. Equinoxe Television reported that on several occasions, prison authorities dismissed concerns expressed by other prisoners regarding his health. On July 25, prison authorities took him to Yaounde Central Hospital, where he was shackled to his hospital bed. He died a few days later on August 5. Tangem was never officially charged with a crime.
Anecdotal reports suggested there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. NGOs also indicated armed separatists were involved in rape and sexual abuse cases in the two regions.
There was at least one report of medical abuse by government forces. Djilieu Pommier alleged that after being arrested during MRC demonstrations on September 22 in Bafang (West Region), army Lieutenant Mvoundi Evina on September 22 injected him with an unknown substance. As a result of the injection, Djilieu lost the use of his legs and was effectively paralyzed pending an official medical diagnosis.
On May 6, the High Court of Mbam and Inoubou in the Center Region sentenced the head of local police to a three-year suspended prison sentence for mistreatment of 16-year-old Ibrahim Bello in 2017 that resulted in his losing both legs and his left hand; a colleague received a four-year prison sentence. The court ordered them jointly to pay 50 million Central African francs (CFA) ($86,800) in damages. Following the ruling, the NGO Mandela Center filed an appeal requesting damages be increased to CFA one billion ($1.74 million) due to the gravity of the injuries. The convicts and the General Delegation of National Security also filed separate appeals, requesting that damages be reduced. In mid-December, the court of appeals of the Center Region in Yaounde opened appeal hearings; there was no ruling as of year’s end.
While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, especially in high-profile cases, security force impunity remained a concern. Such impunity involved most defense and security force branches from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) to police. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government meted out some sanctions to convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations were ongoing as of year’s end. Factors contributing to impunity included the government’s lack of transparency on the steps taken to address allegations of human rights violations.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages and poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Prison overcrowding was exacerbated by sustained increases in the number of arrests related to the conflict in the Anglophone regions and the September 22 protests by the opposition MRC. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In many prisons, toilets were only common pits. In some cases, female detainees benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.
According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915. As of October 31, the overall prison population was 22,430, including 580 women and 577 minors. The Ministry of Exterior Relations’ Minister Delegate to the Commonwealth Felix Mbayu provided the figures on November 19, within the framework of the 67th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 were recorded among inmates released from five prisons across Cameroon’s Central Region in April, according to Reuters, which cited unpublished government data. According to the article, the Yaounde Central Prison was the worst hit. More than 31 inmates died there in April, compared with a prepandemic average of one or two a month. A senior prison official reportedly told Reuters that no inmates were tested for COVID-19.
Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Some credible organizations reported that physical abuse by persons associated with the government was less prevalent in prisons than in gendarmerie and police detention cells, where some officers often used harsh interrogation techniques. Conversely, violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 18 letter to the Minister of Justice Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy representing detained Anglophones separatists at the Kondengui Principal Prison, informed the minister that Reverend Kisob Bertin was attacked on August 16 in his bed by fellow inmates. He stated that witnesses said the attack had the blessing of the prison administrators, who told some inmates they would not face sanctions if they attacked “Ambazonians” and seized their property.
Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, independent authorities did not investigate the most credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. Overall prison visits were limited in compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religious practices without interference.
Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-related restrictions. The NGO Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, however, stated it visited a few prisons up to April and a few others as of August, including in Bafia, Bafoussam, and Nanga Eboko. The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese in Bamenda also stated it conducted regular visits to the Bamenda Central Prison and provided legal assistance to inmates facing crimes related to the ongoing Anglophone conflict at the Military Tribunal. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) reported it did not conduct any prison visits as of late August because of a lack of funding.
Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison located approximately 12 miles from Douala, was completed. The facility is expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living environment of inmates at the Douala-New Bell central prison. The new prison needed equipment and some other finishing touches before receiving inmates. On April 15, President Biya signed a decree to decongest prisons as part of government measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 1,800 inmates were freed by May 8. As of July, the total number of inmates who benefitted from the decree was estimated at close to 3,000.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest must disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.
The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities, such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.
On May 11, six volunteers from “Survival Cameroon,” a fundraising initiative launched by opposition leader Maurice Kamto to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were arrested while handing out free personal protective equipment in Yaounde. They were placed in custody at the Yaounde II police district without judicial authorization. The volunteers were released on bail after several days of detention. Two other volunteers were arrested on May 14 while filming the transfer of their comrades from the police station to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor released them on bail on May 26. Christian Penda Ekoka, president of the management committee of the initiative, stated that three other volunteers who were peacefully distributing free masks and hand sanitizer in Sangmelima, South Region on May 23 were arrested and placed in custody at the city’s central police station. They were released on bail after several days of detention. The individuals were accused of unauthorized demonstrations. If found guilty, they could face four years in prison.
According to Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) president Edith Kah Walla, on September 19, members of security forces abducted at least five members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon. The arrest occurred after the members left a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the CPP headquarters in Douala. The abductees, including Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutality and interrogated without legal counsel.
On September 19, 21, and 22, security forces arrested approximately 593 citizens in connection with peaceful protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While some were released, the Military Tribunal charged many with revolution, insurrection, and rebellion and placed them in pretrial detention. MRC women’s wing president Awasum Mispa was arrested on November 21 when she led a group of women to visit MRC president Maurice Kamto. On November 23, an investigating magistrate at the Yaounde Military Tribunal charged her with complicity in revolution and rebellion and placed her in pretrial detention for a period of six months renewable. On November 27, the same investigating magistrate dropped the charges and released her. Kamto’s de facto house arrest was lifted on December 8, two days after the election of regional councilors. The Yaounde Court of First Instance had not opened any substantive hearings in the proceedings initiated by his lawyers.
Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. Of the 22,430 detainees as of October 31, a total of 14,973 were pretrial detainees.
Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television, who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 30 hearings as of July 15, the Special Criminal Court failed to produce strong evidence to support the charges against him.
See also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Thomas Tangem.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but this is not always the case in practice. In some instances, the outcomes of trials appeared influenced by the government, especially in politically sensitive cases. Authorities did not always respect and enforce court orders.
Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.
Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a broad number of offenses including civil unrest.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the defendant is presumed innocent. Authorities did not always respect the law. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, restricting access to lawyers, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram, Anglophone separatists, or political opponents. When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint trial counsel at public expense, but the process was often burdensome and lengthy and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but authorities often violated this right. Hearsay and anonymous testimony were sometimes permitted, especially in terrorism cases. Defendants are entitled to an interpreter at no charge, but often the quality of interpretation was described as poor. Defendants may appeal convictions. In some cases, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses or evidence to support his or her case.
Courts often limited procedural rights in politically sensitive cases. On July 16, the Court of Appeals in Yaounde heard a case involving 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2019. On July 17, prison officials denied the Anglophone leaders access to their defense lawyers, according to several lawyers, including Emmanuel Simh. In a July 17 statement, Dabney Yerima, the jailed vice president of the Ambazonian “interim government,” confirmed and then denounced the denial of access to legal representation. Although they were present at the court, Sisiku and his companions reportedly refused to be judged in French, demanding that their trial be conducted in English. The case was adjourned until August 20, and then until September 17 when a final decision was to be delivered. They reportedly did not receive a legal opinion from the court official on this case. On August 20, the case was postponed until September, after the magistrate in charge was transferred to the Supreme Court. On September 18, the Court of Appeals eventually confirmed the initial life sentence for separatist leader Ayuk Tabe and others.
There were cases where the courts demonstrated some neutrality. On June 16, the Administrative Court in Yaounde ruled that the minister of territorial administration had acted illegally when he independently declared that the leader of the CPP, Edith Kah Walla, had been replaced by the proregime party founder Samuel Fon before the October 2018 Presidential election.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of newly identified political detainees as of September, most of whom were associated with the September 22 protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While there were no official statistics available, the number of detainees was estimated to be close to 600. Prominent among the detainees were MRC Treasurer Alain Fogue and Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities and at the Kondengui Principal Prison and the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. Some were allegedly held at Directorate General for External Research facilities. The government did not readily permit access to such individuals.
The 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment on August 20, 2019, remained in detention, as the Court of Appeals in September confirmed the sentence. MRC Vice President Mamadou Mota and a few other MRC members, in addition to the 10 leaders sentenced to life, remained in detention as of December, despite a reduction of their sentences upon appeal. Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, who was convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. In 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Marafa’s detention as “a violation of international laws.” The government did not respond to repeated requests for members of the diplomatic community to meet with Marafa.
There were credible reports that for political reasons the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse legal action against specific individuals, including Anglophone separatists and other political opponents.
On August 18, Serge Sihonou, the secretary of MRC’s operation in Gabon, was allegedly detained by the counterinterference service of the B2 Brigade in Libreville, where he was harassed and physically abused. He was accused of continuing to run an MRC operation that he created in the town of Oyam, despite a ban on the party in Gabon. On August 21, MRC leader Maurice Kamto sent a letter to the Gabonese ambassador to Cameroon denouncing the treatment and demanding the release of Sihonou. In his letter, Kamto accused the Cameroonian ambassador to Gabon of instigating the harassment of MRC members in Gabon since 2018.
Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, but the decisions of regional human rights bodies are not binding.
There were reports that the government delegate to the Douala City Council had failed to comply with civil court decisions pertaining to labor matters of city council employees. The Douala City mayor, who replaced the government delegate, however, found a compromise solution after more than 30 months of litigation between Douala City Council workers and the government.
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction in the interests of the state, and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.
The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without a warrant whenever they wished. According to media reports, security forces on June 27 conducted raids in the mostly Anglophone neighborhoods of Obili and Melen in Yaounde, following the detonation of two improvised explosive devices in the city. They entered private homes by force and arrested anyone deemed suspicious or who did not possess a national identification card. Many of those detained told media they had been harassed, humiliated, and abused in the process. A video on social media showed more than 100 men and women sitting on the ground surrounded by security officers within a large courtyard in Obili. At the end of the operation, the security officers took away dozens of persons without identification.
An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred. Following a late March decision by Jean Claude Tsila, the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, approximately 50 prostitutes were placed in police custody after coming in contact with travelers in quarantine due to COVID-19 in some hotels in Yaounde.
Killings: There were credible reports that members of government forces and separatist fighters deliberately killed innocent citizens. On April 22, according to credible organizations, members of government security forces executed six unarmed men in Muambong, Southwest Region. The victims included four former separatist fighters who had accepted an amnesty offer in 2019. Most of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of the victims’ relatives.
On March 12, according to credible accounts, Anglophone separatists killed at least five civilians held hostage, including the deputy mayor of Babessi council, Chefor Oscar, and the newly elected mayor of the Mbengwi council, Ndangsa Kenedy Akam, who was kidnapped 15 days earlier. The killings took place after the Cameroonian army raided their camp, freed five hostages, and killed seven separatist fighters. According to reports, the hostages were subjected to both physical and sexual violence. On May 10, Anglophone separatists ambushed and killed the newly elected mayor of Mamfe, 35-year-old Priestley Ashu Ojong. Shortly after news of Ashu Ojong’s death, Lucas Ayaba Cho, leader of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), praised ADF fighters for eliminating a high value target.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA intensified deadly attacks on civilians and members of security forces in the Far North Region. L’Oeil du Sahel reported that on June 25 in Goudoumboul, Boko Haram insurgents killed 18-year-old Almada Ali. On June 26, in Cheripouri, assailants believed to be Boko Haram fighters ambushed and killed 12-year-old Ousmane and his older brother while they were asleep in their home.
On October 24, according to Amnesty International, unidentified gunmen in civilian clothes on motorbikes attacked a school in Kumba in the Southwest Region, firing into a classroom. The attackers killed eight schoolchildren and injured another 12 children. On October 28, Minister of Communications Rene Emmanuel Sadi announced security forces had killed one of the gunmen allegedly responsible for the attack. The government declared a national day of mourning and a delegation of government ministers traveled to Kumba to meet with the victims’ family members. The government also sent a medical team to provide medical and psychosocial support. On the day of the attack, Communications Minister Sadi announced an investigation into the killing, but the government did not follow through with an independent investigation into the attack.
On December 6, unidentified gunmen shot at Encho Elias Ambi, a municipal councilor for Widikum in the Northwest Region, after he cast his vote for the election of regional councilors. He was not harmed during the incident.
Abductions: Armed separatists kidnapped dozens of persons, burned property, and threatened voters in the period before the February 9 legislative and municipal elections. Armed separatists allegedly kidnapped several traditional leaders in retaliation for the traditional leaders’ participation in the December 6 regional elections. They held noncombatants as hostages, including public officials, political leaders, teachers, schoolchildren, and traditional leaders. There were credible allegations that separatists physically abused abduction victims, including committing rape, using stress positions, administering beatings, and flogging with machetes. In some cases the abductors freed the victims after either negotiations or receiving ransom payments.
On July 13, armed individuals abducted at least 60 men, women, and children in the village of Mmouck Leteh in the Southwest Region. On July 15, a local administrator told the BBC that gunmen entered the village late at night, moved through the community kidnapping persons–many of whom were at a local snack bar–and led them away at gunpoint to an unknown destination. According to the BBC, a significant number of the victims were children between the ages of 12 and 16. Later that day, the BBC reported that at least 12 of the abductees had escaped captivity and had returned to the community, and that separatist leader General Ayeke had demanded a ransom totaling $2,500 for the remaining victims. Several hours later, multiple local media outlets announced the release of the remaining abductees, reportedly after negotiations with separatists.
On July 7, five civilians were kidnapped in Muyuka, Southwest Region, presumably by Anglophone separatists. A week later, the victims were still missing. On May 30, according to Human Rights Watch, separatists abducted and mistreated a humanitarian worker, whom they accused of being a spy. The worker was released the next day. In Bambui on May 30, separatists abducted seven staff members of a religious nonprofit organization; they were released after two days.
On April 24, armed men abducted three government officials in Boyo, Northwest Region.
On January 21, suspected separatists abducted 24 schoolchildren in Kumba in the Southwest Region. Security forces rescued the hostages in an operation later the same day, killing two of the abductors in the process.
On January 5, armed separatists kidnapped Choh Issa Bouba, the opposition party Social Democratic Front’s mayor of Babessi, Northwest Region, along with some councilors of his municipality.
On December 12, Anglophone separatists allegedly kidnapped traditional leader Nelson Sheteh in the Northwest Region. On December 13, suspected Anglophone separatists in the Southwest Region abducted three traditional rulers, including Chief Emmanuel Ikome Ngalle. Ngalle died in separatist custody and the other two traditional leaders, Simon Kombe, traditional ruler of Bolifamba, and Emmanuel Efande Ewule, traditional ruler of Lower Bokova, were released on December 14. Many Cameroonians believed that the timing of the abductions and social media statements by separatist leaders suggested the abductions were in retaliation against leaders who participated in the December 6 regional elections.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to anecdotal reports, members of government forces physically abused civilians and prisoners in their custody. Reports suggested that on January 5, a detainee died in Ndu, Northwest Region after being abused by soldiers (See also section 1.a).
In a March 13 report available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that Anglophone separatists killed four hostages, including a local official, after troops attacked their camp in a western part of the country. The military reportedly freed five others. According to Kindzeka, a young woman recovering at a military base in Bafoussam told a reporter that she had also been raped by her abductors.
Child Soldiers: The government did not generally recruit or use child soldiers, but there were allegations that some members of defense and security forces in at least one instance allegedly used a child for intelligence gathering in the Southwest Region in November 2019. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may have used and recruited children as young as 12 in operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. In July, Human Rights Watch reported that from mid-March to late April, soldiers in Mozogo, Far North Region, forced civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect against attacks by Boko Haram. According to the report, the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion in Mozogo worked with local authorities to compile lists of approximately 90 men and at least one boy who were required to join night guard duty.
Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets. There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children as fighters.
According to UNICEF, from January to December 2019, there were nine incidents involved minors used as forced suicide bombers in the Far North Region (Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga, and Logone-and-Chari divisions). UNICEF’s analysis found individuals manipulated into serving as suicide bombers or forced suicide bombers included children whose parents had been killed in violence, abducted orphaned children, and women whose husbands had been killed.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: As in the previous year, there were reports of repeated attacks on health workers and institutions and the use of firearms around health facilities by members of security forces and Anglophone separatists.
Human Rights Watch reported in July that security forces and armed separatists attacked hospitals and medical staff on multiple occasions. The organization indicated that on June 10, following clashes between separatists and soldiers, including members of the BIR, a grenade was fired into the courtyard of the district hospital in Bali, Northwest Region. One patient died, four others were injured, and four vehicles were destroyed. Human Rights Watch further reported that on June 30 soldiers forcibly entered St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital in Shisong, Northwest Region, looking for wounded separatists. They fired three gunshots and broke down doors, causing panic among patients, nurses, and other workers who fled.
On July 6, separatists in the Southwest Region killed a Doctors without Borders community health worker known as Felix, after accusing him of collaborating with the military. In addition, in response to the announcement of the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the Northwest and Southwest Regions on July 5, separatists launched attacks on July 6 in villages across the Anglophone regions, destroying public buildings in Lebialem and Manyu in the Southwest Region as well as in Bui, Donga and Mantung, and Ngoketunjia in the Northwest Region.
Central African Republic
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.
In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.
In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).
There were multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).
Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).
In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).
Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.
The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.
According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.
The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.
Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.
On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.
On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.
Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.
Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.
There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.
Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.
Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.
On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.
MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.
Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.
Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.
For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.
Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur during the year.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.
On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.
Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.
In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.
In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.
Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.
In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. 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, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.
The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.
UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.
Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.
Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.
The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).
On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.
In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.
Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.
Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the LRA, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.
The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.
The country is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced from 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition the law provides a child who has served in an armed force or group may not be subject to criminal prosecution on this ground. The child must be considered a victim and not an alleged perpetrator, and the law favors social reintegration mechanisms for children.
During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity. The Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights investigate allegations of security force killings.
In March, 44 suspected Boko Haram prisoners died in a gendarmerie prison cell. The National Commission on Human Rights assessed they died from heat, overcrowding, and lack of adequate food and water (see section 1.c., Prison Conditions).
In May 2019 Yaya Awad, arrested for allegedly stealing a motorcycle, died in custody at the seventh police district of N’Djamena after police fatally beat and otherwise injured him during interrogation. In July authorities sentenced three police officers involved in the incident to five years in prison and fines.
On March 23, Boko Haram militants killed 92 soldiers in an attack in Boma, Lake Chad Province.
Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6, Discrimination).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence the government continued to employ them.
In response to the March Boko Haram attack that killed 92 soldiers, the government launched the Wrath of Boma military operation. Two reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) investigated and reported alleged abuses by security forces during the operation.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due to corruption and poor discipline. Offices that investigated abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights. Authorities offered training in human rights to its security forces through international partners, such as the United Nations and individual countries.
Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population, no new facilities had been constructed since 2012. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and did not always separate male and female prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed.
No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available. In March the government transferred 58 suspected Boko Haram fighters to a Gendarmerie prison in N’Djamena for processing and investigation of their cases. On April 16, 44 were found dead in their cell. Two reputable NGOs released investigative reports that attributed the deaths to poor prison conditions. On August 7, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) concluded the 44 prisoners died due to overcrowding in a cell designed for 20 individuals, the oppressive heat of the dry season, and lack of adequate food and water.
Local NGOs reported potable water, sanitation, and health care were inadequate. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. Inmates were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19, and malaria. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities did not comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Prison authorities provided insufficient food to inmates. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor. On September 15, the National Assembly questioned Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi on allegations of poor living conditions in detention centers.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of prison riots.
Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no mechanism for prisoners to submit complaints. There were no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro Prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the minister of justice stated in September that the ICRC had a permanent authorization to visit. On November 6, representatives of the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) announced the existence of a dozen “secret prisons” of the National Security Agency (ANS). Abbas Alhassan, a CTDDH spokesperson, described “inhuman and cruel” conditions, as did two previous detainees whom Radio France Internationale interviewed. The Ministry of Justice stated there were two ANS-operated prisons, they were not secret, they were monitored by the ministry and ICRC, and their operation was justified on security grounds. In December the CNDH visited ANS detention facilities and assessed prison conditions were adequate.
Improvements: In accordance with a presidential pardon, in August authorities released 538 detainees, including General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former rebel convicted in 2018 of murder, rebellion, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and armed robbery.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2019 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore constitutional protections” regarding detention. There were reports officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.
Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procureur (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to legal observers. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to local media, security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals.
On February 11, Amnesty International reported the “incommunicado” detention by the National Security Agency of Baradine Berdei Targuio, president of the Chadian Organization for Human Rights. Media reported that two days prior to his arrest, Targuio made Facebook posts regarding the health of the president.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. According to justice activists, in 2018 at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. According to a Ministry of Justice official, authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the possible sentence for the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked judiciary susceptible to corruption.
Unlike in previous years, there was no reported release of Boko Haram fighters.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. According to representatives of the bar association, members of the judiciary were not always impartial in civil matters, sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, or were otherwise coerced into manipulating decisions. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders. Local media and civil society organizations reported members of the Judicial Police of Chad, an office within the Ministry of Justice with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups.
A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.
The constitution provides for a military court system composed of the Military Court and the High Military Court, which acts as an appellate court.
The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and for fair, timely, and public trials. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation. According to local media, however, these rights were seldom respected. Only criminal trials used juries but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although according to legal experts this seldom occurred. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and to be present at their trial. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.
The constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the French language legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede the law. Residents of rural areas and refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.
In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes influenced legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of diya, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim by the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s family. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional. In October 2019 the government issued an interministerial order regulating the practice of diya, with the criminal code taking precedence in any conflict with diya practices.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
According to the NGO Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad, in 2018 there were at least 72 political detainees. Media suggested the September 4 arrest of former oil minister Djerassem Le Bemadjiel was politically motivated because of his ties to an opposition party (see section 4, Corruption). Human rights organizations were not allowed access to these detainees.
Lawsuits for human rights abuses may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available.
Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seize private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.
In October security forces encircled the homes of opposition party members seeking to participate in a constitutional forum (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly).
A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses, including killings, perpetrated by members of the security services.
There were at least two reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities at the end of 2019 and during the year. The alleged victims both emerged alive after their disappearances. Amnesty International and media reported that, on December 30, 2019, Rigobert Soro, a police officer and the brother of prominent opposition figure Guillaume Soro, was summoned to the National School of Police and arrested. Soro was reportedly held by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) but, according to a January 10 Amnesty International report, authorities refused to acknowledge his detention. A February 26 letter from the Human Rights Council of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the government noted that Rigobert Soro had been detained incommunicado by the DST from December 31 to January 10 before being transferred to the country’s main prison.
In January, according to media reports, security authorities allegedly detained Tano Koffi Bouaffo Fabrice, an opposition supporter, without explanation at his place of work and transported the alleged victim to an unknown location. Authorities released him more than a month after his detention and disappearance.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison.
Prison authorities acknowledged abuse might happen and go unreported, since prisoners fear reprisals.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, although members of the security forces reportedly did commit isolated abuses without punishment. Failure to enforce disciplinary action contributed to impunity. The government used military police and the military tribunal to investigate abuses.
Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, understaffing, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of proper medical care.
Physical Conditions: The government acknowledged prison overpopulation was a problem and that existing facilities, originally built to hold no more than 8,000 prisoners, were insufficient to hold the total prison population of 21,430 as of late August. In at least one prison, the inmates reportedly slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.
Prisons generally held men and women in separate prison wings. The government reported that juveniles were held separately from adults; however, a human rights organization reported that this policy was not always observed. The same organization reported the government was making efforts to open more juvenile-only detention centers. Additionally, prisons often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates sometimes lived with their mothers in prison. Some human rights organizations reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active sometimes enjoyed slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.
In addition to a daily budget allocation per inmate for food, the government reported it provided an additional allotment for personal hygiene supplies. Human rights organizations reported that wealthier prisoners could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes, while poorer inmates did not receive sufficient food on a regular basis. Families routinely supplemented the rations of relatives in prison if they had the means. Under certain circumstances the government allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide prisoners with food and nonfood items, including items to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as masks, isolation tents, and hygiene kits. The government permitted one NGO to construct a 48-patient capacity COVID-19 isolation and treatment center at the country’s main prison and outfit the center with ventilators, tents, toilets, showers, and personal protective equipment.
According to the government, each prison facility had a staffed medical clinic available 24 hours a day. Inmates were required to inform prison guards if they needed medical attention, and guards escorted prisoners to the prison clinic. Inmates with severe medical conditions were transferred to outside hospitals. Each prison clinic had a supply of pharmaceuticals, although human rights organizations reported that clinics often lacked necessary medicines, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In these cases inmates’ families had to acquire the medication from an outside pharmacy. A human rights organization reported, however, that only the country’s main prison had a doctor, while medical care in smaller prisons was provided by nurses, some without the necessary qualifications. The organization further reported prisoners did not have access to these medical professionals at all times. Some human rights organizations reported that no medical staff worked in some prisons at night at all.
Prison health workers went on strike for three days in July to demand COVID-19 hazard pay and better health policies in the country’s prisons. As of July the prison health workers’ union reported that, in the country’s main prison, 91 detainees, 11 prison guards, and two health workers had contracted the virus. A prisoner infected with COVID-19 told media he and others infected were made to sleep in tents between the prison’s medical clinic and morgue. The prisoner stated that prison medical staff did not treat several infected prisoners.
Human rights organizations observed that prisoners sometimes slept without mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, remained problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages were common.
Within detention facilities unsanitary conditions persisted, including detainees living in close proximity to toilets.
Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the DST was not readily available for the year.
Administration: Inmates may submit complaints of abuse to prison directors; however, the government did not provide information on such cases during the year. Domestic media reported alleged physical abuse and extortion of prisoners by prison officials (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment). In May tensions between competing factions of prison guards and prisoners at the country’s main prison concerning the informal power wielded by a prison official accused of running a racketeering ring and physically abusing prisoners boiled over into violence. The minister of justice and human rights visited the prison and opened an investigation into the incident. While some media reported that security forces removed the prison official from the premises following the incident, no other information was available about any subsequent legal actions. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures. Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Human rights organizations observed that, in detention centers operated by the DST, requests for access to prisoners by their lawyers and families were typically not formally refused but instead made practicably impossible by bureaucratic requirements.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted some local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons, but access to detention centers run by the DST was more restricted. Human rights organizations reported sometimes having access to prisons when they formally requested such access in advance.
Improvements: In April the government released 2,004 prisoners in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A human rights organization reported, however, that continued overcrowding prevented adequate physical distancing within prison facilities.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both reportedly occurred. Human rights organizations reported that authorities arbitrarily detained persons, often without charge. Many of these detainees remained in custody briefly at either police or gendarmerie stations before being released or transferred to prisons, but others were detained at these initial holding locations for lengthy periods. The limit of 48 hours’ detention without charge by police was sometimes not enforced. Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention, most detainees were unaware of this right. Public defenders were often overwhelmed by their workloads.
The government revised the law in 2019 to allow the state to detain a suspect for up to 48 hours without charge, subject to renewal only once for an additional 48 hours. The law specifies a maximum of 18 months of pretrial detention for misdemeanor charges and 24 months for felony charges, subject to judicial review every eight months.
Police occasionally arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, human rights organizations reported that this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security or involving the DST. A bail system exists but was reportedly used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees access to lawyers, but in national security cases, authorities sometimes did not allow access to lawyers and family members. The government sometimes provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but other suspects often had no lawyer unless privately retaining one. Public defenders occasionally refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed by the government as prescribed by law. Human rights organizations reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not permit arbitrary arrest, but authorities reportedly used the practice. One human rights organization documented several cases of detainees held for up to 12 days without charge and without access to hygiene supplies. Multiple media sources reported that in September, Justin Koua, the local spokesperson of an opposition political party, was arrested on his way to work. Koua was charged with disturbing the peace, inciting insurrection, and as an accessory to property destruction as a result of his calls for protests against President Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term. Koua’s lawyers told media his arrest violated the law because he was not first served with a summons to appear before authorities. During the week following his arrest, media reported Koua was transferred to four different detention facilities. Koua’s lawyers later told media they were not officially informed of any of these transfers and learned of the transfers from unofficial sources.
Pretrial Detention: According to officials, 6,586 inmates were in pretrial detention as of late August, slightly more than 30 percent of the total inmate population. Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and authorities’ lack of training or knowledge of legal updates contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in absentia, with judicial authorities sometimes claiming the presence of the accused at their trial was not necessary, and at other times, not providing sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation to the trial.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government often did not respect judicial independence. In January various professional associations and civil society organizations complained of continual interference by the executive branch in the judiciary and the government’s refusal to implement several court decisions.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary sometimes 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 felonies) rarely convened. During the year standing criminal tribunal courts established to replace the assize courts to address the backlog of cases began hearing cases.
Although the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for those who cannot afford them, 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, although the government sometimes pursued rapid trials that did not respect such rights (see section 2.a, Libel/Slander Laws). Defendants may present their own witnesses and 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 they sometimes were. 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, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts. In March parliament approved constitutional changes that abolished the Supreme Court and elevated three existing courts to serve as courts of last resort: the Cour de Cassation (Court of Appeals), Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), and Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors). These courts have jurisdiction over different types of legal matters. The Cour de Cassation is the highest court of appeals for criminal and civil matters of law. The Conseil d’Etat is the highest court of appeals with respect to administrative disputes. The Cour des Comptes is the supreme auditing institution, tasked with overseeing matters related to public finances and accounts. In addition to these three courts, the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) determines the eligibility of legislative and presidential candidates, adjudicates electoral disputes, certifies election results, and renders judgment on the constitutionality of laws and treaties.
Military tribunals reportedly did not provide defendants the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Human rights organizations did not report any trials of civilians by military tribunals.
The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. The government reported 450 magistrates for an estimated population of 27.5 million. 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 following such customary procedures. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.
Human rights organizations and political parties asserted that the government used the judicial system to marginalize various opposition figures. In October 2019 authorities convicted Jacques Mangoua, an opposition-aligned elected official, of illegal possession of munitions after a one-day trial and sentenced him to five years in prison, several months of which he served before being released on bail in March pending his appeal. In April, Guillaume Soro, a prominent opposition figure and then aspiring presidential candidate living abroad in self-exile, was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and money laundering. Soro was also charged in absentia, in December 2019. Soro’s trial followed, by a week, an African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Tanzania ordered a stay of Soro’s arrest warrant on the grounds that it “could seriously compromise [his] freedom and political rights.” One week after the ACHPR’s decision, Ivoirian authorities then delivered a summons to Soro’s vacant residence, convened a one-day trial without legal representation for Soro, and convicted and sentenced Soro to a 20-year prison sentence and a substantial fine. (Note: In November, Soro called for security forces and the population to overthrow the Ivoirian government. End Note.).
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government denied there were political prisoners, however multiple members of opposition parties were arrested at the end of 2019 and during the year on various criminal charges.
In December 2019 authorities arrested several supporters of Guillaume Soro, including five members of parliament, on charges of publishing false news and undermining public order and the authority of the state. In April the ACHPR in Tanzania ruled that the arrest warrant against those detained be stayed and that those detained be released, on the grounds that their incarceration “exposed them to a serious risk of being deprived of the enjoyment of their rights…and…may lead to irreparable harm.” In September, the government released some of those detained on several conditions, including that all abstain from contacting each other and engaging in cyber activism. Several others remained in detention.
Officials reportedly granted prisoners who were members of opposition parties the same protections as other prisoners, including access by international human rights organizations.
There were credible reports the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. After Guillaume Soro on November 4 called for the armed forces to overthrow the government, the government charged some opposition leaders with sedition and terrorism and issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three associates living in France (see section 1.e, Denial of Fair Public Trial and section 3, Recent Elections).
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to corruption and outside influence. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies such as the ACHPR. In April, however, the government withdrew its recognition of the ACHPR’s jurisdiction in matters brought by Ivoirian nonstate actors, effective April 2021.
In January the government evicted the residents of more than 600 households living illegally on state-owned land abutting Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport and demolished houses located within 50 yards of the airport’s perimeter. Some evicted persons whose houses were not demolished returned to their homes. Prior to eviction the government declared the land was intended for future airport expansion, and in late 2019 distributed leaflets instructing residents to vacate and marked with paint the houses slated for demolition. A community group stated that residents were warned by authorities several times they were subject to eviction from the land. The local mayor provided each evicted household with 30,000 CFA francs ($52). The government did not provide compensation, stating that no compensation was due because these persons had occupied the land illegally, but promised to provide alternative land for those whose houses had been demolished to construct new homes. As of September the government had not identified a site for resettlement.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Human rights organizations alleged that in December 2019 several incarcerated opposition figures’ homes were searched without proper documentation.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was at least one report the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. No specific office investigates the legality of security force killings.
Security forces’ abuse led to the death of a person sent to Black Beach Prison through an extrajudicial process. There were no reports of any investigations.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders. Security personnel particularly abused persons suspected of plotting against the government.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, citizen activists documented police officers and the military using excessive force, including beating citizens who did not abide by the government’s preventive actions. Authorities later fired, suspended, or arrested some of these officials, and government officials reminded security personnel to treat their fellow citizens with respect. In July security officials attacked a doctor in a hospital for demanding that they wear face masks as a public health measure. The vice minister of health later visited the doctor and apologized for government actions. Media reported that authorities arrested the police officers for their misconduct. In November a video circulated on social media showing police officers beating citizens inside a police station as punishment for not wearing a mask.
Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions. On March 7, after serving five months in an isolation cell, according to an opposition blog, Felipe Obama Nse was admitted to the General Hospital in Malabo after the head of Black Beach Prison had him tortured. There were no reports of any action taken against the head of the prison. Reportedly incarcerated at the express command of President Obiang, Obama Nse had been a prisoner for five years without trial.
Some military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, or beat women, including at checkpoints. Foreigners recounted being harassed at checkpoints, including having guns pointed at them without provocation. Senior government officials took few steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in it.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, due to corruption, politicization of the forces, poor training, and the ability of senior government officials to order extrajudicial acts. In October and November, the government held human rights training in seminars throughout the country for members of the security forces.
Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were generally harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, limited oversight, and lack of medical care. In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, these conditions were all the more concerning.
Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings, torture, and inadequate medical care.
Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees commonly shared one toilet that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases such as malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting were not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. In some cases prisoners were reportedly left in solitary confinement for extended periods.
Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable. There were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries sustained from prison staff abuse.
The Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within them. There were reports that military and police personnel ran the most important prisons and prevented civilian authorities from entering them. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.
Administration: Authorities did not regularly investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food. Since March authorities restricted visitation rights for family members and for legal counsel due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that they visited prisons to report concerns, such as possible victims of trafficking in persons.
Improvements: In 2019 prison authorities acknowledged some problems and sent supervisors for overseas training on better correctional practices. These officials returned to their facilities during the year. The newly constructed prison of Oveng Aseng on the mainland began operations.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements.
The law requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but this determination often took longer, sometimes several months. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal limit of 36 hours.
Some foreign nationals who did not have legal status complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly in the case of political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrests. The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, and others (see also section 1.b). Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.
Police detained foreign nationals and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to abuse. Starting in March, for several months the government halted production of permits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many foreigners with no way to renew expired documents.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.
On July 10, authorities arrested officials of the National Treasury and accused them of stealing government financial instruments (see section 4, Corruption). They remained in custody without a judicial hearing.
In February 2019 national security personnel, headed by the deputy director of presidential security, arrested Convergence for Social Democracy Party (CPDS) member and human rights activist Joaquin Elo Ayeto in his home for allegedly planning to assassinate President Obiang. Authorities required him to pay a fine and released him in February after finding him guilty of a lesser charge.
In July 2019 authorities arrested CPDS member Luis Mba Esono in his village in Engo Esaboman along with four other village members. Accused of abetting a suspect in a 2017 coup plot, they were denied access to legal counsel. CPDS pursued complaints with the legislature, the ombudsman, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and international organizations for the defense of human rights. Authorities dropped the charges and released them in February.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them.
The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.
Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the legislature, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes. Credible reports alleged judges decided in favor of plaintiffs in cases against international companies in return for a percentage of damages awarded.
The military justice system provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.
In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants 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, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The courts, however, generally did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but unless they could afford private counsel, they were rarely able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect the law.
During the 2019 trial of the alleged 2017 coup plotters, authorities tried many defendants in absentia, did not consistently provide interpreters for individuals from other African countries, and severely limited defense lawyers’ ability to meet with their clients, ask questions or cross-examine prosecution witnesses. In September 2019 the American Bar Association (ABA), which had observers at the trial, noted the proceedings’ many egregious irregularities. All of the convicted defendants remained in prison, except for those outside the country whom the government considered fugitives. The appeal process ended in November, with the Supreme Court upholding the convictions.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number or length of detention. They were often held at Black Beach Prison, where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys or human rights or humanitarian organizations for months at a time. Additional persons implicated in the 2017 coup plot were tried by a military tribunal that concluded in March (see section 1.b.).
Authorities removed by extrajudicial means several alleged coup plotters from South Sudan and imprisoned them in the country.
In November 2019 there were multiple reports the government seized several persons, including at least four Equatoguineans and two dual Spanish nationals, in Juba, South Sudan, and brought them back through extrajudicial transfer in coordination with the South Sudanese government. In March the government televised the confessions of the individuals, who were accused of plotting a coup. Several were members of an Equatoguinean opposition movement formed in Spain. As of December the government had yet to allow consular access to the foreign citizens, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason for the delay, although they allowed one telephone call.
Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints.
The government sometimes failed for political reasons to comply with court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse court decisions to the ombudsman or the legislature.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel.
In February security officials attempted to arrest former president of the Supreme Court Juan Carlos Ondo Angue. Dozens of officials surrounded his house, blocking nearby streets. They refused to present a warrant or an arrest order and were only deterred by the presence of foreign diplomats.
Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. Members of civil society and opposition parties reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were credible reports that Eritrean forces deployed in Tigray committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not make efforts to prevent the disappearances or to investigate or punish those responsible. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies and foreign or dual nationals. The disappeared included persons presumably detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, and individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and for others whose offense was unknown.
There were no known developments in the case of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.
The law prohibits torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.
In August 2019 Human Rights Watch published a report documenting that security forces tortured, including by beating, prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.
Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or to relieve themselves. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them.
Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or other abuse.
Impunity remained a serious problem among security forces. The government did not release any information to indicate it had conducted investigations of alleged abuses, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem among the different branches of the services.
Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious damage to health and, in some instances, death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting problematic.
Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. Unofficial detention centers housed those accused of political crimes. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in that center. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.
Data on death rates in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. There was no available information to determine whether the government took action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.
Authorities are believed to have continued the practice of holding some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. The government did not consistently provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.
Former prisoners described prolonged food shortages, which sometimes led to anemia or even the need for hospitalization. One former prisoner claimed to have been without food for 42 days. Other former prisoners reported no such issues.
Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.
Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.
The government did not grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens, whom it considers to be only Eritrean. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for national security reasons; they permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Former prisoners reported some religious literature was considered contraband, and its possession could result in torture. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups.
According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government released persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Between July and December, 101 Muslims arrested in 2018 and 143 Christians held for between two and 26 years were released. Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted the release of the Christians was conditional on the submission of property deeds. There were reports, however, that the government arrested 45 Christians in April and June.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prisoner conditions by independent government or nongovernmental observers or by international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to reported Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not observe these provisions.
The law stipulates that, unless a crime is in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held for more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for their detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The law provides for a bail system, but bail was often arbitrarily denied, and bail amounts were capriciously set.
Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and for unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups. In April authorities reportedly arrested 15 Christians for attending services, and in June they arrested 30 Christians at a wedding. Many of these individuals, particularly women and children, were reportedly released soon thereafter, but it was unknown how many, if any, remained in detention.
There were unverified reports that security forces arrested at least 20 Muslim men in Mendefera and neighboring localities for unknown reasons in November 2019. Those arrested reportedly included local businessmen, religious teachers, and community leaders, many of whom remain unaccounted for.
Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
Some persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.
Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees without charge or due process. Detainees were not always told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.
There is no right to a fair, timely, and public trial.
There is no presumption of innocence or right for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare a defense, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right of defendants to refuse to testify. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish to have an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants can choose their attorney or else they will have one assigned to them.
Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.
Special courts have jurisdiction over both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.
Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges. Judges were elected by the community.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia duty (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Amnesty International estimated there were thousands of “prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.” The government did not permit any access to political detainees.
There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.
Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones. Authorities required permits to use SIM cards.
The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.
Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes and threatened individuals without explanation. Reports stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Ruling party administration offices and their associated local militia units, composed of persons who had finished their national service but were still required to assist with security matters, reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm residents’ attendance at national service projects.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There was one report of a disappearance during the year. On August 16, two Omar Bongo University students active in the Human Rights League were reported missing. They remained missing at year’s end.
In 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that, despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The government National Committee of Human Rights opened an inquiry during the year that was scheduled for completion in 2021.
The constitution prohibits such practices. There were reports of torture in prisons where unidentified personnel employed torture. For example, on January 29, the attorney of Patrichi Christian Tanasa, the former director of the Gabon Oil Company, stated in a press conference that his client was tortured by three hooded men who beat and sexually molested him at the Libreville Central Prison.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Nevertheless, the government took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials and punish human rights abusers. In April authorities established a national hotline to report abuses by security force members.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were 12 allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Gabonese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. For those allegations, the number of cases and the years the incidents reportedly occurred, or ended, are: three in 2020, one in 2019, two in 2018, two in 2016, and four in 2015. There were eight open allegations from previous years. The minister of defense and the minister of justice stated that investigations of the allegations continued and the Gabonese judicial process was being followed. The current open allegations include 17 against individuals involving: an exploitative relationship with an adult (eight cases), transactional sex an adult (four cases), solicitation of transactional sex with an adult (one case), and rape of a child (four cases); one case against two individuals for transactional sex with three adults; and two cases against individuals and groups with multiple offenses. In the first of the last two cases: one individual was involved in exploitative relationships with 17 adults and the rape of a child; two individuals were involved in rape of two unknown victims, and 15 were in exploitative relationships with 17 adults. The final case involved 19 individuals accused of rape of 27 adults, 36 children, and five unknown victims.
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.
Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 4,000 inmates. There were also reports of overcrowding in other prisons.
Authorities did not provide data on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.
Media reported one attempted suicide related to solitary confinement. Media reported three deaths during the year at the Libreville Central Prison attributed to inmate mistreatment. In May an inmate who attempted escape was beaten to death and another suspected of being a drug dealer was reportedly denied food and tortured. On July 24, a detainee arrested on July 16 died of an internal hemorrhage attributed to beatings.
Some prisoners and detainees were kept in solitary confinement for several months without access to exercise or use of showers and other sanitary facilities.
In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.
There were no reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence or authorities’ failure to maintain control.
Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities significantly reduced prison visits. Prisoners were limited to contacting their families through telephone calls and written correspondence.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions. A prominent attorney stated that beginning in March authorities cited COVID-19 policies to deny attorneys’ access to all prisoners. Except for COVID-19 limitations, representatives of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)–Malachie, the Lions Club, and the Voice of the Forgotten–visited and reported having access to prisons.
Improvements: On December 10, an addition to the central prison was opened that reduced overcrowding. In order to reduce further overcrowding, authorities undertook a review of inmate cases with the goal of identifying those eligible for release. The minister of justice stated improvement of prison conditions throughout the country was a government priority.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention in court; however, the government did not always respect these provisions.
Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit.
Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.
Arbitrary Arrest: On August 19, agents from the General Directorate for Investigation of the National Gendarmerie arrested the Dynamique Unitaire Trade Union Confederation leader Jean Bosco Boungoumou without a warrant. Accused of broadcasting a video jeopardizing public order, he was detained without charge for longer than the law allows and not permitted prompt access to a lawyer. On August 24, he was charged with terrorism and conspiracy. He remained in prison pending trial at year’s end.
In 2017 authorities arrested Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party, and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” In June 2019 Massavala-Maboumba was released after 20 months’ imprisonment; however, Oyougou remained in detention with no trial date set at year’s end.
Pretrial Detention: Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that sometimes lasted up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months on a misdemeanor charge and one year on a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.
On April 10, the Ministry of Justice announced the release of 680 persons from the Central Prison of Libreville, including a significant number who were long-term pretrial detainees who, had they been tried and convicted, would have been released based on time served in most cases.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem. For example, individuals charged with offenses reportedly paid bribes to influence the judicial process, avoid facing trial, or both.
Authorities generally respected court orders.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.
Criminal defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of choice, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals when staff members with the required language skills are available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
In September the prime minister stated there were no political prisoners in the country. According to one civil society group, however, there were six individuals it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in 2017, opposition leader Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention (see section 1.d.). According to multiple domestic and international news reports, opposition leader Landry Washington and former Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) deputy Bertrand Zibi were incarcerated for almost three years before they were tried. In April 2019 Washington was convicted of insulting the president and attempting to incite popular revolt. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and required to pay a substantial monetary fine. He was due for release in April 2019 based on time held, but the government appealed the sentence as being too lenient, and he was held for an additional eight months. On January 7, Washington was released. In July 2019 Zibi was convicted of inciting violence and possession of a firearm and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. Zibi remained in prison at year’s end.
Prior to COVID restrictions, routine consular and NGO access was permitted. According to the minister of justice, subject to health-screening measures, access continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Persons or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts or through administrative or other mechanisms established by law, although this seldom occurred.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities reportedly monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives and that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable. In July and August 2019, the general location of the remains of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe–kidnapped by government agents in 2013–was revealed during public testimony by members of former president Jammeh’s “Junglers” hit squad at the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was established in 2017 to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. According to TRRC testimonies, Ceesay and Jobe are buried at the former president’s expansive farm near Kanilai. The government officially requested and received international forensics assistance to locate and identify their remains, assistance that at year’s end continued to be provided.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices. There was one report of inhuman and degrading treatment by a police officer of a detainee during the year. The incident was investigated and the officer sanctioned.
According to the online newspaper Gainako, on July 25, Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Police Anti-Crime Unit struck the genitals of detainee Ebrima Sanneh with a hoe at the unit’s prison farm in Bijilo. Sanneh was hospitalized due to genital bleeding. Although police initially refuted media reports of the incident as “false, and intended to mislead the public,” on July 25, he Ministry of Interior ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and placed Mboob on administrative leave. On October 8, the commission determined that Mboob had assaulted and wounded Sanneh and recommended disciplinary measures be taken against him, his removal from the Anti-Crime Unit, and monetary compensation for Sanneh.
According to the online portal Conduct in UN Field Missions, there is one open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Gambian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult in 2013-15. The United Nations completed its investigation and is awaiting additional information from the government. At year’s end authorities had yet to provide the additional information or accountability measures taken.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the state central prison, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, authorities in 2019 held 691 prisoners in facilities designed for 650. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care remained inadequate. There were credible reports teenagers as young as age 15 were held with adults in pretrial detention facilities.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).
Independent Monitoring: The government granted unrestricted access to all prisons to the Office of the Ombudsman, the TRRC, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; there were no reports of arbitrary arrest during the year.
The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees.
Periods of detention before being brought before and judicial official and charged generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system; however, two guarantors and advance remittance were generally required to obtain bail.
Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction includes the death penalty. Suspects were not detained incommunicado.
Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. Many inmates in the remand wing of Mile 2 Prison awaited trail, in some instances for several years. According to the Gambia Prison Services, approximately one-half of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The introduction of virtual courts, created in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was part of the government’s effort to reduce overcrowding, particularly among the remand population.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always promptly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; however, case backlogs hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.
On May 3, the Gambia Bar Association and the National Agency for Legal Aid signed a memorandum of understanding to provide free legal services to prisoners. By year’s end it was providing legal services to defendants incarcerated in the country’s three prisons and to remand and juvenile inmates.
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.
For persons of Muslim faith, sharia applies in domestic matters, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle issues of divorce and inheritance) and district tribunals do not involve standard legal representation because lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek assistance concerning violations of human rights law from the Office of the Ombudsman, which has a mandate to investigate such cases and recommend remedies for judicial consideration.
Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect those prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices charged with investigating security force killings include the Special Investigations Branch of the Ghana Armed Forces and the Police Professional Standards Bureau.
In April a soldier enforcing the government’s COVID-19 lockdown killed a man suspected of smuggling. The military issued a statement indicating the soldier accidentally discharged his firearm during a scuffle with the man; witnesses disputed the statement and stated the soldier intentionally killed the man. Military police removed the soldier from his post and placed him in custody. Authorities completed an investigation but did not make public the results.
During a voter registration exercise from June to August, two persons died in violent protests involving ruling and opposition party activists at several registration locations (see section 3, Recent Elections).
The Ghana Police Service reported five persons shot and killed in the December 7 national elections. Subsequently a sixth person died from gunshot wounds. Two of the deaths occurred in Techiman South (Bono East Region) and involved security forces. Media and opposition personalities accused police and military of using intimidation to overturn election results. The minister of defense denied the accusations, and the minister of interior announced the deaths would be investigated.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified.
In April there were multiple accusations of police aggressively enforcing the government’s COVID-19 lockdown measures. In some instances witnesses filmed police beating civilians with horsewhips, canes, and similar implements.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Ghanaian peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations reported authorities had not provided information on actions taken against the alleged perpetrators. A 2019 case involved a staff officer’s allegedly exploitative relationship with an adult. Authorities stated the military judge advocate general division was seeking to court martial the officer, and requested that the United Nations make witnesses available. A 2018 case involved 12 peacekeepers’ alleged transactional sex with an adult. An adjudicating panel acquitted the peacekeepers and discharged the case for lack of evidence in December 2019, stating the United Nations had not made relevant witnesses available.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the Ghana Police Service. Corruption, brutality, poor training, lack of oversight, and an overburdened judicial system contributed to impunity. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. The Office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Police Professional Standards Board investigated claims of excessive force by security force members.
Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, physical abuse, and food shortages.
Physical Conditions: The prisons public relations officer reported in September 2019 that prison overcrowding reached more than 55 percent, with a population of 15,461 inmates compared to a total prison capacity of 9,945 inmates. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison held some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Ghana Prisons Service held women separately from men.
While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The prisons public relations officer identified feeding of inmates as a key problem. The Ghana Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement their feeding.
Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, which despite improvements had poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons. 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.
The Ghana Prisons Service largely avoided outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases by conducting regular health checks on prisoners and relying on donations of personal protective equipment. Medical assistants provided medical services, but they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam Prison a medical officer operated the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Doctors visited prisons when required, and prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to transport inmates off site properly. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Ghana Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases. Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.
Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that prison facilities disadvantaged persons with disabilities, since they faced problems accessing health care and recreational facilities. 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.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. These officers investigated complaints.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence. They monitored juvenile confinement and pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.
Improvements: The NGO-led Justice for All program with the support of government expedited judicial review for many pretrial (remand) prisoners, reducing their numbers significantly. Paralegals and civil society were heavily involved in the program.
In July, President Akufo-Addo granted clemency to 794 prisoners to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections.
The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant 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. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government often did not provide it. The government has a Legal Aid Commission that provides defense attorneys to those in need, but it was often unable to do so. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to compel the person’s appearance at a later court date. The definition of “reasonable time,” however, has never been legally determined or challenged in the courts. As a result, 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, assist with the drafting of appeals, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.
A December 2019 Supreme Court unanimous decision that police could not detain individuals for more than 48 hours without charging them or granting bail had little or no effect on authorities’ behavior.
The law provides for bail, including those accused of serious crimes, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail at prohibitively high levels.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were no specific reports of arbitrary arrests by police, although the general practice of holding detainees without proper warrant or charge continued (see Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in July 2019 indicated 1,848 prisoners, approximately 12 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failure to investigate or follow up on cases, case files lost when police prosecutors rotated to other duties every three years, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation for criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.
Inadequate recordkeeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, a few for up to 10 years. Judicial authorities, however, were implementing a case tracking system on a trial basis in seven different regions. The system is designed to track a case from initial arrest to remand custody in the prisons, to prosecution in the courts to incarceration or dismissal. The system is envisioned to be used by all judicial and law enforcement participants, including police, public defenders, prosecutors, courts, prisons, the Legal Aid Commission, the Economic and Organized Crimes Office, and NGOs, with the intention of increasing transparency and accountability. Some commentators believed the tracking system could be used to press for release of remand prisoners held for lengthy periods.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited this right.
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, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer of the bribe.
A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, 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. The government generally respected court orders.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons younger than age 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the 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 presents sufficient preliminary evidence of guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards.
In his statement following his visit in 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston reported that the constitutional right to legal aid was meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of institutional will to introduce needed far-reaching reforms.
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.
Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses.
The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights abuses at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the number of instances of cruel or degrading treatment increased during the year.
On May 22, unknown assailants abducted a member of parliament, Marciano Indi, outside his residence. Indi is the deputy of the Assembly of the People United–Democratic Party (APU). His APU colleagues publicized the incident on social media and contacted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UN representatives in Bissau. He was detained for several hours before being found at a police station in Bissau with a head wound and other bruises. Indi had criticized President Sissoco and Prime Minister Nabiam in a televised interview the day before the assault.
In October members of the Public Order Police beat two members of the political party MADEM-G15, detained them in the prison facilities of the Ministry of Interior in Bissau, and released them soon thereafter. As of November the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office reported that the case was under investigation. Political parties criticized the incident, and the local nongovernmental organization Human Rights League accused the Ministry of Interior of “state terrorism.”
On July 20, the parliament approved the creation of a Parliamentary Investigation Committee to investigate incidents involving three Guinean citizens. Among the cases were the abduction of Marciano Indi and the 2019 death of the Party for Social Renewal’s leader, Demba Balde. The committee was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Cape Verde (PAIGC) and consists of a total of nine members of parliament.
Prison conditions varied widely but were poor. In the makeshift detention facilities for pretrial detainees, conditions were harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: Conditions of confinement were poor. Except in the prisons in Bafata and Mansoa, electricity, potable water, and space were inadequate. Pretrial detention facilities generally lacked secure cells, running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were meager, 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. There were no reported deaths in police custody.
Administration: Authorities did not investigate allegations of inhuman conditions. There was no prison ombudsman to respond to prisoners’ complaints or independent authorities to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. In 2018 the National Commission for Human Rights recommended the closure of four pretrial detention centers (Cacine, Catio, Bigene, and Bissora) due to inhuman conditions, but the government took no action.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of detention conditions by local and international human rights groups.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions. Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court through a regular appeals process and obtain prompt release as well as compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Arbitrary arrests by security forces increased during the year.
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 of arrest and released if no indictment is filed, but this standard was not always met. Authorities were obligated to inform detainees of charges against them, but they did not always do so. 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. Pretrial detainees had prompt access to family members. Authorities usually held civilian suspects under house arrest.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police arrested persons arbitrarily and detained them without due process. In May a member of parliament was arrested and severely beaten by public order police for allegedly having offended President Sissoco Embalo. He was released hours later the same day. In June public order police arrested Armando Correia Dias, leader of the PAIGC political party, for allegedly transporting weapons in his vehicle. According to a PAIGC member of parliament, police took an AK-47 weapon from their car, placed it in Dias’ car, and then took him into custody. He was released days later following interventions by the United Nations and civil society after a hearing. In August public order police arrested the former state secretary of the treasury in his Bissau residence for the alleged illegal possession of a government vehicle. He was released two days later without charges.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political manipulation. Judges were poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid, and subject to corruption. A lack of resources and infrastructure often delayed trials, and convictions were extremely rare. Authorities respected court orders, however.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the independent judiciary did not always enforce this right.
The court system did not often provide fair trials and corrupt judges sometimes worked in concert with police. Cases were sometimes delayed without explanation, and occasionally fines were directly taken out of defendants’ bank accounts without their knowledge.
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 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.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, there was no specific administrative mechanism to address human rights violations.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Police routinely ignored privacy rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The PCA, however, was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate: It could only investigate cases referred to it by the police commissioner or minister for police and could act on public complaints only with their approval. The PCA also lacked authority to refer cases directly to the Prosecutor’s Office. The PCA did not publish its findings or recommendations.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On July 22, three police officers of the Flight One Station in Maseru allegedly beat Thabiso Molise to death. According to the chairman of the Ha Jimisi Community Policing Forum, Molise escaped police custody after being arrested on suspicion of theft and fled to Ha Jimisi village, where police captured him and clubbed him to death. According to a family member, autopsy results confirmed his death from the beating. On September 3, the suspects were suspended from duty pending investigation of the incident.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution states that no person shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment and the penal code lists torture as one of the crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, there were credible reports police tortured suspects and subjected them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On July 8, the Moafrika Community Broadcasting Service reported that Mabote police officers tortured LMPS Special Operations Unit member Lebusa Setlojoane and his relative Lefu Setlojoane with electrical shocks and suffocation to force him to confess to committing arson and homicide. Setlojoane stated he was told he would be killed if he reported the abuse to judicial authorities.
On July 29, Lesotho Television reported the minister of police encouraged harsh treatment of criminals; however, on September 1, the commissioner of police stated, “torture and inhuman treatment is intolerable within the LMPS.”
During the year the government acted to investigate and punish police and military members. The commissioner of police took disciplinary action against 50 police officers and two military members accused of committing human rights abuses. They were charged, appeared before the High Court and released on bail. They had yet to be tried by year’s end.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding; physical abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence, including rape; and inadequate food, sanitary conditions, medical care, ventilation, lighting, and heat.
Physical Conditions: The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) reported facilities in Maseru, Leribe, and Berea were overcrowded. Former justice minister Mahali Phamotse attributed overcrowding at prisons to high crime rates among the unemployed.
Unlike in 2019 authorities stated no prisoners submitted complaints of physical abuse by correctional officers.
Inmate-on-inmate violence continued to be a problem. In January the newspaper Sunday Express reported that former LCS commissioner Thabang Mothepu called on LCS superintendent Tuoata Makoetje to explain the death of an inmate from physical abuse by prison officers because he sodomized another inmate.
Rape and consensual unprotected sex by prisoners contributed to a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in correctional facilities. In 2018 the newspaper Lesotho Times quoted Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa’s statement, “A lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers.”
All prisons had a nurse and a dispensary to attend to minor illnesses, but health care was inadequate. Prisons lacked medical units that operated 24 hours a day; as a result, guards confined sick prisoners to their cells from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. Although prisons provided potable water, sanitation was poor in the Mokhotlong, Berea, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek prisons. Prisons generally lacked bedding, lighting, and proper ventilation; heating and cooling systems did not exist.
From June to September, authorities halted prison visits by inmate family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Crime Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration of the Prisoners Association warned of the risk of increased inmate illnesses and deaths due to the interruption in the provision of additional food and medication provided by relatives. The LCS acknowledged food shortages. On August 27, the Minister of Justice Nqosa Mahao stated prison food quality was poor. Restrictions were relaxed in September.
In addition to one death as a result of inmate-on-inmate violence, the LCS reported four deaths that were attributed to natural causes, not malnutrition, lack of food, or other prison conditions.
In August 2019 corporals Motsieloa Leutsoa, charged with the 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector Monaheng Ramahloko, and Tsitso Ramoholi, charged with the 2015 killing of Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) Commander Maaparankoe Mahao, petitioned the High Court for release on bail, citing gross overcrowding and generally deplorable prison conditions. They complained that cells designed to hold four to five inmates held as many as 20 inmates at a time. They also stated there were only enough mattresses for one third of the inmate population, tuberculosis and other diseases were rampant, and it took up to a week to access a doctor.
Authorities did not institute safeguards or other measures to protect the rights or accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities. Prison buildings lacked ramps, railings, and other features facilitating physical access for prisoners with disabilities.
Administration: The LCS investigated reports of inmate-on-inmate violence and physical abuse by correctional officers. Authorities took disciplinary action. From June to September, authorities instituted COVID-19 restrictions that halted prison visits by inmate family members.
Unlike in 2019 the Office of the Ombudsman stated it received no complaints from prisoners. Prisoners were often unaware they could file complaints, which had to be submitted through prison authorities, creating the possibility of retaliation against complainants.
Independent Monitoring: In June, COVID-19 restrictions halted most prison visits. Prior to June senators, the ombudsman, and representatives of the Lesotho Red Cross, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transformation Resource Center (TRC), churches, the business community, and the courts visited prisoners. Diplomatic and International Committee of the Red Cross representatives periodically visited foreign nationals detained in the country. Following the relaxation of COVID-19 restriction in September, visitors were allowed limited contact with inmates and to provide them food, medicine, and personal hygiene products.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. In August 2019 Chief Magistrate Matankiso Nthunya stated police often detained individuals improperly and attempted to refer cases for prosecution based on insufficient evidence. Nthunya added that in many cases police sought to punish defendants for unknown reasons unrelated to any substantiated criminal offense.
The law requires police, based on sufficient evidence, to obtain an arrest warrant from a magistrate prior to making an arrest on criminal grounds. Police arrested suspects openly, informed them of their rights, and brought those charged with a crime before a judicial officer. By law police are required to inform suspects of charges against them upon arrest and present suspects in court within 48 hours. According to media, police did not always inform suspects of charges upon arrest and detained them for more than the prescribed 48 hours. By law authorities may not hold a suspect in custody for more than 90 days before a trial except in exceptional circumstances.
The law provides for bail, which authorities granted regularly and, in most cases, fairly.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. The Legal Aid Division under the Ministry of Justice and Law and NGOs offered free legal assistance, but it was insufficient to provide counsel for all indigent detainees.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrest and detention was a continuing problem. In August 2019 Chief Magistrate Matankiso Nthunya stated police often detained individuals improperly and attempted to refer cases for prosecution based on insufficient evidence. Nthunya added that in many cases police sought to punish defendants for unknown reasons unrelated to any substantiated criminal offense.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted 29 percent of the prison population. The average length of pretrial detention was 90 days, after which authorities usually released pretrial detainees on bail pending trial. Pretrial detention sometimes lasted for years, however, due to judicial staffing shortages, unavailability of legal counsel, or negligence. In April 2019 acting chief justice Maseforo Mahase visited the Maseru correctional facility and discovered pretrial detainees who had been imprisoned for up to eight years without charge.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but in 2019 the Law Society of Lesotho stated the government did not respect judicial independence. In some cases authorities failed to respect court orders. There were several reports of abuses similar to the following examples. On April 18, Deputy Commissioner Sera Makharilele was appointed acting police commissioner despite a High Court order not to replace the incumbent, Holomo Molibeli. On February 5, acting chief justice Maseforo Mahase intervened in the bail hearing of the spouse of former prime minister Thabane, Maesaisah Thabane, who was indicted for murder. Mahase ordered payment of minimal bail and Thabane’s release. On May 29, the Court of Appeal revoked Thabane’s bail. On June 3, a magistrate court ordered reincarceration. On June 29, High Court Judge Thamsanqa Nomngcongo ordered her release on bail. No date for Thabane’s trial had been set by year’s end, and she remained free on bail.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.
Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. In most cases officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them with free interpretation as necessary during proceedings at the magistrate and High Court levels but not at other points in the criminal justice process. By law the free assistance of an interpreter is not required for Court of Appeal cases. In some cases interpreters were not readily available, resulting in delays in the filing of charges. Trial delays resulted from a large backlog of cases due to an inadequate number of judges, the failure of defense attorneys to appear in court, defendants changing legal counsel, and motions for recusal of judges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their own behalf. The law allows defendants to present evidence on their own behalf at a magistrate’s court, but the High Court requires a lawyer present evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal a judgment.
In civil and criminal matters, a single judge normally hears cases. In constitutional, commercial, and appeal court cases, more than one judge is assigned. By law civil and criminal trials are open to the public.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the law provides police with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles as well as to enter homes and other places without a warrant if the situation is life threatening or there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a serious crime has occurred. Additionally, the law states any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may search individuals or homes without a warrant.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Most killings occurred during security force operations to stem cattle rustling by armed criminal groups in the central, west, and southwest areas as well as during police raids to combat insecurity in urban areas.
The gendarmerie and police inspection offices investigated abuses perpetrated by their officers. The office of army command conducted investigations of military personnel. These offices investigated formal complaints and, more often, incidents that were widely covered in traditional and social media and triggered a backlash from the public. There were more investigations related to such incidents than in previous years. In isolated cases these investigations led to arrest, conviction, and jailing of accused security force members.
Between January and September, press reported at least 135 deaths during security force operations, including members of the security forces and ordinary civilians, as well as those suspected of crimes. Usually the security forces involved were composed of police and gendarmes, but occasionally they included military personnel and prison guards. There were reports of security forces executing suspected cattle thieves or bandits after capture; in most cases security forces claimed those killed attempted to escape and refused to respond to warning shots. These statements by security forces often could not be substantiated. In isolated cases the government launched investigations, arrested, and jailed the accused security force members.
On August 7, soldiers from the Second Inter Arms Battalion (BIA2) shot and killed two villagers and injured another in Ampamoriana in the Bongolava region. The army command reported an armed confrontation, but villagers reported to the local gendarmerie that they had not heard any gunshots from the villagers. Media reported on August 10 that the army command launched an investigation and dismissed the commander of the BIA2 battalion, his deputy, and the chief of the contingent that carried out the raid. There was no reported trial as of November.
A mass prisoner escape from Farafangana Prison in August resulted in security forces killing 23 detainees. International organizations, local civil society groups, and human rights activists characterized the incident as showing excessive use of force by the security forces. A preliminary investigation by the Ministry of Justice revealed that acts of violence and corruption by prison staff incited detainees to organize the massive prison break. The resulting investigation led to the replacement of the prefet (administrator) of Farafangana, the regional director of the penitentiary administration, and the manager of the prison. As of September authorities took no other action against those responsible for the killings (see also section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law provide for the inviolability of the person and prohibit such practices, but security forces subjected prisoners and criminal suspects to physical and mental abuse, including torture during coerced confessions, according to the National Independent Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) in 2019.
Security personnel reportedly used beatings as punishment for alleged crimes or as a means of coercion. There were reports that off-duty and sometimes intoxicated members of the armed forces assaulted civilians. Investigations into these incidents announced by security officials rarely resulted in prosecutions.
On August 1, security forces patrolling in Antohomadinika caught two alleged pickpockets and reportedly forced them into a pool of sewage, made them apologize in front of the large crowd of onlookers, and then handed them over to police investigators.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption and a lack of reporting of abuses. Offices that investigated abuses included inspection bodies within the gendarmerie, police, and army command. The government did not provide human rights training for security forces, but it collaborated with international organizations to build security forces’ capacity on specific law enforcement problems such as trafficking in persons and child protection.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient medical care.
Physical Conditions: Lengthy pretrial detentions, inefficiencies in the judicial system, and inadequate prison infrastructure created a serious overcrowding problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. As reported on UNICEF’s website in June, the country’s 82 prisons and detention centers held 27,600 inmates. This population was more than twice the official capacity of 11,000.
Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive, contributing significantly to overcrowding. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In August 2019 the CNIDH noted worsening conditions during its visits to 23 of 83 facilities.
Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children younger than school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers. According to the Ministry of Justice, 65 percent of the 44 prisons holding juvenile detainees had separate areas for minors in 2018.
Amnesty International stated in April that detainees continued to be affected by problems such as malnutrition, lack of hygiene, and limited access to medical care. Detained persons were crowded in cells without appropriate lighting and ventilation and slept on the ground with no mattress or blanket.
In August the UN High Commission for Human Rights considered the country’s overcrowded detention centers as a “hotbed” for COVID-19 proliferation. Prisons were overcrowded with generally unhygienic conditions, poor food, and no proper access to health care.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 43 deaths between January and October 2019 compiled from all the detention and prison facilities of the country. The most frequent causes of death from physical conditions were tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems. Prison authorities took few remedial actions concerning these deaths.
Ministry of Justice officials indicated that overcrowding at Farafangana Prison contributed to the August violent prison break in which 23 detainees were killed (see section 1.a.).
Administration: While a formal process exists to submit complaints to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Authorities rarely investigated the complaints they received. Officials authorized weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.
In March the government suspended all family and NGO visits to prisons to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, but relatives continued to bring food for detainees without visiting them. Authorities lifted these restrictions in October.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local NGOs and some diplomatic missions.
Improvements: In April, UNICEF began support that included improving nutrition, and providing basic medicines, personal protective equipment, testing kits, sanitary products for women and girls, and disinfection equipment.
Also in April, NGO Grandir Dignement (Grow with Dignity) reported that it set up a detention watch system to protect juvenile detainees, including twice weekly visits.
In June, President Rajoelina announced a pardon of Antanamora Prison detainees to address overcrowding problems, particularly in view of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Prison authorities subsequently released 3,871 detainees. In addition 7,826 detainees had their prison time shortened as part of the pardon announcement but remained in prison to continue serving their reduced sentences.
The prison administration set up specific areas to isolate new inmates and avoid a massive outbreak of COVID-19. In July the minister of justice announced a strengthening of measures to prevent the spread of the disease through testing of all new detainees, 15 days of quarantine, and close monitoring of health conditions.
On September 16, the government replaced the regional director in charge of penitentiary administration and the manager of the prison of Farafangana. The Midi newspaper reported that authorities took this decision after its investigation of the killing of 23 escaped detainees (see section 1.a.).
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always respect these provisions. Authorities arrested persons on vague charges and detained many suspects for long periods without trial.
The law gives traditional village institutions authority to protect property and public order. In some rural areas, a community-organized judicial system known as dina resolved civil disputes between villagers over such problems as alleged cattle rustling. Dina procedures sometimes conflicted with national laws by imposing harsh sentences without due process or by failing to protect the rights of victims.
The law requires arrest warrants in all cases except those involving “hot pursuit” (the apprehension of a suspect during or immediately after a crime is committed), but authorities often detained persons based on accusations and without judicial authorization. The law requires authorities to charge or release criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they often held individuals for significantly longer periods before charging or releasing them. Defendants have a right to counsel, and the law entitles those who cannot afford a lawyer to one provided by the state. Many citizens were unaware of this right, and few requested attorneys. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them, but authorities did not always respect this right. Authorities frequently denied bail without justification. Magistrates often resorted to a mandat de depot (retaining writ) under which defendants were held in detention for the entire pretrial period. The law limits the duration of pretrial detention to eight months and regulates the use of the writ, although authorities often exceeded this limit.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, political opponents of the government, demonstrators, human rights activists, and other civilians.
On February 15, the gendarmerie of Ihosy arrested a well known human rights activist on fraud and extortion charges. Civil society organizations described these charges as intimidation designed to suppress his denunciations of corruption among security forces and public officials. By early March authorities released the activist from pretrial detention, and he awaited trial.
Pretrial Detention: As of October 2019, approximately 57 percent of inmates nationwide were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention ranged from several days to several years. Poor recordkeeping, an outdated judicial system, insufficient numbers of magistrates, and too few courts of first instance contributed to the problem. The length of pretrial detention often exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. In August the minister of justice observed that the restrictions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the extension of the pretrial detention period for a number of detainees as tribunals intermittently closed or reduced their working hours. The government took no action to remedy these extensions.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was susceptible to outside influence at all levels, and corruption remained a serious problem. There were instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities did not always enforce court orders. Lack of training and personnel hampered judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs were “prodigious,” according to Freedom House.
The law reserves military courts for trials of military personnel, and they generally follow the procedures of the civil judicial system, except that military jury members must be officers. Defendants in military cases have access to an appeals process and generally benefit from the same rights available to civilians, although their trials are not public. A civilian magistrate, usually joined by a panel of military officers, presides over military trials.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the courts have the authority to direct that a trial be closed to protect the victim or to maintain public order. Trials were often delayed. Prolonged incarceration without charge, denial of bail, and postponed hearings were common. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, but authorities often ignored this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings. Many citizens were unaware of their right to counsel, however, and authorities did not systematically inform them of it. Defendants who did not request or could not afford counsel generally received very limited time to prepare their cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to present and confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Authorities generally respected such rights if defendants had legal representation. The law provides the right to an interpreter for the judicial police, examining magistrate, and the defendant’s legal advisor but does not mention any such right for the defendant, nor whether it is a free service. The law stipulates, however, that the defendant has the right to refuse an interpreter. If an interpreter must be hired, it is at the defendant’s expense. Legislation outlining defendants’ rights does not specifically refer to the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities arrested and imprisoned political leaders and activists, ostensibly on charges unrelated to their political positions or for offenses against the public order. Estimates of their number ranged in the single digits. Generally they received the same protections as other prisoners and detainees. The government permitted access to these persons by humanitarian and human rights organizations.
On June 1, the gendarmerie arrested Berija Ravelomanantsoa, a university student leader close to a former administration, for several allegedly insulting posts on social media, charging him with offenses against the public order and the dignity of public officials including the president. On September 30, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Ravelomanantsoa to 44 months in prison. There were multiple demonstrations and calls from fellow activists and relatives for his release.
On July 16, police arrested former minister of communication Harry Laurent Rahajason, who served under a former president, for a rally on July 13 calling for the release of Berija Ravelomanantsoa. Pending trial he remained in jail despite calls by his wife and daughter for his release for allegedly serious health problems. Opposition leader and President of the Senate Rivo Rakotovao denounced Rahajason’s continued detention as politically motivated. On October 15, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Rahajason to 44 months in prison for an unauthorized rally and attempted offense against public security.
On April 1, security forces arrested Ny Rado Rafalimanana, a former presidential candidate and well known opposition figure, during a public COVID-19 testing event in Antananarivo while he accompanied a relative trying to receive a test. The Court of Antananarivo charged him the following day with public disorder and “provoking” the security forces. In July the court temporarily released him pending prosecution for this incident and a separate fraud charge.
Amnesty: During an address to the country in May, the president announced a release of journalists in detention to honor Media Freedom Day. The government released an online newspaper journalist and a television presenter whom authorities had charged with defamation and spreading of false news.
The judiciary deals with all civil matters, including human rights cases, and individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. There is no prohibition against appealing to regional human rights bodies, but there was no known case of an appeal. The legal system does not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
On June 18, inhabitants of a site for a new bypass road in Ankadindramamy, Antananarivo complained of losing their land without receiving promised compensation. The inhabitants stated they turned over part of their property in 2018, and authorities informed them in 2019 that all of their property would be required for the project.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these provisions.
The CNIDH reported the continuing arrest and preventive detention of women on the pretext of their supposed complicity in the alleged crimes of male family members being sought by authorities. The CNIDH noted the women were entitled to a presumption of innocence and described the practice as ineffective, because male family members rarely turned themselves in to free the detained women.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In February 2019 Buleya Lule died while in police custody in Lilongwe, just hours after appearing in court as one of six suspects in the abduction of Goodson Makanjira, a 14-year-old boy with albinism (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). In a May 2019 report into Lule’s death, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found the deceased was tortured, and his immediate cause of death was from torture using electricity. Earlier, police arranged an autopsy that attributed his death to intracranial bleeding and hypertension. The MHRC recommended that the police officers involved be prosecuted. On July 10, 13 officers, including now suspended police commissioner Evalista Chisale, were arrested for their alleged involvement in the death of Lule. On July 31, the officers were released on bail.
Perpetrators of past abuses were occasionally punished administratively, but investigations often were delayed, abandoned, or remained inconclusive.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; however, police sometimes used excessive force and other unlawful practices, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The MHRC stated in its annual report that torture was widespread in prisons.
Reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with sex workers reported police officers regularly extracted sexual favors from sex workers under the threat of arrest.
In October 2019 the MHRC opened an independent inquiry into allegations police officers raped women and teenage girls in Msundwe, M’bwatalika, and Mpingu in Lilongwe. The alleged rapes were reportedly in retaliation for the killing of police officer Usuman Imedi by an irate mob in Msundwe. A December 2019 MHRC report stated police officers raped and sexually assaulted 18 women and girls, at least four younger than age 18. On August 13, High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ordered the government to compensate the women. The judge also ordered police authorities to release the report of the internal investigations within 30 days. As of November the report had yet to be submitted.
One allegation of sexual misconduct by a Malawian peacekeeper deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. Two additional allegations of abuses by Malawian peacekeepers with MONUSCO–in 2016 and 2014–were reported during 2019.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were three open allegations, submitted in previous years, of sexual exploitation and abuse by Malawian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including two submitted in 2018 and one submitted in 2016. As of November the government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all three open allegations. The 2016 case remained pending a government investigation. For one of the 2018 cases, the United Nations completed its investigation and was awaiting additional information from the government. The United Nations is still investigating the other 2018 case. All three cases allegedly involved exploitation of an adult.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces.
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.
Physical Conditions: An Inspectorate of Prisons report released in September 2019 indicated the Malawi Prison Service was failing to execute its rehabilitative role, while the courts were failing to exercise their sentence review powers in time. A 2018 Inspectorate of Prisons monitoring tour of prisons and police cells across the country found recurrent problems of poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, poor ventilation, detention without charge beyond 48 hours, understaffing, prison staff corruption, and insufficient prisoner rehabilitation such as education and vocational training.
Overcrowding and malnutrition remained problems. In December the Malawi Prison Service reported a total prison population of 14,500 in a space with a designed holding capacity of 7,000. Police held detainees in police stations for long periods beyond the legal limit of 48 hours, which contributed to pervasive cell overcrowding.
Authorities held women separately from men but often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In police detention centers, children were not always held separately from adults. Although inadequate, detention facilities for women and children were generally better than men’s facilities. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), however, noted significant improvements in the treatment of migrants held at prison facilities, including easier access to care for migrants with medical conditions. The IOM also claimed improved channels of communication with prison staff and easier access to detention facilities. As of October, five male migrants, four Nigerians, and one South African were in detention for immigration offenses. They were convicted, fined, and ordered deported.
As of December, according to the prison service, 15 inmates died in prison, all of natural causes.
Basic emergency medical care generally was available in the daytime but unavailable after regular working hours. Daily prison rations were meager. Officials allowed family members to provide food and encouraged inmates to grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural prisons. Malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem, however, particularly in urban prisons.
Inadequate infrastructure remained a serious problem. Prisons and detention centers had no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires.
Administration: Each prison had a designated welfare officer, some of whom had received specialized training, to receive prisoner complaints regarding conditions. The complaints process, however, was primarily verbal and informal, allowed for censorship, and provided little follow-up. Prisoners sometimes had the opportunity to complain to NGOs that recorded cases for inclusion in government advocacy and reports, but this rarely resulted in follow-up on individual cases.
The MHRC and NGOs working in prisons expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. During the year the MHRC released a report that cited overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food and health care as major problems in prisons and detention centers. It stated torture was widespread and that most prisoners and detainees lived in degrading and inhuman conditions. From January to August, the MHRC received one complaint regarding the rights of prisoners. NGOs attributed the low number of submitted complaints was due to fear of retaliation by authorities.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted domestic and international NGOs and media to visit and monitor prison conditions and donate basic supplies. Domestic NGOs, the Malawi Red Cross Society, and diplomatic representatives had unrestricted access to prisons.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but does not provide for compensation if the person is found to have been unlawfully detained. Lack of knowledge of statutes and of access to representation meant detainees did not challenge the legality of their detention.
Police apprehended most suspects without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe a crime was being or had been committed. Only in cases involving corruption or white-collar crime were arrest warrants normally issued by a duly authorized official based on evidence presented. The law provides detainees the right to have access to legal counsel and be released from detention or informed of charges by a court within 48 hours of arrest; however, authorities often ignored these rights. The use of temporary remand warrants to circumvent the 48-hour rule was widespread. Police frequently demanded bribes to authorize bail. Bail was often granted to reduce overcrowding in jails, rather than on the basis of legal merit. Relatives were sometimes denied access to detainees. There were no reports detainees were held incommunicado or held under house arrest.
Detainees who could afford counsel were able to meet with counsel in a timely manner. While the law requires the government to provide legal services to indigent detainees, such aid was provided almost exclusively to suspects charged with homicide. The Legal Aid Bureau is mandated to provide legal assistance to indigent persons. As of December 2019, the bureau had 23 lawyers and 29 paralegals in its three offices, located in the largest cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu.
The Center for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance assisted 803 persons detained at police stations and in prisons through its Malawi Bail Project, camp courts, police cell visits, and paralegal aid clinic to expedite their release. During the year the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI) reached out to 22,499 detainees, for 17,880 of whom it succeeded in obtaining release. PASI and the Center for Legal Assistance, both NGOs that assist prisoners with legal matters, provided limited free legal assistance to expedite trials of detainees. Priority was given to the sick, the young, mothers with infants, persons with disabilities, and those in extended pretrial detention.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, or false arrest. Although sections of the penal code pertaining to rogues and vagabonds used in the past to make arbitrary arrests were struck down as unconstitutional, police made arrests based on other provisions, such as conduct likely to cause breach of peace and obstruction of police officers. Although prostitution is legal, living off the proceeds of prostitution is illegal; police regularly harassed sex workers.
Pretrial Detention: Of the total prison population of approximately 14,000 inmates, an estimated 2,500, or 18 percent, were in pretrial detention. Despite a statutory 90-day limit on pretrial detention, authorities held most homicide suspects in detention for two to three years before trial. There was evidence some homicide detainees remained in prison awaiting trial for much longer periods, but reliable information on the number and situation of these detainees was unavailable.
To reduce case backlog and excessive pretrial detention, certain cases were directed to local courts and camp courts organized by civil society groups to expedite cases by having magistrates visit prisons to adjudicate cases. Paralegals gathered cases of pretrial detainees awaiting trial for excessive periods, who were held unlawfully, or who had been granted bail but were unable to meet the terms set by the court. Magistrates, along with the court clerk and police prosecutor, worked through the list, granting bail to some, reducing bail for others, dismissing cases, or setting trial dates.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was inefficient and handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor recordkeeping; a shortage of judges, attorneys, and other trained personnel; heavy caseloads; and corruption. The slow-moving judicial system, including extensive delays due to motion practice (a three-step court order request), a low bar for granting injunctions, judge shopping, prosecutorial delay tactics, recusals, and lawyers and witnesses not being present on trial dates, undermined the government’s ability to dispense justice.
The Malawi Defense Force conducts courts-martial but not military or security tribunals. Used more frequently than courts-martial is a nonjudicial procedure under which cases are dealt with summarily by senior officers without a formal trial process. In both procedures military personnel are entitled to the same rights as persons accused in civilian courts.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants are presumed innocent. The constitution and law require a court to inform an accused of charges within 48 hours of arrest, with free assistance of an interpreter if necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to have an attorney, and, if indigent, an attorney provided at state expense, but such assistance was usually limited to homicide cases. Defendants have the right to challenge prosecution or plaintiff evidence and witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. By law they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law does not specify a length of time for the accused to prepare a defense. The slow pace of trials affords defendants adequate time to prepare, but not to adequate facilities due to insufficient prison system funding. All persons have the right of appeal; however, appeals often were delayed for years and sometimes never addressed by a higher court.
The judiciary’s budgetary and administrative problems led to backlogs that effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants and kept some defendants in pretrial detention for long periods. Recruitment and retention of government attorneys remained a problem. Police prosecutors with limited legal training prosecuted most criminal cases. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions in the Ministry of Justice customarily tried high-profile cases and those involving the most serious offenses. The directorate had 19 prosecuting attorneys supported by 17 paralegals, who also prosecuted certain lower court cases. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions caused trial delays.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens have access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional courts. The law provides for administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs; however, a lack of legal professionals restricted the number of human rights cases pursued and resulted in a large backlog. As of November there were only 588 licensed legal practitioners in a country of more than 18 million inhabitants.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions.
The law permits police officers of the rank of subinspector or higher to conduct searches without a court warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe they could not otherwise obtain something needed for an investigation without undue delay. Before conducting a search without a warrant, the officer must write a reasonable-grounds justification and give a copy to the owner or occupant of the place to be searched.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous credible reports by media and international human rights organizations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Most reports named security forces, particularly the Armed Forces of Mozambique (FADM) operating in Cabo Delgado Province, while others identified National Police (PRM) and the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) members as perpetrators. The Attorney General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of security force killings deemed unjustifiable; however, the government failed to investigate many reports of abuses.
There were numerous abuses similar to the following examples. Although a lack of access to Cabo Delgado Province impeded verification by media and human rights organizations, media reported security forces shot and killed between 18 and 48 civilians on small boats in the vicinity of Ibo Island between April 12 and 21. On April 12, individuals wearing FADM uniforms reportedly shot and killed 12 fishermen and merchants and looted their ships’ cargo. On April 23, the president stated security forces in Cabo Delgado Province might have “unintentionally” violated human rights in combatting violent extremists. On September 14, a video emerged on social media showing armed, uniformed men walking on a paved road in a rural area following a naked woman and yelling “Shabaab,” the local name for ISIS-Mozambique. She was beaten with a stick and shot several times. The president and senior officials claimed that the terrorist groups in Cabo Delgado Province had created the video as part of a misinformation campaign and that an investigation had been opened. No details or results of an investigation had been released by year’s end.
Police were accused of arbitrary and sometimes violent enforcement of the COVID-19 state of emergency orders issued by the president on April 1. For example, on April 21, in Sofala Province, media reported that two PRM officers beat a resident to death for threatening to film them playing soccer after they broke up a match in which players had violated social distancing rules. On April 23, the officers involved were arrested, and the PRM announced it would investigate the incident and apply disciplinary measures if warranted. The PRM had not released further information on the case by year’s end.
On June 17, six police officers of the Gaza Province UIR and the Gaza Special Operations Unit were convicted of murder for the October 2019 killing of civil society leader Anastacio and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to 24 years.
Human rights organizations and the government stated violent extremists in Cabo Delgado Province committed human rights abuses against civilians that included beheadings, kidnappings, and use of child soldiers. From January to November, there were an estimated 1,484 fatalities in Cabo Delgado Province, of which 602 resulted from targeted extremist violence against civilians and 109 resulted from security force violence against civilians. Extremists also abducted civilians during village raids. Security force responses to this violence was often heavy handed, including arbitrary arrest and detention and extrajudicial killings of suspected violent extremists and civilians.
There were numerous abuses reported by media similar to the following example. On September 30, extremists beheaded seven persons, shot and killed another seven, and tortured others during a two-week period. Extremists also posted videos depicting the mutilation of corpses of security force members.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of civilian or military authorities.
According to media, in March activist Roberto Abdala, who worked for the land rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Centro Terra Viva (the Living Earth Center) disappeared in the northern city of Palma. Abdala remained missing at year’s end.
On April 9, independent online newspaper Carta de Mocambique reported that military members abducted independent journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco in Cabo Delgado Province. On April 7, Mbaruco’s last communication was a text message stating he was surrounded by military members. On April 27, Augusto Guta, police public relations head in Cabo Delgado Province, stated police were searching for Mbaruco and requested the public’s help locating him. Mbaruco’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but international and domestic human rights groups reported mistreatment of detainees, specifically those detained in Cabo Delgado Province as a result of counterterrorism operations. At least two videos surfaced that showed security forces physically abusing terrorist suspects. For example, in August a video appeared showing alleged government security force members caning three terrorist suspects; one suspect appeared to have been caned to death. In September the government stated it had opened an investigation into the matter. No additional information was available by year’s end.
According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, particularly forces operating in Cabo Delgado Province. A weak judicial system contributed to impunity, including a lack of capacity to investigate cases of abuse and to prosecute and try perpetrators. The Human Rights Commission is mandated to investigate allegations of abuses. The government did not provide widespread or systemic training increase respect for human rights and prevent abuses by security force members.
Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening in most areas due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and limited medical care.
Physical Conditions: Government officials and civil society organizations cited as serious problems overcrowding, poor nutrition, poor hygiene and medical care, the inclusion of juvenile prisoners in adult facilities, and convicted and untried prisoners sharing cells. Almost all prisons dated from the pre-1975 colonial era, and many were in an advanced state of dilapidation. The attorney general’s annual report to parliament issued in May cited overcrowding and degradation of infrastructure as threats to the security, rehabilitation, and human rights of prisoners. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) acknowledged an acute shortage of prison facilities and that lack of adequate facilities contributed to the abuse of detainees. According to the PGR, prisons were 232 percent above capacity with 19,789 prisoners occupying space for only 8,498.
On April 6, parliament approved an amnesty law in response to COVID-19 that provided for the release of prisoners convicted of minor offenses to ease overcrowding in the National Penitentiary Service. Media reported the release of approximately 5,000 detainees.
Juvenile detainees were held in preventive detention with adult prisoners. Inmates with disabilities often shared cells with other prisoners. No information was available on deaths in prison, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions, including on whether authorities took remedial action.
Administration: Although no formal system specific to prisons existed for receiving or tracking complaints, prisoners were free to contact the PGR, the national ombudsman, or NGOs with complaints.
Independent Monitoring: International and domestic human rights groups had access to prisoners at the discretion of the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, and permission to visit prisoners was generally granted. The Mozambican Human Rights League and the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) had a high degree of access to prisons run by the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; however, civil society groups reported security forces repeatedly arrested and detained persons, including journalists and civil society activists in northern Cabo Delgado Province on unsubstantiated charges of involvement in extremist violence or property destruction.
Apart from operations countering extremist violence in northern Cabo Delgado Province, authorities generally did not detain suspects without judicial authorization. By law judges or prosecutors must first issue an arrest warrant unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The maximum length of investigative detention is 48 hours without a warrant or six months with a warrant, during which time a detainee has the right to judicial review of the case. A detainee may be held another 90 days if the National Criminal Investigation Service continues its investigation. A person accused of a crime carrying a potential maximum sentence if convicted of more than eight years’ imprisonment may be detained up to an additional 84 days without being formally charged. A court may approve two additional 84-day periods of detention without charge while police complete their investigation. The detainee must be released if no charges are brought within the prescribed period for investigation. Authorities, however, did not always respect these legal requirements.
The law provides for citizens’ right to access the courts and the right to legal representation, regardless of ability to pay for such services. Indigent defendants, however, frequently received no legal representation due to a shortage of legal professionals willing to work without charge. There were no reports of suspects held incommunicado or under house arrest.
The bail system remained poorly defined.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem due to a lack of judges and prosecutors and poor communication among authorities.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some civil society groups asserted, however, that the executive branch and ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique Party (Frelimo) exerted influence on an understaffed and inadequately trained judiciary, especially in politically sensitive national security cases where extremist suspects were accused of violent crimes in Cabo Delgado Province.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Courts presume accused persons innocent, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. By law defendants are entitled to a fair, timely, and public trial, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and the law specifically provides for public defenders for all defendants, although this did not always happen. While defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense, they often do not have adequate facilities to do so. Defendants also have the right to free interpretation as necessary, and authorities generally did not deny persons these rights. Convicted persons may appeal lower court decisions to a higher court.
By law only judges or lawyers may confront or question witnesses. A defendant may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The government generally upheld such rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Persons accused of crimes against the government, including treason or threatening national security, are tried in open civilian courts according to standard criminal judicial procedures. Members of media and the general public attended trials throughout the year; however, a judge may order a trial closed to media in the interest of national security, to protect the privacy of the plaintiff in a sexual assault case, or to prevent interested parties outside the court from destroying evidence.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. By law citizens may file lawsuits through the Office of the Ombudsman, the CNDH, and the Mozambican Bar Association seeking cessation of human rights abuses, damages for abuses, or both. The country is a signatory to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Office of the Ombudsman is constitutionally designated as guarantor of citizens’ legal rights in dealings with the government. Citizens may file complaints with the Ombudsman’s Office. Each complaint is reviewed and an investigation initiated if the Ombudsman’s Office judges it legitimate.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; however, there were reports the government at times failed to respect the privacy of personal communications, particularly those of civil society activists and journalists. There were no reports authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. Some civil society activists stated government intelligence services and operatives of the ruling party monitored telephone calls and emails without warrants, conducted surveillance of their offices, followed opposition members, used informants, and disrupted opposition party activities in certain areas.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Namibian Police Force (NamPol) conducts internal investigations of police misconduct and presents its findings to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, which determines whether to pursue charges.
On March 17, the government instituted COVID-19 state-of-emergency measures, including travel restrictions, a curfew, restrictions on public gatherings and business activity, and mandatory supervised quarantines for confirmed COVID-19 cases, known contacts, and for travelers returning from abroad. There was one case of police using excessive force that led to a fatality. Media reported that two police officers beat to death street vendor David Tuhafeni at Oyongo village in a dispute that escalated during enforcement of a COVID-19 state-of-emergency measure closing informal markets. The two unidentified officers were charged with murder, arraigned at Ohangwena Magistrate’s Court, and released on bail. A trial date had yet to be set by year’s end.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the law does not define “torture” or separately classify it as a crime. Torture is prosecuted as a crime under legal provisions such as assault or homicide. The Office of the Ombudsman received one report of police mistreatment of detainees. The report alleged that the denial of visitation rights during the COVID-19 state of emergency constituted mistreatment. There were two reports of Namibian Defense Force (NDF) members beating suspects. Additionally, images showing NamPol officers beating detained illegal immigrants were released online by local newspaper The Namibian Sun.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces; however, delays in investigation of allegations of misconduct and in the filing of charges and adjudication of cases meriting prosecution contributed to a perception of impunity. Most cases cited by civil society advocates were pending trial at year’s end.
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in detention centers and police holding cells remained poor. Conditions were often worse in pretrial holding cells than in prisons. Human rights bodies and government officials reported overcrowding in holding cells. Most prisons, however, were not overcrowded.
In pretrial holding cells, sanitation and medical assistance were inadequate. Tuberculosis was prevalent.
Prison and holding-cell conditions for women were generally better than for men. Authorities permitted female prisoners to keep their infants with them until age two and provided food and clothing for the infants.
There were limited programs to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.
The law does not permit holding juvenile offenders with adults. Prison authorities reported they generally confined juvenile offenders separately, but police occasionally held juveniles with adults in rural detention facilities due to a lack of separate facilities for juveniles.
Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent authority, investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and the office reported close cooperation with police in resolving complaints and responding promptly to inquiries.
Independent Monitoring: The government granted local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to prisons and prisoners. Representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman visited prisons and pretrial detention facilities.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of that person’s arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest warrants are not required in all cases, including when authorities apprehend a suspect in the course of committing a crime. Authorities must inform detained persons of the reason for their arrest, and police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must arraign arrested persons within 48 hours of their detention. The government did not always meet this requirement, especially in rural areas far from courts. The constitution stipulates the accused are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice, and authorities respected this right.
There was a functioning bail system. Officials generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. The constitution permits detention without trial during a state of emergency but requires publication of the names of detainees in the government’s gazette within 14 days of their apprehension. An advisory board appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (the constitutional body that recommends judges to the president for appointment) must review cases within one month of detention and every three months thereafter. The constitution requires such advisory boards to have no more than five members, at least three of whom must be “judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court or qualified to be such.” The advisory board has the power to order the release of anyone detained without trial during an emergency.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to the Namibian Correctional Service, approximately 3 percent of the inmate population is in pretrial detention, and the average length of time inmates are held before trial is four years. A shortage of qualified magistrates and other court officials, the inability of many defendants to afford bail, the lack of a plea-bargaining system, slow or incomplete police investigations, the frequency of appeals, and procedural postponements resulted in a large backlog in prosecuting criminal cases. Delays between arrest and trial could last for years. There were lengthy delays in criminal appeals as well. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, pretrial detention did not exceed the maximum sentence for conviction of an alleged crime. Defendants found guilty of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment are credited with time served in pretrial detention.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.
The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts may hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law by members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in civil or criminal courts.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Nevertheless, long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial.
All defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of choice in a timely manner. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary starting with their first court appearance through all appeals. Indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases; however, this sometimes did not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the state-funded Legal Aid Directorate did not accept the application for representation from a defendant. The Legal Aid Directorate provided free legal assistance to indigent defendants in criminal cases and, depending on resource availability, in civil matters.
Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provided defendants with adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or be forced to confess guilt. Convicted individuals have the right to appeal adverse decisions.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The law provides for access to a court for lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures and judicial remedies to redress wrongs. Civil and criminal court orders were mostly well enforced.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were unconfirmed reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of executing persons believed to be fighting for extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received complaints regarding multiple arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces as well as killings by militias. The CNDH had limited ability to investigate the complaints. Human Rights Watch reported a video showed security forces in vehicles running over and killing apparently unarmed and wounded Boko Haram fighters during a May 11 action in Diffa.
Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).
In 2019 Malian militia groups such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, Self-Defense Group Imghad Tuareg and Allies were accused of committing human rights abuses in the country, including kidnapping and arbitrary killing of persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups. These abuses appeared to cease in May 2019.
There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both the Tillabery and Diffa Regions. According to Amnesty International, between March 27 and April 2, security forces allegedly arrested and forcibly disappeared 102 persons in the Tillabery Region as part of Operation Almahou.
There were also multiple instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g.). For example, in 2019 Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped dozens of local chiefs in the Diffa Region.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports by domestic civil society organizations that security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government stated it would investigate.
There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region harassed or detained citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.
In September the CNDH implicated security forces in human rights abuses in the Tillabery Region in March and April.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nigerien peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, with seven cases from 2018, 2016, and 2015. In five cases the United Nations substantiated the allegations and repatriated the perpetrators, and in the other two cases, the United Nations had completed the investigations and was waiting for additional information from the government. As of September the government had not explained what actions if any it had taken regarding the cases. These cases allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, an exploitative relationship with an adult, and rape of children.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among the army and police. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of police, national guard, and fire department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of civil protection personnel. The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the gendarmerie and military forces. The armed forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. The CNDH investigated some allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances.
Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and attacks by violent extremist organizations.
Physical Conditions: Human rights observers stated overcrowding remained a widespread problem. The government reported in December 2019 there were 10,723 prisoners in 41 prisons designed to hold 10,555 persons, perhaps indicating significant underreporting by the government, according to observers. The prisons of Niamey and Diffa were respectively designed to hold 445 and 100 persons but towards year’s end held 1,451 and 432 inmates, respectively. Other observers found several prisons to be 300 percent above capacity. In Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards.
Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters, which were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes. Terrorist and high-threat offenders were separated from other criminal offenders. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis, and COVID-19, 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. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Observers noted judicial slowness in assessing conditions, dilapidated prison premises (except at the Tillabery prison), an insufficiency of prison staff, poor food, health care, and maintenance, and inadequacy of post release reintegration systems.
The government operated a detention facility in Goudoumaria that holds defectors from violent extremist organizations while they undergo rehabilitation. Families were kept together and separated from single men. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided the majority of services to the facility, including potable water, food, and medical care. Children in the camp suffered from malaria, and pregnant women lacked adequate access to emergency care.
National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. The law creates a specialized cadre of prison guards, and the penitentiary administration reportedly launched a first round of training in 2019 but did not fully implement the law.
Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of mistreatment. 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 monitoring visits during the year. The ICRC worked with the local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.
Improvements: As a response to the COVID-19 health crisis, authorities released 1,967 prisoners between March and April by presidential decree.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits arbitrary detention without charge for more than 48 hours and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention, with some exceptions. If the prosecutor receives a case in which an individual was not charged within 48 hours, the case must be dismissed. An investigator can request a waiver for an additional 48 hours before charging an individual. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for 15 days, which can be extended only once, for an additional 15 days.
The constitution and law require arrest warrants. Reports indicated, however, that authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. The 15-day detention period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (SCLCT/CTO); terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region at times spent days or weeks in either regional civilian or military custody before officials transported 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 of being transferred to SCLCT/CTO. 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 an insufficient number of lawyers 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. Police and other security force members on occasion rounded up persons accused of being members of or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 48 months for terrorism offenses where the sentence could be 10 years or more in prison and 24 months for less serious offenses. The vast majority of prisoners were awaiting trial and, according to statistics provided by the government, approximately 80 percent of prisoners facing terrorism charges were in pretrial detention. The NGO World Prison brief, citing 2017 data, reported that 53.8 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Reports indicated judicial inefficiency, limited investigative capacity, and staff shortages contributed to lengthy pretrial detention periods for terrorism offenses. Regarding other offenses, civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to abuse of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast, some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.
Defectors who meet the government’s legal criteria for conditional amnesty are supposed to be released after receiving three to six months of deradicalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The chief prosecutor is responsible for reviewing defector case files and working with the Ministry of Interior to make decisions regarding the defectors’ eligibility for reintegration. Due to bureaucratic and logistical challenges associated with establishing and implementing this program, defectors and family members remained in the facility for prolonged periods–some up to three years.
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 that 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. Authorities generally respected court orders.
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 topics. 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 Islamic traditions, heads these courts. The 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.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. 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. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf either at the investigative judge or at the trial stage of proceedings. 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 courts and staff shortages were common.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated; observers estimated their number to be three. They generally received the same protections as other prisoners. Saidou Bakari, a member of the leading opposition party, remained jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. According to the chief investigative judge of the Niamey court, the case remained under investigation by the office for financial crimes.
On September 29, following months of criticism from local human rights organizations, the Ministry of Justice released pending trial three civil society activists, Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi, held in detention without trial since March. The men were arrested for allegedly participating in an unauthorized public protest and other charges.
In November 2019 a judge released Sadat Illiya Dan Malam, the last of the 29 persons detained in connection with antitax demonstrations during 2018. Sadat believed his lengthy pretrial detention was political revenge for his activism against government corruption.
Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.
Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state of emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason. On May 29, the country adopted a law that allows the presidency to monitor telephone calls, ostensibly for fighting terrorism.
The regional fight against the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued in the east, while extremist groups linked to the conflicts in Mali and Burkina Faso terrorized the west of the country. Several groups with links to al-Qa’ida and ISIS were active in the country.
Killings: Criminals and extremist groups conducted terrorist attacks throughout the country, primarily in Diffa Region and portions of the western region of Tillabery and southern Tahoua. On August 9, for example, ISIS-WA killed six French aid workers and two local guides in a wildlife park in Koure. Many of the killings, especially in Diffa and Tillabery, specifically targeted government authorities or private individuals seen as informants for security or law enforcement entities. Observers noted these attacks significantly disrupted government efforts to protect communities and led to substantial internal displacements, bringing insecurity into previously safer areas.
Abductions: There were reports government forces arrested and forcibly disappeared civilians (see section 1.b., Disappearance).
Terrorist groups and criminals kidnapped dozens of citizens and several citizens of western countries. Armed groups in the Diffa Region, including Boko Haram and criminals, abducted civilians. Analysts suggested these kidnappings fueled increasing displacements across the region.
Armed groups in northern Tillabery Region also abducted several persons. Government authorities and citizens were also targeted for abduction. Observers believed the abductions were used to raise funds through ransom, increase recruitment, and exact retribution.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Boko Haram militants, and to a lesser extent ISIS affiliates, targeted noncombatants, including women and children, and used violence, intimidation, theft, and kidnapping to terrorize communities and sustain their ranks.
Child Soldiers: The government ceased coordinating with the Malian paramilitary groups Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group, which recruited and used child soldiers in 2019.
In 2019 security forces captured an unknown number of children in Diffa and Tillabery Regions and detained them in Niamey and Kollo prisons for alleged involvement with terrorist groups. Experts of the Ministry of Justice and the Child Protection Directorate within the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Protection of Children determined their ages and provided services in one of four orientation and transition centers in Niamey. They were progressively reunited with their families. Some of these detainees were Nigerian citizens. Other children remained at the defectors’ rehabilitation facility in Goudoumaria, with the government focusing on transitioning juveniles back into their communities.
Boko Haram recruited and used children in both combatant and noncombatant roles. There were reports of forced marriages to Boko Haram militants.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www/state/gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Humanitarian organizations in the Diffa Region were sometimes unable to obtain the required security escorts and clearances required to travel outside of the town of Diffa to distribute aid. Boko Haram and ISIS-related violence displaced civilians. Extremists also conducted targeted campaigns of killings and threats against “informants.” Humanitarian organizations reported similar problems in the Maradi and Zinder Regions. Criminality also appeared to continue with reported cases of extortion, kidnappings, and home invasions.
ISIS-GS and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin affiliates in northern Tillabery Region reportedly continued charging local villagers taxes, while extremists in western Tillabery Region reportedly burned government-funded schools, telling villagers their children should not attend such schools. Extremists in Tillabery targeted local and administrative authorities, killing or abducting canton chiefs. This practice was also extended to village chiefs, who were attacked, killed, or subjected to repeated threats in Torodi and other locations near the border with Burkina Faso and particularly Mali.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities sought to investigate, and when found culpable, held police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody, but impunity in such cases remained a significant problem. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public.
The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force.
On October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end. Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate.
In August a military court-martial convicted a soldier and sentenced him to 55 years in prison after he committed a homicide while deployed in Zamfara State.
There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).
Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year. On January 25, criminals abducted Bola Ataga, the wife of a prominent doctor, and her two children from their residence in the Juji community of Kaduna State. The criminals demanded a ransom of $320,000 in exchange for their return. They killed Ataga several days later after the family was unable to pay the ransom. On February 6, the criminals released the children to their relatives.
In August 2019, to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the government to release immediately hundreds of persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial.
Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta, the Southeast, and the Northwest, often to collect ransom payments. For example, on the evening of December 11, criminals on motorbikes stormed the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, abducting 344 schoolboys and killing one security guard. On December 17, the Katsina State government, in conjunction with federal government authorities, secured the release of the boys.
Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. For example, in July, Nigerian pirates attacked a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel near Rivers State, kidnapping 11 crew members.
Other parts of the country also experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, regional government leaders, police officers, students, and laborers, amongst others. In January the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, and his convoy were attacked on the Kaduna-Zaria Highway. The emir was abducted, and several of his bodyguards were killed. The Abuja-Kaduna road axis was a major target for kidnappers, forcing most travelers to use the train.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) conducted large-scale abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States (see section 1.g.).
The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law 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 legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. Two-thirds of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.
The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture. Lack of legal and operational independence and limited funding hindered the committee from carrying out its work effectively.
The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not always respect this prohibition. According to credible international organizations, prior to their dissolution, SARS units sometimes used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. President Buhari disbanded SARS units in October following nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality. Of the states, 28 and the FCT established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS units. The panels were made up of a diverse group of civil society representatives, government officials, lawyers, youth, and protesters with the task of reviewing complaints submitted by the public and making recommendations to their respective state government on sanctions for human rights violations and proposed compensation for victims. The work of the judicial panels continued at year’s end.
Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. On February 10, the BBC published a report documenting police and military use of a torture practice known as tabay when detaining criminal suspects, including children. Tabay involves binding a suspect’s arms at the elbows to cut off circulation; at times the suspect’s feet are also bound and the victim is suspended above the ground. In response to the BBC video, military and Ministry of Interior officials told the BBC they would investigate use of the practice.
In June, Amnesty International issued a report documenting 82 cases of torture by the SARS from 2017 to May.
Police used 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 sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.
The sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, flogging, 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 nonsharia court. Sharia courts issued several death sentences during the year. In August a sharia court in Kano State convicted a man of raping a minor and sentenced the man to death by stoning. Authorities often did not carry out sentences of caning, amputation, and stoning ordered by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that was often lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases 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 new 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.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from Nigeria deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, but there were still five open allegations, including one from 2019, one from 2018, and three from 2017. As of September, two allegations had been substantiated, and the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, but the Nigerian government had not yet provided the full accountability measures taken for all five open cases.
In Oyo State, two Nigeria Police Force officers were arrested after reportedly mistreating subjects they arrested in July. In September the Nigeria Police Force dismissed 11 officers and filed criminal charges against an additional 19 for misconduct.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, including in the police, military, and the Department of State Services (DSS). The DSS, police, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards and mechanisms to investigate security force members and hold them accountable for crimes committed on duty, but the results of these accountability mechanisms were not always made public. Police remained susceptible to corruption, faced allegations of human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects.
In response to nationwide protests against police brutality, the government on October 11 abolished SARS units. 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. The army had a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights abuses brought by civilians, and a standing general court-martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside major population centers remained limited. The court-martial in Maiduguri convicted soldiers for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. Many credible accusations of abuses remained uninvestigated. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government sometimes 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 October prison facilities held 64,817 prisoners. Approximately 74 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of October there were 1,282 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities sometimes held juvenile suspects with adults.
Many of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and overcrowding sometimes resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. For example, in December 2019, according to press reports, five inmates awaiting trial at Ikoyi Prison were accidentally electrocuted in their cell, which held approximately 140 inmates despite a maximum capacity of 35.
Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused some prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This situation was exacerbated with the arrival of COVID-19. In July the government released 7,813 prisoners, including some older than 60 or with health conditions, and others awaiting trial, in response to COVID-19. 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 total number of prison deaths during the year.
Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison employees reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.
Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison employees sometimes stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates sometimes relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison employees, police, and other security force personnel sometimes denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.
Some prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–some of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons.
Generally, prison officials made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).
Several unofficial military detention facilities continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly improved, detainees were not always given due process and were subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention (see section 1.g.). There were no reports of accountability for past deaths in custody, nor for past reports from Amnesty International alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons were arbitrarily detained between 2009 and 2015, with as many as 7,000 dying in custody.
After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements below), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reports, the military continued to arrest and remand to military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks, additional persons suspected of association with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.
The government continued to arrest and detain women and children removed from or allegedly associated with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. They included women and girls who had been forcibly married to or sexually enslaved by the insurgents. The government reportedly detained them for screening and their perceived intelligence value. Some children held were reportedly as young as age five.
The law 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.
While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, in general few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances. Prison employees sometimes requested bribes to allow access for visitors.
Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), and some military detention facilities.
Improvements: International organizations reported that the military released more than 400 persons, including at least 309 children, from military custody in Maiduguri in March. Operation Safe Corridor, a deradicalization program, graduated more than 600 former low-level Boko Haram affiliate members and former detainees.
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services at times employed these practices. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but detainees found such protections ineffective, largely due to lengthy court delays. According to numerous reports, 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 did not always follow due process, arresting suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.
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 sometimes abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In some instances government and security employees did not adhere to this regulation. 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 sometimes 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. In some cases police 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 sometimes set stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. At times authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police sometimes demanded additional payment.
The government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations throughout the country.
In some northern states, Hisbah religious police groups patrolled areas to look for violations of sharia.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel reportedly arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown.
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 NCS figures released in October, 74 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. Court backlogs grew due to COVID-related shutdowns and delays. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Some detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NCS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files. Prison employees did not have effective prison case file management processes, including databases or cataloguing systems. In general the courts were plagued with inadequate, antiquated systems and procedures.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC. Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.
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, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There are no continuing education requirements for attorneys, and police officers were often assigned to serve as prosecutors. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials were low, and officials 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. Many citizens encountered long delays and reported receiving 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 transition to sharia penal and criminal procedure codes, however, was largely perceived as hastily implemented, insufficiently codified, and constitutionally debatable in most of the states.
The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction. The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings”; they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. At least one state, Zamfara State, requires civil cases in which all litigants are Muslim be heard in sharia courts, with the option to appeal any decision to the common law court. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.
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 September 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 experts often advise them. Sharia courts are thus more susceptible to human error, as many court personnel lack basic formal education or the appropriate training to administer accurately and effectively penal and legal procedures. Despite these shortfalls, many in the north prefer sharia courts to their secular counterparts, especially concerning civil matters, since they are faster, less expensive, and conducted in the Hausa language.
Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, 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.
Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel was absent from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).
Human rights groups stated the government did not permit all terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns regarding inadequate access to defense counsel, a lack of interpreters, and inadequate evidence leading to an overreliance on confessions. It was unclear whether confessions were completely voluntary. Those whose cases were dismissed reportedly remained in detention without clear legal justification. Human rights groups also alleged that in some cases dissidents and journalists were jailed without access to legal representation or had other rights denied, such as the right to a fair and public trial.
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, however, 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 provided women increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony, among other benefits.
Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. 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 court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
IMN’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his spouse remained in detention. In 2018 the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of a soldier at Zaria.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, at times exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made, in order to maintain autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments. 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 abuse, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.
State and local governments forcibly evicted some residents and demolished their homes, often without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on this right during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies allegedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.
The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the ISIS-WA continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction of property, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of approximately 300,000 Nigerian refugees as of September 30.
Killings: Units of the NA’s Seventh Division, the NPF, and the DSS carried out operations against the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Northeast. There were reports of military forces committing extrajudicial killings of suspected members of the groups.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers, security personnel, and international organization and NGO personnel and facilities in Borno State. Boko Haram also conducted attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA attacked targets in Yobe. These groups targeted anyone perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. While Boko Haram no longer controlled as much territory as it did in 2016, the two insurgencies nevertheless maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast. Both groups carried out attacks through roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs). ISIS-WA maintained the ability to carry out effective complex attacks on military positions, including those in population centers.
On November 28, suspected Boko Haram terrorists killed at least 76 members of a rice farming community in Zabarmari, Borno State. Some of those killed were beheaded.
Boko Haram continued to employ indiscriminate person-borne improvised explosive device (PIED) attacks targeting the local civilian populations. Women and children were forced to carry out many of the attacks. According to a 2017 study by UNICEF, children, forced by Boko Haram, carried out nearly one in five PIED attacks. More than two-thirds of these children were girls. Boko Haram continued to kill scores of civilians suspected of cooperating with the government.
ISIS-WA increased attacks and kidnappings of civilians and continued to employ acts of violence and intimidation against civilians in order to expand its area of influence and gain control over critical economic resources. As part of a violent campaign, ISIS-WA also targeted government figures, traditional leaders, international organization and NGO workers, and contractors. In multiple instances ISIS-WA issued “night letters” or otherwise warned civilians to leave specific areas and subsequently targeted civilians who failed to depart. During its attacks on population centers, ISIS-WA also distributed propaganda materials.
On June 13, suspected ISIS-WA militants attacked the village of Felo, Borno State, killing dozens of civilians.
Abductions: In previous years Human Rights Watch documented cases where security forces forcibly disappeared persons detained for questioning in conflict areas, but there were no reports of such cases during the year.
Boko Haram conducted mass abductions of men, women, and children, often in conjunction with attacks on communities. The group forced men, women, and children to participate in military operations on its behalf. Those abducted by Boko Haram were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and forced religious conversions. Women and girls were subjected to forced marriage and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual slavery. Most female PIED bombers were coerced in some form and were often drugged. Boko Haram also used women and girls to lure security forces into ambushes, force payment of ransoms, and leverage prisoner exchanges.
While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown since abductions continued, towns repeatedly changed hands, and many families were still on the run or dispersed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many abductees managed to escape Boko Haram captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.
Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. Leah Sharibu remained the only student from the 2018 kidnapping in Dapchi in ISIS-WA captivity, reportedly because she refused to convert to Islam from Christianity.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports that security services used excessive force in the pursuit of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA suspects, at times resulting in arbitrary arrest, detention, or torture.
Arbitrary arrests reportedly continued in the Northeast, and authorities held many individuals in poor and life-threatening conditions. There were reports some of the arrested and detained included children believed to be associated with Boko Haram, some of whom may have been forcibly recruited. On May 27, Amnesty International published a report documenting the prolonged detention of terrorism suspects, including children, in deplorable conditions in military facilities in the Northeast. According to Amnesty, the prolonged detention of children in severely overcrowded facilities without adequate sanitation, water, or food, amounted to torture or inhuman treatment. Amnesty documented cases in which children detained in the facilities died as a result of the poor conditions. Conditions in Giwa Barracks reportedly improved somewhat during the year, because the military periodically released groups of women and children, and less frequently men, from the facility to state-run rehabilitation centers. Government employees were not consistently held accountable for abuses in military detention facilities.
Reports indicated that soldiers, police, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), SARS, and others committed sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls. Such exploitation and abuse were a concern in state-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the Northeast. Women and girls continued to be exploited in sex trafficking, reportedly by other IDPs, aid workers, and low-level government employees. Some charges were brought against government officials, security force members, and other perpetrators. For example, an Air Force officer was convicted, dismissed, and sentenced in 2019 by a court-martial for sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old girl in one of the IDP camps. In August he was turned over to civilian authorities for further criminal prosecution. In September a military court-martial convicted, dismissed from service, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment a soldier after he raped a teenage girl in Borno State.
Boko Haram engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. Those who escaped, or whom security services or vigilante groups rescued, faced ostracism by their communities and had difficulty obtaining appropriate medical and psychosocial treatment and care. In 2019 Boko Haram kidnapped a group of women and cut off their ears in retaliation for perceived cooperation with Nigerian and Cameroonian military and security services.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the military used child soldiers during the year. In 2019 an international organization verified the Nigerian military recruited and used at least two children younger than age 15 in support roles. Between April and June 2019, the military used six boys between 14 and 17 years old in Mafa, Borno State, in support roles fetching water, firewood, and cleaning. In October 2019 the same international organization verified the government used five boys between 13 and 17 years old to fetch water at a checkpoint in Dikwa, Borno State.
Reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the CJTF. The CJTF and United Nations continued work to implement an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, which was signed by both parties and witnessed by the Borno State government in 2017. According to credible international organizations, following the signing of the action plan there had been no verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by the CJTF. Some demobilized former child soldiers were awaiting formal reintegration into communities.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) is responsible for conducting investigations into such killings. Under the Ministry of Justice, the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) is responsible for prosecuting abuse cases involving police, while the Rwanda National Police (RNP) Inspectorate of Services investigates cases of police misconduct.
For example, Kizito Mihigo, a popular gospel singer and a genocide survivor, was found dead in police custody on February 17. Mihigo was arrested on February 13 near the border with Burundi. Authorities charged him with illegally attempting to cross the border, attempting to join terrorist groups, and corruption. Previously, in 2015 a court convicted Mihigo of planning to assassinate the president and conspiracy against the government. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison before being pardoned by the president in 2018. The NPPA found that Mihigo’s death was the result of suicide by hanging, but the autopsy results were not made public and the circumstances of his death remained unclear. Government critics asserted that authorities killed Mihigo and arranged for his death to be declared a suicide; a posthumously published work from Mihigo’s previous time in prison suggested he feared he would be killed. Mihigo told Human Rights Watch shortly before his arrest that he received threats, was asked to provide false testimony against political opponents, and feared for his safety. Many human rights defenders called on the government to conduct an independent investigation, which as of November had not taken place.
There were also reports the government failed to follow through on its obligation to conduct full, timely, and transparent investigations of killings of political opponents such as the March 2019 killing of Anselme Mutuyimana, a member of the unregistered United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) opposition party. FDU-Inkingi and Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged government involvement in Mutuyimana’s killing. Although the RIB announced in March 2019 that it was investigating Mutuyimana’s death and had arrested one suspect, the investigation had not progressed since that time.
There were reports that police killed several persons attempting to resist arrest or escape police custody. In March officers killed two individuals in Nyanza District for resisting arrest when apprehended for not complying with COVID-19 lockdown measures. In July officers killed two Burundian refugees in Ngoma District suspected of trafficking illegal drugs from Tanzania. In August the RNP announced officers had killed two suspects attempting to escape from police custody in Gasabo District. In Rusizi District, officers killed an individual suspected of theft when he resisted arrest.
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. In June Venant Abayisenga went missing. Abayisenga was a member of DALFA-Umurinzi, an unregistered opposition party under the leadership of government critic Victoire Ingabire. Abayisenga worked as Ingabire’s assistant and was previously imprisoned on charges of terrorism, of which he was acquitted after more than two years in detention. Ingabire stated that she believed government agents kidnapped or killed Abayisenga. The RIB announced it was investigating the disappearance, but as of September 27, it had not disclosed the results of that investigation.
The government failed to complete investigations or take measures to ensure accountability for disappearances that occurred in 2019 and 2018 such as those of Eugene Ndereyimana and Boniface Twagirimana.
There were reports the Rwanda Defense Force’s (RDF) military intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture. Some advocates reported that RDF intelligence personnel took suspected political opponents to unofficial detention centers where they were subject to beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment with the purpose of extracting intelligence information.
Domestic organizations cited a lack of independence and capacity for government officials to investigate security sector abuses effectively, including reported enforced disappearances.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services officials.
In 2018 the government enacted a law that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.
Prisoners were sometimes subjected to torture. In one case, 25 individuals were arrested and transferred from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the country on the grounds that they were involved in armed groups threatening the country’s security. During their court proceedings, some of these individuals claimed they had been tortured in custody. The court ruled there was no evidence that torture had occurred, but there were no reports the court investigated the allegations.
Human rights advocates continued to report instances of illegally detained individuals tortured in unofficial detention centers. Advocates including HRW claimed that military, police, and intelligence personnel employed torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to obtain information and forced confessions, which in some cases resulted in criminal convictions. Some defendants in addition alleged in court they had been tortured while in detention to confess to crimes they did not commit, but there were no reports of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture, and there were no reported prosecutions of state security forces personnel for torture.
Conditions at prisons and unofficial detention centers ranged from harsh and life threatening to approaching international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) approached international standards in some respects, although reports of overcrowding and food shortages were common. According to the RCS, the prison population rose from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to approximately 66,000 during the year, which greatly exacerbated overcrowding. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens, but human rights advocates reported that lack of food continued to be a problem. Domestic media reported food insecurity among the prison population worsened due to COVID-19 restrictions, which prohibited family members from purchasing and delivering food rations. The government did not keep statistics on deaths in custody beyond deaths of prisoners due to illness (who received medical treatment in custody). Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers (see also section 6, Persons with Disabilities).
Conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial detention centers. Reports from previous years indicated individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.
Conditions were often harsh and life threatening at district transit centers holding street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons engaged in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. Overcrowding was common in police stations and district transit centers. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities at district transit centers frequently failed to adhere to the requirements of a 2018 ministerial order determining the “mission, organization, and functioning” of transit centers. For example, HRW found detainees were often held in cramped and unsanitary conditions and that the amount of food provided was insufficient, in particular at the Gikondo transit center. HRW also reported that state security forces beat detainees at district transit centers. Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. Medical treatment was reportedly irregular, and many detainees suffered ailments such as malaria, rashes, or diarrhea. The government discouraged further detentions in these transit centers due to the difficulties of preventing the spread of COVID-19 under such conditions. In a press interview, the minister of justice and the prosecutor general stated authorities could continue to pursue cases while defendants were on bail.
Conditions at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Center operated by the National Rehabilitation Service (NRS) were better than those of transit centers. Young men detained at the center participated in educational and vocational programs and had access to ample space for exercise. A small number of medical professionals and social workers provided medical care and counseling to detainees.
The government held four prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.
Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and some NGOs. Nevertheless, it restricted access to specific prisoners and delayed consular notification of the arrest of some foreign nationals. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) had transferred to the country’s jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the IRMCT. Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but state security forces regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention. Observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and respect for human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.
Human rights NGOs previously reported that individuals suspected of having ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the Rwanda National Congress, or other insurgent groups were detained unlawfully and held incommunicado for long periods in harsh and inhuman conditions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. State security forces held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitution.
The law permits investigative detention if authorities believe public safety is threatened or the accused might flee, and judges interpreted these provisions broadly. A judge must review such a detention every 30 days. By law it may not extend beyond one year; however, the RCS held some suspects at the behest of state prosecutors indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days. The minister of justice announced in a statement to domestic media in March 2019 that he encouraged authorities to comply with legal standards in these areas, and such irregularities reportedly decreased.
After prosecutors formally file a charge, detention may be indefinite unless bail is granted. Bail exists only for crimes for which the maximum sentence if convicted is five years’ imprisonment or less, but authorities may release a suspect pending trial if satisfied the person would not flee or become a threat to public safety and order. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, or in unofficial or intelligence-related detention facilities. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice, provided that said attorneys were registered with the Rwanda Bar Association (RBA), were members of another international bar association which had a reciprocal agreement with the RBA, or were from a foreign jurisdiction included in a regional integration agreement to which the country was a party. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.
Convicted persons sometimes remained in prison after completing their sentences while waiting for an appeal date or due to problems with prison records. The law provides that pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed, but this was not always followed. The law does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted. The law allows judges to impose detention of equivalent duration and fines on state security forces and other government officials who unlawfully detained individuals, but there were no reports that judges exercised this authority.
Arbitrary Arrest: On August 31, the RIB announced it had apprehended Paul Rusesabagina, the internationally known hero of the film Hotel Rwanda and long-time government critic turned leader of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) opposition group. On September 14, prosecutors brought terrorism charges against Rusesabagina, most of which were related to a series of National Liberation Forces (FLN–the armed wing of the MRCD) attacks against the country in 2018. As of November Rusesabagina’s trial had not yet officially begun; he remained in pretrial detention while the prosecution prepared the government’s case against him. The exact circumstances of his apprehension remained unclear. Rusesabagina’s family members asserted to press that authorities “kidnapped” Rusesabagina while he was on a business trip to Dubai. On September 6, President Kagame denied Rusesabagina had been kidnapped and implied that Rusesabagina had somehow been lured or tricked into coming to the country of his own volition. In September Rusesabagina stated he intended to travel to Bujumbura, Burundi, via private jet, but he unexpectedly arrived in Kigali instead.
Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities detained their officials and supporters, including for lengthy periods. For example, 11 FDU-Inkingi leaders spent significant periods in custody after being arrested in 2017 on various charges, including the formation of an irregular armed group. In January seven were convicted and given prison sentences ranging from two to 12 years. Four were acquitted. Attorneys for the defense argued the arrests were politically motivated and unsuccessfully petitioned the court to dismiss the case on grounds that prosecutors employed improper and illegal procedures in authorizing a communications intercept after the fact.
Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (ID), police and the District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) regularly detained street children, vendors, suspected petty criminals, and beggars without IDs and sometimes charged them with illegal street vending or vagrancy. Authorities released adults who could produce an ID and transported street children to their home districts, to shelters, or for processing into vocational and educational programs. To address persistent reports of abuse of street vendors by DASSO employees, authorities continued to provide training to DASSO personnel. During the year 225 DASSO community security officer trainees participated in a course designed to promote professionalism and discipline. As in previous years, authorities held detainees without charge at district transit centers for weeks or months at a time without proactively screening and identifying trafficking victims before either transferring them to an NRS rehabilitation center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas. Detainees held at district transit centers or NRS rehabilitation centers could contest their detentions before the centers’ authorities but did not have the right to appear before a judge.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for months without arraignment, in large part due to administrative delays caused by case backlogs. The NGO World Prison Brief reported, using 2017 data, that 7.5 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.
Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Human rights advocates and government officials noted, however, that shortages of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys and resource limitations within the criminal justice system resulted in delays for many defendants, particularly those awaiting pro bono government-provided legal aid.
By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers, but the expense and scarcity of lawyers limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers were reluctant to work on politically sensitive cases, fearing harassment and threats by government officials, including monitoring of their communications. Rusesabagina’s family claimed the government did not allow him to have the defense team of his choosing during the first two months of his detention. Authorities insisted that Rusesabagina chose his legal team from a list of available local lawyers without compulsion.
Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The RBA and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need.
The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, although availability of interpreters varied between urban and rural areas. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision, although lack of access to computers necessary to file such appeals impeded some defendants’ ability to exercise that right.
State security forces continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial. The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.
The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes.
In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the IRMCT. On May 16, French police arrested one of the fugitives subject to an IRMCT indictment, Felicien Kabuga, near Paris. In October French courts confirmed that Kabuga would be transferred to IRMCT custody. On May 22, the IRMCT confirmed that remains discovered in the Republic of Congo were of Augustin Bizimana, another fugitive, and that he had been dead for 20 years. The IRMCT continued to pursue the six remaining genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments. Of these cases, five were expected to be transferred to the country’s jurisdiction and observed by the IRMCT if apprehended; the remaining case would be tried by the IRMCT.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were numerous reports that local officials and state security forces detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were generally afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. The government did not generally give human rights or humanitarian organizations access to specific political prisoners, but it provided access to prisons more generally for some of these organizations. Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells. International and domestic human rights groups reported the government held a small number of political prisoners in custody, including Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.
There were reports the government attempted to pursue political opponents abroad. Rusesabagina’s family and supporters maintained that Rusesabagina did not travel to the country freely or through internationally sanctioned law enforcement channels but rather was brought to the country through illicit government intervention after he boarded a private jet in Dubai that he believed was bound for Bujumbura, Burundi. Although the government initially stated Rusesabagina’s arrival in Kigali was an outcome of international law enforcement cooperation, Emirati authorities stated they were not involved in the case.
In 2019 the government of South Africa issued arrest warrants for two Rwandans accused of murder for the 2014 killing of Rwandan dissident Patrick Karegeya at a hotel in Johannesburg. According to media reports, South Africa’s special investigative unit stated in written testimony that both Karegeya’s killing and the attempted homicide in Pretoria, South Africa, of the country’s former army chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa “were directly linked to the involvement of the Rwandan government.” The government had not yet cooperated with the arrest warrants.
The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for abuses of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice after exhausting domestic appeals.
Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases.
The government forcibly evicted individuals from dwellings across the country (primarily in Kigali) deemed to be located in swamp land or other zones at high risk of flooding or landslides. Some of those who were evicted said the government refused to offer them compensation on the basis that dwellings should never have been constructed in those locations.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government continued to monitor homes, movements, telephone calls, email, and personal and institutional communications. Private text messages were sometimes used as evidence in criminal cases. Government informants continued to work within internet and telephone companies, international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions.
The law requires police to obtain authorization from a state prosecutor prior to entering and searching citizens’ homes. According to human rights organizations, state security forces at times entered homes without obtaining the required authorization.
The law provides legal protection against unauthorized use of personal data by private entities, although officials did not enforce these provisions during the year.
The government blocked some websites, including media outlets, that included content considered contrary to government positions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were at least two reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On March 11, authorities charged three police officers in the death of a motorcycle driver in Fatick. The man was allegedly carrying illegal drugs when he was stopped by police. Following his arrest, the police officers allegedly took the man to the beach where they beat him to death.
On May 2, a prisoner at Diourbel prison died from severe injuries. Three police officers and a security and community outreach officer from the Mbacke police station reportedly beat him. Authorities charged the alleged perpetrators for his death.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by authorities, including excessive use of force as well as 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. Investigations, however, often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.
Impunity for such acts was a significant problem. Offices charged with investigating abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty.
On March 24, during the first night of a nationwide curfew related to COVID-19, videos showed police swinging nightsticks at fleeing persons. Police in a statement apologized for “excessive interventions” and promised to punish officers involved.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in February of sexual exploitation and abuse by Senegalese peacekeepers deployed to United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the Senegalese government and the United Nations were investigating the allegation.
Some prison and detention center conditions were harsh and 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 male detainees. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile detainees were often held with men or permitted to move 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 February 20, an inmate passed away at Mbour Prison. According to official reports, he suffered an acute asthma attack due to being held in an overcrowded cell holding 87 other inmates.
According to the most recent available government statistics, 31 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2019, six more than perished in 2018. Government statistics did not provide the cause of death. While perpetrators, which included prison staff and other prisoners, may have been subject to internal disciplinary sanctions, no prosecutions or other public actions were taken against them.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. 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 by 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 national observer was unable to monitor prisons throughout the country. It previously published an annual report, but reports for 2015-19 had not been published by year’s end.
Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.
Improvements: In April, President Sall pardoned 2,036 detainees as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19 within the prison system.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. 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. In a January 2019 policy directive, the minister of justice instructed prosecutors to visit detention facilities on a regular basis to identify detainees with pending criminal dossiers to minimize use of detention for unofficial, extrajudicial purposes.
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 (see section 4, 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 that has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. A 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. A tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. A military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.
Unless a crime is “flagrant” (just committed or discovered shortly after being committed), police must obtain a warrant from a court to arrest or detain a suspect. Police treat most cases as “flagrant” offenses and make arrests without warrants, invoking pretrial detention powers. 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 they demonstrate substantial grounds for a future indictment and if a prosecutor so authorizes. If such extended detention is authorized, the detainee must be brought in front of the prosecutor within 48 hours of detention. For particularly serious offenses, investigators may request a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. Authorities have the power to detain terrorist suspects for an initial 96 hours, and with renewals for a maximum of 12 days. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International noted results in lengthy detentions.
Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. By law defense attorneys may have access to suspects from the moment of arrest and may be present during interrogation; this provision, however, was not regularly observed. The law provides for legal representation at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. In many cases, however, the appointed counsel rarely shows up, especially outside of Dakar. Indigent defendants did not always have attorneys in misdemeanor cases. A number of NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes. The Ministry of Justice published a policy directive in 2018 mandating counsel for defendants when questioning begins.
Arbitrary Arrest: On June 21, the Gendarmerie arrested a former civil servant after he published an open letter to President Sall in the press denouncing Sall’s alleged mismanagement of the country. Authorities released him the following day.
Pretrial Detention: According to 2018 UN statistics, 45 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. In late 2019 the country’s authorities reported the percentage to be 42 percent. A majority of defendants awaiting trial are held in detention. 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 ordered 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 murder charges, 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 longer than the length of sentence later imposed.
On June 30, the legislature passed two laws authorizing Electronic Monitoring (EM) as an alternative to incarceration. Once operational the EM system is designed to allow criminal courts to release certain defendants awaiting trial and other first-time offenders convicted of low-risk crimes to home detention, where electronic bracelets would monitor their movements. The bracelet system is intended to relieve chronic overreliance on pretrial detention and thereby reduce the prison population.
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. The judiciary is formally independent, but the president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council, the Court of Appeal, and the Council of State. Judges are prone to pressure from the government on corruption cases and other matters involving high-level officials.
On several occasions the Union of Senegalese Judges and Prosecutors complained of executive influence over the judiciary, in particular the presence of the president and the minister of justice in the High Council of Magistrates, which manages the careers of judges and prosecutors. Members of the High Council of Magistrates previously resigned in protest, stating that the executive branch should not have the ability to interfere in judicial affairs. In August judicial authorities summarily demoted a district court president, prompting speculation he was punished for detaining a religious leader in a criminal case. The Union of Senegalese Judges and Prosecutors published an open letter condemning the demotion and hired counsel to defend the judge on appeal. On September 2, a Dakar daily published a list of 20 magistrates it claimed had been demoted during the past decade in retaliation for unpopular court decisions. The August demotion of the district court president prompted harsh criticism of the minister of justice in media and legal circles and renewed calls for justice reform, including reconstitution of the High Council of Magistrates. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.
The constitution provides for all defendants to have the right to a fair and public trial, and for an independent judiciary to enforce this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a timely trial, to be present in court during their trial and to have an attorney at public expense if needed in felony cases (although legal commentators note provision of attorneys is inconsistent) and they have the right to appeal. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense, and to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to confront and present witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence.
While defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt, the country’s long-standing practice is for defendants to provide information to investigators and testify during trials. In addition case backlogs, lack of legal counsel (especially in regions outside of Dakar), judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined many of the rights of defendants.
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, the final court of appeal. These rights extend to all citizens. On June 15, the country’s largest union of court clerks declared a strike, causing major disruption of court proceedings, including delayed trials and inaccessible court decisions and administrative paperwork. On September 1, the union suspended the strike after the Ministry of Justice agreed to negotiate.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
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. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there was at least one report the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
On June 1, police arrested activist Assane Diouf after breaking down the gate of his house. Diouf broadcasted live on his Facebook page a video in which he insulted authorities, including President Macky Sall, and denounced an ongoing water shortage in the Dakar suburbs. Diouf remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.
The de facto ceasefire in the Casamance has been in effect since 2012, and President Sall continued efforts to resolve the 38-year-old conflict between separatists and government security forces. Both the government and various factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) separatist movement accepted mediation efforts led by neutral parties. Progress toward a political resolution of the conflict remained incremental. On June 30, the army began a campaign to bombard MFDC rebel bases in the Mbissine forest after armed MFDC rebels had reportedly attacked villages in that area. Two soldiers died from landmines during the month-long campaign and several soldiers were injured. Since July the conflict dissipated, and no further military action took place.
Killings: There were no reported killings by or on behalf of government authorities.
Abductions: There were several incidents related to acts of banditry attributed to MFDC rebels in which they detained or otherwise harmed civilians.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were multiple reports that federal and state government security forces, allied militias, and other persons wearing uniforms committed arbitrary or unlawful killings related to internal conflict (see section 1.g.). Military court prosecutors, with investigative support from police (Criminal Investigations Department), are responsible for investigating whether security force killings were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions, but impunity remained a significant issue (see section 1.e.). While reliable data is difficult to collect, reporting from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) indicated that between November 5, 2019, and August 13, there were 491 killings of civilians in the country due to conflict. While al-Shabaab and clan militias were the primary perpetrators, extrajudicial killings of civilians by state security, and to a much lesser extent by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), forces occurred.
According to UNSOM data, between November 5, 2019, and August 13, state authorities carried out 11 of 32 executions ordered by courts. On February 11, authorities executed two men in Bosasso for raping and killing a 12-year-old girl, and two Somalia National Army (SNA) soldiers were executed on May 16 for killing their comrades. Due to capacity issues in the civilian court system, authorities often transferred criminal cases, sometimes even involving children, to the military court system, even when military courts did not appear to have jurisdiction. Human rights organizations questioned the military courts’ ability to enforce appropriate safeguards with regard to due process, the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence, and the implementation of sentences in a manner that met international standards. Federal and regional authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict, particularly in cases where defendants directly confessed their membership in al-Shabaab before the courts or in televised videos. In other cases the courts offered defendants up to 30 days to appeal death penalty judgments.
There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by Somaliland authorities.
Al-Shabaab continued to carry out indiscriminate attacks and deliberately target civilians (see sections 1.g. and 6). According to UNSOM, al-Shabaab was responsible for approximately 60 percent of civilian casualties between November 5, 2019, and August 13. On May 23, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in Dinsor, Bay region, that killed a local women’s leader and a nongovernmental organization (NGO) staff member.
On June 8, AMISOM admitted that its troops had inadvertently shot and killed three women in the course of a firefight with al-Shabaab fighters. AMISOM troops helped two wounded victims from the incident secure medical attention and promptly issued a press release expressing regret and a commitment to step up efforts to ensure civilian security.
On September 24, protests broke out in several towns in Gedo region over non-AMISOM Kenya Defense Forces’ killing of at least one civilian near the town of El-Wak.
Fighting among clans and subclans, particularly over water and land resources, occurred throughout the year, particularly in Galmudug State and the regions of Hiiraan, Lower and Middle Shabelle, and Sool (see section 6). Revenge killings occurred (see section 6). The area around Wanlaweyn in Lower Shabelle region, South West State, saw fierce interclan fighting between clan militias starting in April and continuing off and on throughout the year, with a number of atrocities sparking national outrage. As a result state and federal authorities, as well as international partners, intervened several times to defuse the situation, including by sending troops to separate the warring factions and conducting reconciliation meetings with clan elders and the local populace to mediate the disputes. Drivers of conflict in the area included: historical and existing friction between the two clan blocs; the negative influence of federal politicians, some of whom were stoking tensions along clan lines; the ramifications of recent restructuring and redeployment of security forces in South West State; and al-Shabaab’s influence on and exploitation of the situation for its own purposes.
In April conflict occurred between the Galjecel and Shanta Alemod clan militias over the control of illegal checkpoints in Wanlaweyn. The fighting spilled into neighboring villages, leaving at least 24 dead, including 20 civilians. There were reports that several victims were mutilated, and one person was reportedly burned alive.
During the year there were some cases of reportedly government-directed, politically motivated disappearances, particularly of journalists but also of political opponents. From February 29-March 2 National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) officers detained Radio Higsi journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nur “Abuja,” reportedly in retaliation for his investigative journalism regarding the intelligence service’s conduct. He was made to sign a confession under duress, released on March 2, detained again on March 7, and held incommunicado from his family and attorney for nearly five months. In August, NISA turned Abuja over to a military tribunal, charging him with murder and membership in al-Shabaab. On August 6, after a three-day trial, the military tribunal acquitted Abuja of all charges.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of Somaliland authorities.
Al-Shabaab continued to abduct persons, including humanitarian workers and AMISOM troops taken hostage during attacks (see section 1.g).
According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of September 21, pirates based in the country held no hostages.
The law prohibits torture and inhuman treatment, but there were credible reports that government authorities engaged in instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
NISA agents routinely conducted mass security sweeps against al-Shabaab and terrorist cells, as well as against criminal groups. The organization held detainees for prolonged periods without following due process and mistreated suspects during interrogations.
There remained multiple credible reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents, primarily in the security forces (see section 1.g.). For example, in April, SNA troops were implicated in four rapes of women and girls of various ages, with one as young as three years old, in Lower Shabelle region. The SNA soldiers involved reportedly were arrested and face trial in military tribunals. Experts attribute a decline in such instances to the increasing professionalization of those forces with international partner assistance.
Al-Shabaab imposed harsh punishment on persons in areas under its control. AMISOM alleged that al-Shabaab tortured residents in el-Baraf for offenses ranging from failure to pay taxes to being a government agent (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.). In September al-Shabaab militants attacked local villagers in Galmudug State who had refused to contribute livestock and small arms, according to an international press report, leaving 30 residents dead after a pitched battle.
AMISOM forces were implicated in rapes and other unspecified grave abuses of human rights while conducting military operations against al-Shabaab in Lower and Middle Shabelle, according to an advocacy organization. AMISOM headquarters staff investigated such allegations.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at the hands of clan militias, some of which are government-affiliated, remained frequent. There remained a culture of impunity due to clan protection of perpetrators and weak government capacity to hold the guilty to account. Research indicated that such practices remained common along the road from Mogadishu to Afgooye at the hands of Hawiye clan-affiliated militias, some with strong ties to the SNA.
With the exception of newly built facilities, prison conditions in most areas of the country remained harsh. Poor sanitation and hygiene, inadequate food and water, and lack of medical care were the norm.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in urban prisons–particularly following large security incidents involving arrests–sometimes occurred. Authorities occasionally held juveniles and adults together, due in part to the belief juveniles were safer when held with members of their own subclan. There was a report of one female prisoner in Garowe who was confined separately from male inmates, although she lacked access to the vocational training offered to male inmates. Prison authorities often did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, particularly in the southern and central regions.
Conditions were better in the new Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex (MPCC) than in Mogadishu Central Prison (MCP). Two facilities–Garowe Prison in Puntland and Hargeisa Prison in Somaliland–met international standards and were reportedly well managed. As of June detainees at the Puntland Security Force detention facility in Bosasso received meals at least twice per day, consisting of rice and some form of protein, and had access to a rudimentary shower, according to observations by a foreign military service member. Prison conditions in such areas were believed to be harsh and at times life threatening.
Only inmates in the MCP, the MPCC, and Garowe and Hargeisa Prisons had daily access to showers, sanitary facilities, adequate food and water, and outdoor exercise. Inmates in most prisons relied on their family and clan to supplement food and water provisions. Although no signs of abuse were identified, the International Monitoring Committee raised concerns regarding the protection of basic human rights and the safety and well-being of prisoners.
Authorities generally required the families of inmates to pay the cost of health services. Inmates without family or clan support had very limited access to such services. Disease outbreaks, such as tuberculosis and cholera, continued to occur, particularly in overcrowded prisons such as the MPC. Such outbreaks could be life threatening during the rainy season.
Information on death rates in prisons and pretrial detention centers was unavailable.
On August 10, several inmates held at the MCP killed four guards and took the prison commander hostage during an hours-long siege. The attack resulted in 15 prisoner deaths and seven wounded. Four prison officers were killed and two wounded.
Al-Shabaab detained persons in areas under its control in the southern and central regions. Those detained were incarcerated under inhuman conditions for relatively minor offenses, such as smoking, having illicit content on cell phones, listening to music, watching or playing soccer, wearing a brassiere, or not wearing a hijab. Prison conditions in areas controlled by al-Shabaab and where traditional authorities controlled detention areas were often harsh and life-threatening. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that several facilities at the federal member state (FMS) level suffered from frequent flooding, which required prisoners to be moved to temporary facilities, usually at police stations, until water receded.
Administration: Most prisons did not have ombudsmen. Federal law does not specifically allow prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Somaliland law, however, allows prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and prisoners reportedly submitted such complaints.
Prisoners in the MCP and Garowe and Hargeisa Prisons had adequate access to visitors and religious observance. Infrastructure limitations in other prisons throughout the country impeded such activities. Transportation to court facilities while awaiting trial was limited, and information was limited and anecdotal on defendants’ ability to access legal counsel while incarcerated in pretrial status or serving sentences.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities actively worked with international humanitarian and monitoring groups amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to some gains in access as these groups provided medical supplies and protective equipment for prison and detention center staff. UNODC staff maintained regular access to prisons where training and infrastructure support was delivered.
Somaliland authorities permitted some prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers during the year.
Geographic inaccessibility and insecurity impeded such monitoring in territory controlled by al-Shabaab or in remote areas where traditional authorities controlled detention areas.
Improvements: In February the government opened the MPCC as an integrated court and prison facility designed for judicial hearings and the detention of high-security detainees.
Unreliable power supply was a factor that worsened the impact of the August 10 MCP violence; international partners provided generators to enable the functionality of available security systems and controls, especially at night.
Although the provisional federal constitution prohibits illegal detention, government security forces, allied militias, and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons (see section 1.g.). The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but only politicians and some businesspersons could exercise this right effectively.
The provisional federal constitution provides for arrested persons to be brought before judicial authorities within 48 hours. The law requires warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by authorized officials for the apprehension of suspects. The law also provides that arrestees receive prompt notification of the charges against them and judicial determinations, prompt access to a lawyer and family members, and other legal protections. Adherence to these safeguards was rare.
The federal government made arrests without warrants and arbitrarily detained individuals. The government sometimes kept high-profile prisoners associated with al-Shabaab in safe houses before officially charging them. The law provides for bail, although citizens were rarely aware of this right, authorities did not always respect this provision, and judicial personnel lacked adequate training in criminal procedures. In some cases security force members, judicial officers, politicians, and clan elders used their influence to have favored detainees released.
Arbitrary Arrest: Federal and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous persons, including persons accused of terrorism and either supporting or opposing al-Shabaab. Authorities frequently used allegations of al-Shabaab affiliation to justify arbitrary arrests (see section 1.g.).
Government authorities frequently arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists. In addition to the disappearance of Radio Higsi journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nur “Abuja,” (see section 1.b.) government authorities arbitrarily detained and arrested several other journalists on questionable charges and provided limited or no access to their families or attorneys. On September 6, Puntland officials in the Nugal region arrested Radio Daljir journalists Abdiqani Ahmed Mohamed and Khadar Awl when the two visited Nugal’s regional court complex to investigate a murder and rape case that had occurred in Garowe several months prior. They were released the following day but were threatened that the regional prosecutor’s office could charge them at any time with unspecified criminal offenses. Between October 16 and 21, NISA held Radio Kulmiye journalist Abdullahi Kulmiye Addow after he interviewed a businessman who reportedly criticized the government and expressed pro-al-Shabaab views. To secure Addow’s release, Radio Kulmiye agreed to suppress parts of the interview. NISA reportedly detained the interview subject as well but released him after one night because of his powerful clan connections.
Somaliland’s government continued to use arbitrary detention and arrest to curb negative reporting by journalists, particularly on the suppression of support for unification with Somalia and on the Sool and Sanaag regions, which are the subject of territorial disputes with Puntland. On November 4, Astaan TV Chief Executive Officer Abdimanan Yusuf was sentenced to five years in prison and a substantial fine on charges that remain unclear after being held incommunicado and denied access to his attorney since July 17, in violation of Somaliland’s law. On December 10, Somaliland authorities released Yusuf for reasons still unclear, according to Facility for Talo and Leadership, an independent policy institute. On August 23, the Somaliland Criminal Investigations Department staff detained Eryal TV journalist Liban Osman Ali for interviewing a woman detained for wearing an outfit made from Somalia’s flag.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common, although estimates were unavailable on the average length of pretrial detention or the percentage of the prison population being held in pretrial detention. The large number of detainees, a shortage of judges and court administrators, and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The civilian judicial system remained dysfunctional and unevenly developed, particularly outside of urban areas. Some local courts depended on the dominant local clan and associated factions for their authority. The judiciary in most areas relied on a combination of traditional and customary law, sharia (Islamic law), and formal law. The judiciary was subject to influence and corruption and was strongly influenced by clan-based politics. Authorities often did not respect court orders or were not able to enforce the orders. Without clear protocols and procedures in place for the transfer of military case to civilian courts, authorities prosecuted only a handful serious criminal cases.
The lack of accountability enabled judges to abuse their power. Civilian judges also lacked the necessary security to perform their jobs without fear. Cases involving security personnel or individuals accused of terrorism-related crimes were heard by military courts.
In Somaliland functional courts existed, although there was a serious shortage of trained judges, as well as limited legal documentation upon which to build judicial precedent and widespread allegations of corruption. Somaliland’s hybrid judicial system incorporates sharia, customary law, and formal law, but they were not well integrated. There was widespread interference in the judicial process, and government officials regularly intervened to influence cases, particularly those involving journalists. International NGOs reported local officials interfered in legal matters and invoked the public order law to detain and incarcerate persons without trial.
Traditional clan elders mediated conflicts throughout the country. Clans frequently used and applied traditional justice practices. Traditional judgments sometimes held entire clans or subclans responsible for alleged violations by individuals.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the lack of an independent functioning judiciary meant this right was often not enforced. According to the law, individuals have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them in a language they understand, although the law is unclear on whether the right to translation applies through all appeals. Detainees have the right to be brought before a competent court within 48 hours of arrest, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if indigent), and to not be compelled to incriminate themselves. Authorities did not respect most rights relating to trial procedures. Clan politics and corruption often impeded access to a fair trial. The law does not address confronting witnesses, the right to appeal a court’s ruling, the provision of sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense, or the right to present one’s own evidence and witnesses.
Military courts tried civilians. Defendants in military courts rarely had legal representation or the right to appeal. Authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict (see section 1.a.). Some government officials continued to claim that a 2011 state of emergency decree gave military courts jurisdiction over crimes, including those committed by civilians, in areas from which al-Shabaab had retreated. There were no clear indications whether this decree remained in effect according to government policy, statements, or actions, although the initial decree was for a period of three months and never formally extended.
In Somaliland defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence and the right to a public trial, to be present at trial, and to consult an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings. The government did not always inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always provide access to government-held evidence. The government did not provide defendants with dedicated facilities to prepare a defense but generally provided adequate time to prepare. The government provided defendants with free interpretation or paid for private interpretation if they declined government-offered interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants could question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and appeal court verdicts.
Somaliland provided free legal representation for defendants who faced serious criminal charges and could not afford a private attorney. Defendants had the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A functioning legal aid clinic existed.
There was no functioning formal judicial system in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Government and regional authorities arrested journalists, as well as other persons critical of authorities. Neither government nor NGO sources provided any estimate of the number of political prisoners.
In 2018 South West State presidential election candidate and prominent defector from al-Shabaab leadership Mukhtar Robow was detained by AMISOM soldiers and brought to Mogadishu (see section 3). He was placed in NISA custody and later moved into house arrest. While Robow reportedly had some contact with the outside world, as of December, he remained under house arrest on unclear legal grounds.
Somaliland authorities continued to detain Somaliland residents employed by the federal government in Mogadishu, sometimes for extended periods. Somaliland authorities did not authorize officials in Mogadishu to represent Somaliland within or to the federal government and viewed such actions as treason, punishable under Somaliland law. On October 25, Somalia’s former deputy prime minister, Mohamed Omar Arte, received a “presidential pardon” after renouncing his statements against Somaliland independence. He reportedly did so to visit his ailing father, who was resident in Somaliland.
There were only a handful of lawsuits during the year seeking damages for or cessation of human rights abuses. The Benadir Regional Court reported that it received four cases pertaining to abuses by NISA, police, and the Mogadishu municipality. Individuals generally do not pursue legal remedies for abuses due to a lack of trust and confidence in the fairness of judicial procedures. The provisional federal constitution provides for “adequate procedures for redress of abuses of human rights.”
Some federal and state officials abused their positions to engage in land grabbing and forced evictions, primarily involving internally displaced person (IDP) returnees, without due process. Those driven from their homes were often too politically and socially disempowered to resist or obtain restitution (see section 2.d.).
According to the provisional federal constitution, “every person has the right to own, use, enjoy, sell, and transfer property,” and the private home is inviolable. Nonetheless, authorities searched property without warrants.
Government and regional authorities harassed relatives of al-Shabaab members.
Killings: Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, AMISOM, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. ISIS-Somalia claimed attacks against Somali authorities and other targets in Puntland, where it is based, and around Mogadishu, but there was little local reporting on its claims. State and federal forces killed civilians and committed gender-based violence. Clan-based political violence involved revenge killings and attacks on civilian settlements. Clashes between clan-based forces and with al-Shabaab in Puntland and Galmudug States, as well as in the Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Baidoa, and Hiiraan regions, also resulted in deaths.
Al-Shabaab committed religiously and politically motivated killings that targeted civilians affiliated with the government and attacked humanitarian NGO employees, UN staff, and diplomatic missions. The group attacked soft targets, such as popular hotels in Mogadishu, killing noncombatants. Al-Shabaab often used suicide bombers, mortars, and IEDs. It also killed prominent peace activists, community leaders, clan elders, electoral delegates, and their family members for their roles in peace building, in addition to beheading persons accused of spying for and collaborating with Somali national forces and affiliated militias. Al-Shabaab justified its attacks on civilians by casting them as false prophets, enemies of Allah, or aligned with al-Shabaab’s enemies (see also section 1.a.).
On August 16, al-Shabaab conducted an attack at the Elite Hotel in the Lido Beach area of Mogadishu, killing at least 18 and injuring 25. A July 13 al-Shabaab suicide-vehicle-borne IED attack in Mogadishu targeting the SNA chief of defense forces killed three SNA soldiers and six civilians.
There were reports of AMISOM forces killing civilians, either deliberately or inadvertently (see section 1.a.).
Abductions: Al-Shabaab conducted kidnappings and abductions throughout the year.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces and allied militias reportedly used excessive force, including torture. While some security force members accused of such abuses faced arrest, not all those charged were punished (see section 1.c.).
Al-Shabaab also committed gender-based violence, including through forced marriages.
Child Soldiers: During the year there were reports of the SNA and allied militias, the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jumah (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab unlawfully recruiting and using child soldiers.
Implementation of the government’s 2012 action plan to end the unlawful recruitment and use of children by the national army remained incomplete.
The Ministry of Defense Child Protection Unit (CPU) was a focal point within the federal government for addressing child soldiers within the country, including within government armed forces. During the year the CPU carried out screenings of thousands of SNA soldiers at SNA bases to raise awareness of unlawful child soldier recruitment and verify the numbers of children in Somali security sector units. The CPU continued the use of biometric registration and reported it was a useful tool for increasing accountability in police and the military and helping to detect and deter unlawful child soldier recruitment.
In the absence of birth registration systems, it was often difficult to determine the age of national security force recruits.
Al-Shabaab continued to recruit and force children to participate in direct hostilities, including suicide attacks. According to UN officials, al-Shabaab accounted for the majority of child recruitment and use.
Al-Shabaab raided schools, madrassas, and mosques and harassed and coerced clan elders to recruit children. Children in al-Shabaab training camps were subjected to grueling physical training, inadequate diet, weapons training, physical punishment, and forced religious training in line with al-Shabaab’s ideology. The training also included forcing children to punish and execute other children. Al-Shabaab used children in combat, including placing them in front of other fighters to serve as human shields and suicide bombers. The organization sometimes used children to plant roadside bombs and other explosive devices. In addition al-Shabaab used children in support roles, such as carrying ammunition, water, and food; removing injured and dead militants; gathering intelligence; and serving as guards. The country’s press frequently reported accounts of al-Shabaab indoctrinating children according to the insurgency’s extremist ideology at schools and forcibly recruiting them into its ranks.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Armed groups, particularly al-Shabaab but also government forces and militia, deliberately restricted the passage of relief supplies and other items, as well as access by humanitarian organizations, particularly in the southern and central regions. Humanitarian workers regularly faced checkpoints, roadblocks, extortion, carjacking, and bureaucratic obstacles.
From January to September, there were 117 verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access by armed groups, security forces, or security incidents. Due to increased airstrikes and the loss of economically strategic towns and areas, al-Shabaab increased attacks against security forces along main supply routes. Increased insecurity along these routes impaired delivery of humanitarian supplies.
In September the Galmudug Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation issued a letter accusing unnamed humanitarian NGOs of influencing the South Galkayo district council elections, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The ministry warned that continued political activity on the part of the NGOs could result in disciplinary action, including revocation of work permits.
ISIS-Somalia targeted business leaders for extortion in urban areas as it attempted to leave the remote mountains in Puntland, where it had operated the last three years. It targeted businesspersons with violence when they did not meet extortion demands. According to a UN report, ISIS-Somalia carried out increased small-scale IED attacks and killings in Puntland, Mogadishu, and Lower Shabelle, where the group maintains pockets of presence.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The United Nations, international cease-fire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government, or its agents, committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were also responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings. The term “unknown gunmen” was often used to describe death squads affiliated with the National Security Service (NSS) or other security services. The security services investigated alleged abuses by members of their respective forces.
A human rights organization reported the June 14 killing of businessman and former NSS detainee Kerbino Wol Agok. Wol was captured and executed by a group of NSS members, army officers, and gang members in Rumbek, Lakes State, alongside another former NSS detainee. Earlier that month he published a revolutionary manifesto for what became known as the 7 October Movement.
According to Human Rights Watch, on July 11, a force including the NSS, military intelligence, army, and local armed youth killed Monydiar Maker, a youth leader in Amongpiny, Lakes State. The joint force surrounded Monydiar’s house in the early morning and opened fire, killing Monydiar and his family while they slept.
On June 3, soldiers led by Lieutenant Lual Akook Wol Kiir fired on civilians engaged in a land dispute in the Sherikat neighborhood of Juba. The soldiers killed four persons and wounded at least seven others. Lieutenant Lual later died of a head injury. Later in the day, police and soldiers fired on demonstrators protesting the killings as they approached a police post, killing one more and injuring several. Six soldiers and 14 civilians were detained in the case. In September the fact-finding committee formed to investigate Lieutenant Lual’s killing recommended that unnamed “suspects” be tried in open court, but the case was pending at year’s end.
Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).
In February, Bor Dinka youth militias abducted two women and five children in one raid. In late April they were released by Bor Dinka community leaders to improve relations between the Murle and Dinka communities. The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan issued a report in February 2019 that alleged a continuing practice of unlawful or arbitrary detention followed by extrajudicial killings in secret, but the report did not publish details on specific cases.
The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Remembering the Ones We Lost documented the names of 280 persons missing since the conflict began in 2013, many of whom were abducted or detained by security forces. In 2019 the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that 4,000 persons were missing and their whereabouts unknown since the conflict began.
The government did not comply with measures to ensure accountability for disappearances.
Although prohibited under law, security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).
According to the UN Security Council Panel of Experts and several independent human rights advocates, the NSS Operations Division maintained a facility known as “Riverside” where it detained, interrogated, and sometimes tortured civilians. In addition the Panel of Experts reported that several detainees died as a result of torture or from other conditions at the facility. The Panel of Experts also alleged the existence of secret, unofficial detention centers operated by the NSS. The Panel of Experts reported allegations of torture, including electrical shocks, and beatings in these sites.
There were numerous additional reported abuses at NSS-run sites, including sexual and gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. In July, Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent political activist and former detainee, claimed that detainees in NSS facilities were subject to sexual abuse, including forced sodomy.
Impunity of the security services was a serious problem. Although the NSS created an internal disciplinary tribunal to conduct internal investigations of alleged abuses by its officers, the results of such investigations and any disciplinary actions taken were not made public. The army and police also launched investigations into misconduct, including a court-martial of more than 20 soldiers accused of a variety of crimes against civilians in and around Yei, Central Equatoria. Investigations into security-sector abuse continued to focus on low-level offenders, avoided delving into command responsibility for abuses, and generally did not refer offenders to civilian courts for trial.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. While some prisons employed doctors, medical care was rudimentary, and prison physicians often had inadequate training and supplies. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.
Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally held in separate areas, but male and female inmates often mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.
Nonviolent offenders were kept with violent offenders because of resource and spatial constraints. There were no special facilities for the persons with mental disabilities, and persons determined by a judge to be sufficiently dangerous (and “mentally ill”) following referral by family or the community, were incarcerated, medicated, and remained in detention until a medical evaluation determined they were no longer a threat and could be released.
Health care and sanitation were inadequate, and basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to NGOs, prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. In December 2019 the national prison administration reported it held more than 7,000 detainees. There were no data on the capacity of prison facilities, although in 2015 Juba prison held 1,317 detainees in a facility constructed for 400 persons. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.
Malnutrition and lack of medical care contributed to inmate deaths, although no statistics were available. Remedial actions by prison authorities were not reported.
Some detention centers were under the control of local tribal or state authorities, and conditions were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees sometimes spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting.
Conditions in South Sudan People’s Defense Force (SSPDF)-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) maintained facilities at Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu, and Bor to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, or due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into PoC sites because of threats from their victims, or due to the threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered medical treatment for serious complications. Prisoners received food twice a day. Some prisoners detained by UNMISS police were subsequently turned over to the custody of the government.
The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).
Administration: The SSNPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom acted on complaints. The SSNPS allowed most prisoners access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SSPDF authorities were less likely to do so, and prisoners in SSNPS custody but originally arrested by the NSS or SSPDF also had limited access to visitors.
Independent Monitoring: The SSNPS permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit detention facilities operated by the SSPDF. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.
The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.
Since the beginning of the crisis in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents. While not legally vested with the authority, the SSPDF often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS also routinely detained civilians without warrants or court orders and held detainees for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel or visitors. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. NSS detainees were rarely brought before a court to be charged. Police also routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.
While the law requires police to take arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, there were no public prosecutors or magistrates available below the county level in most areas. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to take arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.
The law allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to ethnicity or possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SSPDF and NSS often abused political opponents and others they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures also led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice-sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located.
There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions. On March 9, James Dhieu Mading, the former commissioner of Rumbek East County, in Lakes State, was arrested for denouncing illegal checkpoints and corruption in the county. James later filed a suit against a local military commander after his arbitrary detention. He was detained again for seeking legal redress and speaking to media regarding his ordeal. He was sentenced to one month’s jail time and a monetary fine.
On March 29, the NSS detained activist Kanybil Noon without filing formal charges. The NSS reportedly denied him access to a lawyer until September 9, more than 100 days after his arrest. On September 22, Noon was released after nearly six months in detention.
On June 13, the NSS detained transparency activist Moses Monday for 12 days without charge. The NSS detained Monday after his accountability and transparency organization erected billboards around Juba demanding “Gurush Wen?” a Juba Arabic phrase that means, “Where is the money?” The NSS removed the billboards and detained Monday, claiming his organization did not have the proper authorization paperwork, notwithstanding the fact that the city council had approved the permit for the billboards.
On September 1, the NSS detained Jackson Ochaya, a journalist with the newspaper Juba Monitor, for quoting a holdout opposition spokesman in an article critical of the government’s financial management. As of mid-September, Ochaya had not been charged and remained in detention without access to a lawyer or his family.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The NGO World Prison Brief reported (2015 data) that 28.9 percent of detainees were pretrial detainees. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and judicial systems became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.
The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. The government did not generally respect judicial independence and impartiality. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level.
In many communities customary courts remained the principal providers of justice services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most criminal cases other than murder. Customary courts may deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge may sentence an individual convicted of murder to no more than 10 years’ imprisonment. Government courts also heard cases of violent crime and acted as appeals courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.
During the year the United Nations supported the judiciary to hold sessions in mobile courts in the towns of Malakal, Bentiu, and Rumbek, trying cases including rape, robbery, and assault. Since the mobile courts were re-established in 2018, they had held proceedings in more than 10 areas where protracted conflict resulted in significant neglect of the justice system and delayed trials. While the mobile courts enhanced access to justice, a UN consultation with civil society and participants raised concerns regarding due process and the large number of serious crimes.
Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently on low-profile cases.
Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), be tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.
Despite these protections law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects to be guilty, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely offered, and when it was, it was of low quality. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates often compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.
Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.
Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common. Some customary courts, particularly those in urban areas, had sophisticated procedures, and verdicts were consistent. Some customary court judges in Juba kept records that were equal to or better than those kept in government courts.
Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of dozens of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, usually without charge.
Amnesty: In 2018 President Salva Kiir declared a “general amnesty to the leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) Riek Machar Teny and other estranged groups who waged war against the Government of the Republic of South Sudan from 2013 to date.” Subsequently, President Kiir ordered the release from prison of Riek Machar’s former spokesman James Gatdet Dak and military adviser William John Endly, who had been sentenced to death. This general grant of amnesty potentially posed serious impediments to achieving justice and accountability for the victims of atrocity crimes.
There were credible reports that the country exerted bilateral pressure on other countries, including Uganda, aimed at having them take adverse actions against specific individuals for politically motivated purposes. In July, Peter Biar Ajak, a high-profile political activist and former political prisoner, fled Nairobi, Kenya, with his family after receiving credible threats that the government of South Sudan was planning to kidnap or kill him.
Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to submit claims to address human rights abuses, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.
The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas where the population was perceived to be antigovernment.
The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence, but the law does not provide for the right to privacy. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions. To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers. The National Security Service Act gives the NSS sweeping powers of arrest, detention, surveillance, search, and seizure, outside the constitutional mandate. The NSS utilized surveillance tools, at times requiring telecommunications companies to hand over user data that could be used to tap telephone numbers or make arrests. The NSS also carried out physical surveillance and embedded agents in organizations and media houses and at events. Some individuals were subject to physical and telephonic surveillance prior to arrest and detention, with such surveillance continuing after detainees were released.
Since the conflict between the government and opposition forces began in 2013, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and civilians committed conflict-related abuses around the country. While both government and opposition forces committed abuses, the United Nations and international NGOs reported government forces were responsible for a significant range of conflict-related abuses against civilians. Government soldiers reportedly engaged in acts of collective punishment and revenge killings against civilians assumed to be opposition supporters, and often based on their ethnicity, particularly in greater Equatoria.
In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on a pattern of deliberately targeting civilians based on their ethnic identity, including obstruction of humanitarian aid, and concluded government forces were responsible for acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. In October the UN commission issued a report documenting how, between January 2017 and November 2018, government forces intentionally deprived Fertit and Luo communities living under the control of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Western Bahr el Ghazal State of critical resources, in acts amounting to collective punishment and starvation as a method of warfare. Atrocities included unlawful killings, rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention and torture, forced disappearances, explosive remnants of war, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting, and use of child soldiers.
Casualty totals were difficult to estimate because the belligerents typically did not maintain accurate records. In 2018 the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported the conflict had left at least 382,000 individuals dead, due to direct and indirect causes, between December 2013 and April 2018. As of September the number of IDPs and refugees was estimated at 3.9 million, including 2.3 million refugees and 1.6 million IDPs. Humanitarian aid workers were subject to harassment, violence, and killings.
Killings: Government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government, frequently prompted by opposition ambushes of government soldiers, engaged in a pattern of collective punishment of civilians perceived to be opposition supporters, often based on ethnicity. According to UNMISS human rights division, between January and June more than 1,500 civilians were killed, usually by community militias and civilian defense groups, but in some cases by organized forces. For example, in May a series of attacks committed by Murle armed groups led to the death of more than 120 civilians during a two-day period.
UN agencies and international NGOs that interviewed victims reported widespread killings, mutilations, and sexual violence, disproportionately committed by government forces but also by the National Salvation Front.
Remnants of war also led to the killing and maiming of civilians. Military items such as grenades were often left behind in schools used by government and opposition forces and by armed actors affiliated with both.
Abductions: Abductions, particularly of women and children, took place in both conflict and nonconflict zones, as government and opposition forces and affiliated armed militia groups recruited children and women against their will. The United Nations and international NGOs reported multiple accounts of government soldiers or other security service members arbitrarily detaining or arresting civilians, sometimes leading to unlawful killings.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas. Sexual and gender-based violence was a common tactic of war employed by all parties. According to multiple reports, between January and June government troops stationed in Lasu and Otogo Payams in Central Equatoria State engaged in a violent campaign of looting, violence against women and young girls, beatings, and extortion. In July an outcry regarding the abuses led the army to establish a special court-martial in Yei to prosecute accused soldiers, which resulted in the conviction of more than 25 soldiers. According to an army spokesperson, the most common punishment for these abuses was dismissal from the service.
Child Soldiers: Following the outbreak of conflict in 2013, forced conscription by government forces, as well as recruitment and use of child soldiers by both government and antigovernment forces, increased. During the year, the cease-fire largely held, reducing the forced or voluntary recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers. Nevertheless, there were reports these forces continued abducting and recruiting child soldiers. In 2019 the UN verified 270 grave violations involving 250 children by the SPLA-IO, government security forces (including the, SSNPS and NSS), the South Sudan United Front/Army, the National Salvation Front, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), and the National Democratic Movement.
Girls younger than age 18 were recruited to wash, cook, and clean for government and opposition forces. Sudanese refugee women and girls were also forced to wash, cook, and clean for armed Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) elements who the government allowed to visit and at times reside in refugee camps in Maban, Upper Nile State. The government, which has responsibility for the safety and security of refugee camps in its territory, also failed to stop the SPLM-N’s forced conscription in Maban-based refugee camps. UNICEF verified 6,000 cases of child abduction by armed groups since the conflict started in 2013.
UNICEF estimated that as of July 2019, approximately 19,000 children had been recruited by government, opposition, and militia forces in the country since the conflict began in 2013. There were sizeable numbers of releases during the past few years, but UNICEF also reported a downward trend in the size of those releases. During the year UNICEF worked with the SSPDF and opposition forces to organize the demobilization of child soldiers in several instances across the country. According to UNMISS, more than 250 child soldiers were released by armed groups in 2019. The National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission and its constituent members reported the release of 54 children from armed groups during the first six months of 2020.
The 2018 peace agreement mandated that specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SSPDF, the SPLA-IO, elements of SSOA, the Nuer White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. There were reports of child-soldier recruitment associated with the cantonment, registration, and screening process under the peace agreement.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Throughout the year the environment for humanitarian operations remained difficult and dangerous, although the cease-fire contributed to improved access and safety in most areas. Armed actors, including government, opposition forces, and armed SPLM-N elements that the government allowed to operate on its territory continued to restrict the ability of the United Nations and other international and NGOs to safely and effectively deliver humanitarian assistance to populations in need. Access was impeded by direct denials, bureaucratic barriers, occupation of humanitarian spaces including education centers, and renewed fighting in areas of the country where humanitarian needs were highest. Despite repeated safety assurances, armed elements harassed relief workers, looted and destroyed humanitarian assets and facilities, and government and rebel authorities imposed bureaucratic and economic impediments on relief organizations. Government, SPLA-IO, and in areas close to the Sudanese border, SPLM-N elements continued to occupy civilian structures.
On multiple occasions, fighting between government and opposition forces and subnational violence put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, forced the evacuation of relief workers, and jeopardized humanitarian operations, including forcing organizations to suspend life-saving operations entirely in areas of active conflict. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions often prevented relief workers from traveling to conflict and nonconflict areas. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) access working group, negotiated with government and SPLA-IO forces as well as other armed groups to address access problems; however, these negotiations were often protracted and caused significant delays in the delivery of assistance.
The humanitarian operating environment remained volatile despite improvements in some areas of the country, and the country remained very dangerous for aid workers. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention. On multiple occasions, insecurity put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, and jeopardized relief operations. In November the United Nations reported that since the start of the conflict in 2013, 124 humanitarian workers had been killed in the country, with most being South Sudanese nationals.
Looting of humanitarian compounds and other assets was also common. For example, in December 2019 armed groups attacked and assaulted humanitarian workers and looted multiple humanitarian compounds in Maban, Upper Nile State. In February an NGO contractor transporting nonfood items from Pibor to Likuangole in Jonglei State was intercepted by an armed group, and the four passengers were robbed. In August an armed group ambushed an NGO aid convoy on the Yei–Lasu road while travelling to Lasu refugee camp in Central Equatoria State. The armed group looted the vehicles of all medical and nutritional supplies. In October, UNMISS evacuated humanitarian workers from Renk, Upper Nile, in response to threats and attacks by youth in Renk Town after youth demands for employment turned violent.
Restrictions on humanitarian operations took other forms as well. NSS authorities operating at Juba International Airport arbitrarily denied humanitarian workers internal travel permission for a variety of constantly changing reasons, including a lack of work permits, permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travel approval from the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, or at least six blank pages in their passports; or because their passports did not have six months’ remaining validity. These restrictions were implemented inconsistently, without notice or consultation, prompting confusion regarding the required travel procedures.
Humanitarian organizations also experienced delays (some up to six months or more) and denials of tax exemptions and were forced to purchase relief supplies on the local market, raising quality concerns. Government authorities required international NGO staff to pay income taxes and threatened national staff into paying income tax at the state level.
Continuing conflict and access denial to humanitarian actors contributed to households facing acute food insecurity. It was difficult to accurately gather information and assess some conflict-affected areas due to insecurity and lack of access.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
During the year the use of lethal excessive force against civilians and demonstrators significantly decreased. There were reports of lethal excessive force against protesters in Darfur, and killings by armed militias (see section 1.g.).
In July trial sessions began against the nine Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers accused of killing six protesters in El-Obeid in July 2019.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The 2019 constitutional declaration prohibits such practices of torture or inhuman treatment of punishment, and reports of such behavior largely ceased under the civilian-led transitional government (CLTG).
On December 16, the RSF detained Bahaa el-Din Nouri in Khartoum. His body was found in a morgue five days later showing signs of torture while in custody. The case was referred to the prosecutor’s office and remained pending at year’s end.
The UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reported government forces committed sexual violence in a few instances, although most abuses were committed by militias (see section 1.g.).
Although impunity was less of a problem than in previous years, some problems with impunity in the security forces remained. The CLTG took strong steps towards reckoning with the crimes perpetrated by the Bashir regime, including opening up investigations into past abuses and working to address legal immunities that would otherwise bar prosecutions for serious crimes.
Prison conditions throughout the country remained harsh and life threatening; overcrowding was a major problem, as was inadequate health care.
Physical Conditions: The nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief estimated, based on 2009 and 2017 data, that the country’s prisons held approximately 21,000 prisoners in facilities designed for 7,500 prisoners. More recent data were not available, but overcrowding remained a serious problem. The Prisons and Reform Directorate, a branch of the national police that reports to the Ministry of Interior, oversees prisons. The Ministry of Interior generally did not release information on physical conditions in prisons. Data on the numbers of juvenile and female prisoners were unavailable.
Authorities generally provided food, water, and sanitation, although the quality of all three was basic. Prison health care, heating, ventilation, and lighting were often inadequate but varied from facility to facility. Some prisoners did not have access to medications or physical examinations. Family members or friends provided food and other items to inmates. Most prisoners did not have beds. Former detainees reported needing to purchase foam mattresses. These problems persisted throughout the year.
Overall conditions, including food and sanitation, were reportedly better in women’s detention facilities and prisons, such as the Federal Prison for Women in Omdurman, than at equivalent facilities for men, such as the main prison in Khartoum or the Kober or Omdurman Prisons. In Khartoum juveniles were not held in adult prisons or jails, but they were reportedly held with adults at other prisons.
Administration: The police inspector general, the minister of justice, and the judiciary are authorized to inspect prisons. Police allowed some visitors, including lawyers and family members, while prisoners were in custody and during judicial hearings Islamic and Christian clergy were allowed to hold services in prisons following the CLTG’s coming to power. Access varied across prisons. In Omdurman Women’s Prison, church services were held six times a week, but information on the regularity of services was not obtained. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers.
Independent Monitoring: During the year the CLTG lifted restrictions on independent monitoring, but the International Committee of the Red Cross was still generally denied access to prisons, with the exception of installing water points and distributing hygiene products during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Interior granted UNAMID access to government prisons in Darfur to monitor, mentor, and advise prison officials.
The 2019 constitutional declaration prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. In contrast to the previous regime, during the year the CLTG generally observed these requirements. The period of arrest without a warrant is 24 hours.
Under the law, warrants are not required for an arrest. The law permits police to detain individuals for 24 hours for the purpose of inquiry. A magistrate may renew detention without charge for up to two weeks during an investigation. A superior magistrate may renew detentions for up to six months for a person who is charged. The General Intelligence Service is not allowed to detain individuals.
The law provides for an individual to be informed in detail of charges at the time of arrest, with interpretation as needed, and for judicial determination without undue delay.
The law allows for bail, except for those accused of crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment if convicted. There was a functioning bail system; however, persons released on bail often waited indefinitely for action on their cases.
Suspects in common criminal cases, such as theft were compelled to confess guilt while in police custody through physical abuse and police intimidation of family members.
By law any person may request legal assistance and must be informed of the right to counsel in cases potentially involving the death penalty, imprisonment lasting longer than 10 years, or amputation if convicted. Accused persons may also request assistance through the legal aid department at the Ministry of Justice or the Sudanese Bar Association. The government was not always able to provide legal assistance, and legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest largely ended under the CLTG.
In August several artists were arrested while rehearsing a prodemocracy theater piece (see section 2.a., Academic and Cultural Events).
Pretrial Detention: The law states that pretrial detention may not exceed six months. Lengthy pretrial detention was common. Using 2013 data, World Prison Brief estimated 20 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The large number of detainees and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.
The constitutional declaration and relevant laws provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The CLTG dismissed numerous judges throughout the country who were considered incompetent or corrupt or who had strong ties to the former regime or the country’s intelligence apparatus. There were no known reports of denials of fair trials, but this lack of reports may be partially due to the closure of the majority of courts between February and July due to strikes and COVID-19 restrictions.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial as well as a presumption of innocence; however, this provision was rarely respected. Trials are open to the public at the discretion of the judge. In cases of national security and offenses against the state, trials are usually closed. The law stipulates the government is obligated to provide a lawyer for citizens in cases in which punishment if convicted might exceed 10 years’ imprisonment or include execution or amputation.
By law criminal defendants must be informed promptly of the charges against them at the time of their arrest and charged in detail and with interpretation as needed.
Defendants generally have the right to present evidence and witnesses, be present in court, confront accusers, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Throughout the year some defendants reportedly did not receive legal counsel, and counsel in some cases could only advise the defendant and not address the court. Persons in remote areas and in areas of conflict generally did not have access to legal counsel. The government sometimes did not allow defense witnesses to testify.
Defendants have the right to appeal, except in military trials. Defendants were sometimes permitted time and facilities to prepare their defense.
Unlike under the prior regime, there were no reports of lawyers being arrested or harassed by the CLTG.
Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. The law subjects to military trials any civilians in Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)-controlled areas believed to be armed opposition or members of a paramilitary group.
Three-person security courts deal with violations of constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some sections of the penal code, including drug and currency offenses. Special courts primarily composed of civilian judges handled most security-related cases.
Due to long distances between court facilities and police stations in conflict areas, local mediation was often the first resort to try to resolve disputes. In some instances tribal courts operating outside the official legal system decided cases. Such courts did not provide the same protections as regular courts.
Sharia continued to influence the law.
On September 3, Prime Minister Hamdok and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hilu, signed a declaration of principles agreement to begin peace talks on the basis that separation of religion and state would be protected in the constitution to be developed during the transitional period, a key demand of the SPLM-N.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Unlike under the Bashir regime, there were no reported cases of such practices.
Although persons seeking damages for human rights abuses had access to domestic and international courts, there were problems enforcing domestic and international court orders. According to the law, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Some individuals, however, reported they feared reprisal if they did appeal.
The law prohibits such actions, and this type of activity appeared to have ceased, or been dramatically reduced, under the CLTG.
On October 3, leaders of the CLTG and a number of armed opposition groups signed a peace agreement in the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Observers expressed hope it would end nearly two decades of conflict in the country’s war-torn regions of Darfur and the Two Areas.
Killings: Military personnel, paramilitary forces, and tribal groups committed killings in Darfur and the Two Areas. Most reports were difficult to verify due to continued prohibited access to conflict areas, particularly Jebel Marra in Central Darfur and SPLM-N-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Humanitarian access to Jebel Marra remained stable compared with past years.
Nomadic militias also attacked civilians in conflict areas. Under the CLTG, renewed intercommunal violence occurred mainly in Darfur, South Kordofan, and East Sudan. These resulted in the deaths of several civilians. For example, on July 25, the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) reported that armed Arab nomads killed at least 65 civilians including two police officers at Mesteri town, West Darfur. The UNDSS asserted that the perpetrators also burned houses, looted shops, and broke into a SAF armory in the town.
On August 6, in South Kordofan, reliable sources and Sudanese media reported at least a dozen persons were killed and several others injured in fighting between armed Arab nomads and Nuban farmers at Khor al-Waral area. The sources asserted that the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the SPLM-N faction led by General Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu’s units were both involved in the fighting. The CLTG announced formation of an investigation committee to probe the incident. Its report was pending completion as of October.
On January 2 and 4, the government announced that 15 persons were killed, and 127 others injured in the renewed intercommunal fighting between Beni Amir and Nuba tribesmen at Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea State. The governor of Red Sea State imposed a curfew in Port Sudan and deployed additional SAF units to deter and contain the situation. On August 22, the governor of Red Sea State blamed the Bashir regime for inciting the fighting between Beni Amir and Nuba tribesmen. The CLTG initiated a separate truce and peace reconciliation process between the Beni Amir and Nuba tribes in the eastern part of the country and between Arab nomads and Nuba tribes around Kadugli. Truces temporarily quelled the violence and paved way for the reconciliation process to continue among various ethnic groups and communities throughout the country.
The general political and security situation of Abyei, the long-standing oil-rich disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan, continued to remain fragile, and was marked by instances of violence between Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities. For instance, on January 20 and 26, the Ngok Dinka native administration in Abyei announced that 33 civilians were killed, 20 others injured, and 16 children abducted in two attacks by armed Messiriya nomads of Kolom area inside Abyei. Faisal Mohamed Saleh, the minister of information and CLTG spokesperson, condemned the deadly attacks, urged UN Interim Special Force for Abyei to protect civilians, and called upon the Messiriya and Ngok Dinka communities to coexist peacefully.
Abductions: There were numerous reports of abductions by armed opposition and tribal groups in Darfur. International organizations were largely unable to verify reports of disappearances.
There were also numerous criminal incidents involving kidnapping for ransom.
UNAMID reported that abduction remained a lucrative method adopted by various tribes in Darfur to coerce the payment of diya (“blood money” ransom) claimed from other communities.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were continued reports that government security forces, progovernment and antigovernment militias, and other armed persons raped women and children. Armed opposition groups in Darfur and the Two Areas reportedly detained persons in isolated locations in prison-like detention centers.
The extent to which armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses could not be accurately assessed, due to limited access to conflict areas. The state of detention facilities administered by the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid and SPLM-N in their respective armed opposition-controlled areas could not be assessed due to lack of access.
Under the CLTG, human rights groups reported armed individuals committed rape and arbitrarily killed civilians in the five Darfur states and government-controlled areas of the Blue Nile. While some wore government uniforms, including those affiliated with the RSF, it was not clear whether the individuals were actual official government security forces or militia.
Unexploded ordnance killed and injured civilians in the conflict zones.
Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children and provides criminal penalties for perpetrators.
Allegations persisted that armed opposition movements conscripted and retained child soldiers within their ranks. Both SPLM-N al-Hilu and SPLM-N Malak Agar reportedly continued to conscript child soldiers from refugee camps in Maban, South Sudan, just across the border from Blue Nile State and brought them into the country. If refugee families refused to provide a child to SPLM-N, they were taxed by whichever SPLM-N armed group with which they were considered to be affiliated, continuing SPLM-N’s long-standing practice. Many children continued to lack documents verifying their age. Children’s rights organizations believed armed groups exploited this lack of documentation to recruit or retain children. Some children were recruited from the Darfur region to engage in armed combat overseas, including in Libya. Due to access problems, particularly in conflict zones, reports of the use of child soldiers by armed groups were few and often difficult to verify.
Representatives of armed groups reported they did not actively recruit child soldiers. They did not, however, prevent children who volunteered from joining their movements. The armed groups stated the children were stationed primarily in training camps and were not used in combat.
There were reports of the use of child soldiers by the SPLM-N, but numbers could not be verified, in part due to lack of access to SPLM-N-controlled territories.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Although humanitarian access improved considerably during the year for UN and NGO staff, there were still incidents of restrictions on UN and NGO travel in some parts of North Darfur and East Jebel Marra based on what the government described as insecurity. The CLTG took steps to allow for unfettered humanitarian access. For example, under guidance from the prime minister, the Humanitarian Aid Commission issued guidelines to ease restrictions on movement of humanitarian workers. While the guidelines were not consistently implemented, there was marked improvement from the Bashir regime.
UN reporting continued to indicate that intercommunal violence and criminality were the greatest threats to security in Darfur. Common crimes included rape, armed robbery, abduction, ambush, livestock theft, assault and harassment, arson, and burglary and were allegedly carried out primarily by Arab militias. Government forces, unknown assailants, and rebel elements also carried out violence.
Humanitarian actors in Darfur continued to report victims of sexual and gender-based violence faced obstructions in attempts to report crimes and access health care.
Although the 2019 constitutional declaration pledged to implement compensation to allow for the return of internationally displaced persons (IDPs), limited assistance was provided to IDPs who wanted to return, and IDPs themselves expressed reluctance to return due to lack of security and justice in their home areas. IDPs in Darfur also reported they still could not return to their original lands, despite government claims the situation was secure, because their lands were being occupied by Arab nomads who were not disarmed and could attack returnees, and there were reports of such attacks.
Government restrictions in Abyei, administered by the country, limited NGO activities, especially in the northern parts of Abyei. Additional problems included delays in the issuance of travel permits.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Department of Public Prosecution is responsible for investigating whether security forces killings were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions.
In Zanzibar, on the island of Pemba, there were reports that security forces shot and killed approximately a dozen persons as a way to suppress freedom of assembly and expression before the election. On Pemba and the main island of Unguja, security forces reportedly killed a number of persons after the election, including individuals protesting the results of the election.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were numerous cases of police using “snatch and grab” tactics where authorities arrested individuals who temporarily disappeared and then reappeared in police stations only after social media pressure. The government made no efforts to investigate or punish such acts.
On July 20, police released Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda nine days after he was arrested and his location not disclosed. He was detained after he released a statement detailing long-held Muslim grievances.
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, the law does not reflect this constitutional restriction nor define torture. There were reports that police officers, prison guards, and soldiers abused, threatened, or otherwise mistreated civilians, suspected criminals, and prisoners. These abuses often involved beatings.
On September 25, Dar es Salaam police arrested three senior officials from the opposition political party ACT-Wazalendo at their election headquarters. An ACT-Wazalendo representative reported that one of the officials was physically mistreated while in custody.
The law allows caning. Local government officials and courts occasionally used caning as a punishment for both juvenile and adult offenders. Caning and other corporal punishment were also used routinely in schools.
On April 18, police raided a number of bars in Dar es Salaam, including one called “The Great,” where police caned patrons, staff, and managers for ignoring Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda’s order against visiting bars during the height of COVID-19 prevention measures. Video from Arusha taken in April showed an unidentified Maasai man, acting in his capacity as a security guard, caning passersby on the street for not maintaining social distancing guidelines.
In March, seven men were arrested for homosexual activity and purportedly subjected to forced anal exams. Their case was ongoing as of year’s end (see section 6).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Tanzanian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also nine open allegations submitted between 2015 and 2019 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Tanzanian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. The alleged abuses involved rape of a child, transactional sex with an adult, exploitative relationship with an adult, and sexual assault. As of September, the government had not provided accountability for any of the 11 open allegations.
Prisons and prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Prisons continued to hold more inmates than their capacity. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. Convicts were not separated according to the level of their offenses or age.
Authorities held minors together with adults in several prisons due to lack of detention facilities.
Information on the prevalence of deaths in prisons was not available.
Physical abuse of prisoners was common and there were reports of mistreatment during the reporting year. Female prisoners reported they were subject to sexual harassment and beatings by prison authorities.
Prison staff reported food and water shortages, a lack of electricity, inadequate lighting, and insufficient medical supplies. Prisons were unheated, but prisoners in cold regions reportedly received blankets and sweaters. Sanitation was insufficient. In 2018 President Magufuli publicly told the commissioner general of prisons that the government would no longer feed prisoners and that prisoners should cultivate their own food. While some prisons provided prisoners with food, the Ministry of Home Affairs reported that some prisoners were growing food for themselves. The Board of Prison Force Production Agency is meant to ensure prisons have sufficient food supply from their own cultivation projects. Other prisoners, however, reported receiving no food from the prison authorities and relied solely on what family members provided.
Medical care was inadequate. The most common health problems were malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, respiratory illnesses, and diseases related to poor sanitation. Prison dispensaries offered only limited treatment, and friends and family members of prisoners generally had to provide medications or the funds to purchase them. Transportation to referral health centers and hospitals was limited. In addition, requests for medical care were often met with bureaucracy which delayed prisoners’ access to health care. While doctors conducted routine checkups in the prison clinics, they did not have adequate testing equipment or medicine.
Administration: Judges and magistrates regularly inspected prisons and heard concerns from convicts and detainees. In addition, relatives of inmates made complaints to the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), which investigated reports of abuse. The results of those investigations were not public.
On the mainland prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities. The CHRAGG also served as the official ombudsman. The union Ministry of Home Affairs’ Public Complaints Department and a prison services public relations unit responded to public complaints and inquiries regarding prison conditions sent to them directly or through media.
Prisoners and detainees usually had reasonable access to visitors and could worship freely, with some exceptions.
The law allows for plea agreements designed to reduce case backlogs and ensure timely delivery of justice as well as reduce inmate congestion. Terrorism and serious drug offenses are excluded, so prosecutors do not have discretion to entertain plea agreements in these types of cases.
Independent Monitoring: The law prohibits members of the press from visiting prisons. Generally, access to prisoners was difficult for outside organizations, and the process for obtaining access was cumbersome.
Improvements: According to its 2019 report, the Federal Parole Board continued to pardon prisoners as a means to reduce overcrowding, and 648 prisoners were paroled from 2016 to 2019. On April 26, President Magufuli pardoned 3,973 prisoners, in part due to COVID-19 concerns. A total of 3,717 prisoners were freed, while 256 prisoners who faced death sentences were given alternative sentences. There were examples in the reporting year where the Director of Public Prosecution acquitted pretrial prisoners who had not yet been convicted. The director can withdraw cases on the grounds of a lack of interest in the case or not enough evidence to proceed. In September, 147 were prisoners were acquitted, mostly youth. On May 20, twenty human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, wrote President Magufuli, praising efforts to reduce detainee populations but arguing that additional steps were necessary to protect prisoners from COVID-19.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although regional and district commissioners have authority to detain a person for up to 48 hours without charge. This authority was used frequently to detain political opposition members or persons criticizing the government.
The law allows persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, the right 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. The law requires, however, that a civil case must be brought to make such a challenge, and this was rarely done.
On the mainland the law requires that an arrest for most crimes, other than crimes committed in the presence of an officer, be made with an arrest warrant based on sufficient evidence; however, authorities did not always comply with the law. Police often detained persons without judicial authorization. The law also requires that a person arrested for a crime, other than a national security detainee, be charged before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but authorities failed to comply consistently with this requirement. There were reports of police detaining individuals without charge for short periods on the orders of local authorities.
The law does not allow bail for suspects in cases involving murder, treason, terrorism, drugs, armed robbery, human trafficking, money laundering, other economic crimes, and other offenses where the accused might pose a public safety risk. In 2019 Dickson Paulo Sanga challenged nonbailable offenses as unconstitutional. In May the High Court ruled that section 148(5) of the Criminal Procedure Act was unconstitutional because it violated rights to personal liberty and presumption of innocence. The decision was appealed by the government on the same day. In August the Court of Appeals overruled the High Court decision, declaring that nonbailable offenses were constitutional, and that detention pending trial was important for peace and order in the country. The Court of Appeals ruling disappointed human rights stakeholders, who claimed authorities held human rights actors and businesspersons under false money laundering charges. For example, two businessmen, Harbinder Seth who is the owner of Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) and James Rugemalira, CEO of VIP Engineering Company were charged at Kisutu Court in 2017 with economic sabotage. The case was still pending in court and they remained in jail.
In some cases, courts imposed strict conditions on freedom of movement and association when they granted bail. In the primary and district courts, persons reportedly sometimes bribed officials to grant bail.
The law gives accused persons the right to contact a lawyer or talk with family members, but police often failed to inform detainees of this right. Indigent defendants and suspects charged with murder or treason could apply to the registrar of the court to request legal representation. Prompt access to counsel was often limited by the lack of lawyers in rural areas, lack of communication systems and infrastructure, and accused persons’ ignorance of their rights. In addition, on March 19, authorities banned all visits to prisons due to COVID-19, including those by prisoners’ lawyers. Since authorities provided no alternative methods for detainees to contact attorneys, Human Rights Watch argued this ban sharply slowed resolution of ongoing cases. As a result, most criminal defendants were not represented by counsel, even for serious offenses being tried before a high court. The government often did not provide consular notification when foreign nationals were arrested and did not provide prompt consular access when requested.
The government conducted some screening at prisons to identify and assist trafficking victims imprisoned as smuggling offenders; however, screenings were not comprehensive, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified in detention centers. In June and July 2019, at the requests of the Ethiopian embassy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) verified 1,354 Ethiopians in 27 prisons in 20 regions. Among the migrants were one woman and 219 minors. Between January 2015 and June 2019, the IOM provided assisted voluntary returns for 1,406 Ethiopian irregular migrants. The Ethiopians who remained in prison were either in pretrial detention (“remanded”), convicted, or postconviction but not released because of a lack of funds to deport them.
Arbitrary Arrest: By law the president may order the arrest and indefinite detention without bail of any person considered dangerous to the public order or national security. The government must release such detainees within 15 days or inform them of the reason for their continued detention. The law also allows a detainee to challenge the grounds for detention at 90-day intervals. The mainland government has additional broad detention powers under the law, allowing regional and district commissioners to arrest and detain anyone for 48 hours who is deemed to “disturb public tranquility.”
In July 2019 plainclothes police officers arrested investigative journalist and government critic Erick Kabendera and did not inform him of the charges. Initially, police did not inform his family to which police station he was taken. After seven days in detention, Kabendera was charged with money-laundering offenses. In February, Kabendera was released after agreeing to a plea deal. Kabendera was convicted on tax evasion and money laundering charges and he was fined 273 million Tanzanian shillings (TZS) ($118,000).
In December 2019 human rights lawyer Tito Magoti and his colleague Theodore Giyani, both working for the Legal and Human Rights Center, were arrested by plainclothes police officers after they tweeted support for vocal government critics. Following a public outcry, police admitted that they had arrested Magoti and Giyani. The accused were arraigned in Dar es Salaam in December 2019 and charged with money laundering, a nonbailable offense. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called for their immediate and unconditional release in January, but at the end of the year the two remained in prison in pretrial detention.
Pretrial Detention: Arrests often preceded investigations, and accused persons frequently remained in pretrial detention–known as “remand”–for years before going to trial, usually with no credit for pretrial confinement at the time of sentencing. There is no trial clock or statute of limitations. Prosecutors obtained continuances based on a general statement that the investigation was not complete. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, approximately 50 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. Detainees generally waited three to four years for trial due to a lack of judges, an inadequate judicial budget, and the lengthy time for police investigations.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but many components of the judiciary remained underfunded, corrupt, inefficient (especially in the lower courts), and subject to executive influence. Judges and senior court officers are all political appointees of the president. The need to travel long distances to courts imposes logistical and financial constraints that limit access to justice for persons in rural areas. There were fewer than two judges per million persons. Court clerks reportedly continued to take bribes to open cases or hide or misdirect the files of those accused of crimes. Magistrates of lower courts reportedly occasionally accepted bribes to determine the outcome of cases. There were instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but a weak judiciary often failed to protect this right. All trials are bench trials; there are no jury trials. Trials are not held continuously from start to finish. Instead, a trial may start, break for an indeterminate amount of time, and resume, perhaps multiple times. As a result, trials were often inefficient and could last for months or even years.
The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and the standard for conviction in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Executive branch entities regularly accused political parties, civil society organizations, and international organizations of breaking the law and then demanded the accused clarify or defend their innocence. In most cases authorities informed detainees in detail of the charges against them once they had been taken to the police station. Charges were generally presented in Kiswahili or English with needed interpretation provided when possible. With some exceptions, criminal trials were open to the public and the press. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Courts that hold closed proceedings (for example, in cases of drug trafficking or sexual offenses involving juveniles) generally are required to provide reasons for closing the proceedings. In cases involving terrorism, the law states that everyone, except the interested parties, may be excluded from court proceedings, and witnesses may be heard under special arrangements for their protection.
The law requires legal aid in serious criminal cases, although only those accused of murder and treason were provided with free representation. Most other defendants could not afford legal representation and represented themselves in court. Defendants in criminal cases are entitled to legal representation of their choice. Legal representation was unavailable to defendants without the means to pay. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) represented some indigent defendants in large cities, such as Dar es Salaam and Arusha. For example, the Tanganyika Law Society provides free legal services upon request because its lawyers are encouraged to take at least one pro bono case per year. The Legal and Human Rights Centre and Tanzania Human Rights Defense Coalition also have had legal defense mechanisms for human rights defenders.
In Zanzibar the government sometimes provided public defenders in manslaughter cases. The law prohibits lawyers from appearing or defending clients in primary-level courts whose presiding officers are not degree-holding magistrates. Human rights groups criticized cases where lawyers attempting to represent clients in sensitive cases were reportedly themselves threatened with arrest.
Authorities did not always allow detainees sufficient time to prepare their defense, and access to adequate facilities was limited. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants or their lawyers have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and the right to present evidence and witnesses on the defendant’s behalf. Prosecutors, however, have no disclosure obligations in criminal cases, and often the defense does not know what evidence the prosecutor will rely upon when the trial begins. Defendants were not compelled to testify or confess guilt.
All defendants charged with civil or criminal matters, except parties appearing before Zanzibari qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle matters of divorce and inheritance), could appeal decisions to the respective mainland and Zanzibari high courts. All defendants can appeal decisions to the union Court of Appeal.
Judicial experts criticized the practice of police acting as prosecutors because of the risk police might manipulate evidence in criminal cases. The mainland Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs continued hiring and training state prosecutors to handle the entire mainland caseload, although staffing shortages continued.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political detainees. Several opposition politicians and individuals critical of the government were arrested or detained during the year. These individuals were usually charged with sedition, incitement, or unlawful assembly. There was an unknown number of political prisoners, but according to opposition leaders and NGOs, there were at least 300 opposition activists and supporters who were detained or abducted on the mainland and about 150 in Zanzibar prior to and after the elections. The persons were given the same protections as other detainees, although the government often threatened to charge opposition leaders with nonbailable offenses.
For example, following the October 28 general election, members of the opposition parties, including some opposition leaders, were arrested. While some were subsequently released, there were still opposition party members in detention on November 6. There were also supporters of the opposition who were arrested, brought to prisons outside of Dar es Salaam, and who were still being held without bail.
For example, two opposition members of parliament (MPs), Freeman Mbowe and Esther Matiko of the opposition Party of Democracy and Development (CHADEMA), served four months in jail after the court revoked their bail in 2018. The High Court of Dar es Salaam upon appeal, however, ruled the bail revocation was invalid, and they were released in March 2019. Mbowe and Matiko were part of a group of nine CHADEMA members who were charged in 2018 with 11 crimes, including conspiracy, sedition, and inciting the commission of offenses. In March all nine CHADEMA leaders were found guilty of sedition and fined TZS 350 million ($150,000) or a five-month jail term. CHADEMA supporters fundraised and paid the fines of all the leaders.
On November 1, three CHADEMA leaders were arrested for planning postelection protests in Dar es Salaam. The three leaders were Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA’s national chairman, Godbless Lema, former Arusha urban MP, and Boniface Jacob, former mayor of Ubungo. On November 3, Zitto Kabwe, party leader of ACT-Wazalendo was also arrested briefly on the same charges as the three CHADEMA leaders. On November 3, all four opposition leaders were released on bail without any charges.
Persons may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for or the cessation of human rights violations and can appeal those rulings to the Court of Appeal on the mainland and other regional courts. Civil judicial procedures, however, were often slow, inefficient, and corrupt. In December 2019 the government withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to file cases directly against it at the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This meant that individuals and organizations with observer status were no longer able to bring complaints to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has been a preferred route to bring human rights cases because it admits cases and eases the burden on local courts. For example the case concerning the 2017 government-led evictions of villagers in Loliondo was brought before the EACJ in September 2018; the EACJ ruled in the villagers’ favor. The implementation of this ruling, however, has yet to take place. According to a witness, individuals were beaten daily when they brought their cattle through the buffer zone to reach grazing lands.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and politicians relied on the courts for challenges to government decisions. For example, in May 2019 the High Court of Dar es Salaam annulled the constitutional provision that empowered presidential appointees to supervise elections. This was significant because 80 percent of the supervising officials belonged to the ruling party. At first, this indicated the court provided an avenue to contest the ruling party, but the outcome of the decision was not upheld. In addition, in October 2019 the Court of Appeal, the country’s highest court, overturned the earlier High Court decision.
On June 10, parliament passed amendments to the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act to restrict public interest lawsuits by limiting the ability of groups to challenge a law or policy that allegedly violates the constitution’s bill of rights. The restriction appeared to be aimed at stopping groups from filing purely public interest litigation without showing harm to an accuser. The amendment also provided broad immunity from civil and criminal cases to top government officials, including the president, vice president, prime minister, speaker, and chief justice.
The law generally prohibits such actions without a search warrant, but the government did not consistently respect these prohibitions. While only courts may issue search warrants, the law also authorizes searches of persons and premises without a warrant if necessary to prevent the loss or destruction of evidence or if circumstances are serious and urgent. The owners of social online platform Jamii Forums faced a court case for allegedly preventing a police force investigation, in violation of the law. Police had no search warrant but still requested the IP addresses of the platform’s users. The owners claimed that this request was a breach of privacy. In April the Dar es Salaam court sentenced the owners to pay a fine of three million TZS ($1,300) or face one year in prison. The owners paid the fine and immediately filed a notice of intent to appeal the case.
The law relating to terrorism permits police officers at or above the rank of assistant superintendent or in charge of a police station to conduct searches without a warrant in certain urgent cases, but there were no reports these cases occurred.
It was widely believed government agents monitored the telephones and correspondence of some citizens and foreign residents. The nature and extent of this practice were unknown, but due to fear of surveillance, many civil society organizations and leaders were unwilling to speak freely over the telephone. In July former deputy minister of good governance Mary Mwanjelwa’s telephone conversation with one of her supporters was recorded and leaked. However, it was not reported who recorded the conversation.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports government agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings similar to the following examples. On February 13, police in Lusaka shot and wounded two protesters and shot and killed a boy age 14 during a peaceful demonstration against police violence and use of excessive force. Police spokesperson Ester Katongo stated no police officer would be charged because the killing of the boy was “by mistake.” Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo justified police use of live ammunition to restore order. The Human Rights Commission (HRC)–an independent constitutional body–criticized the minister’s statement as indirectly encouraging the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators. On September 27, a police officer shot and killed Timothy Zulu of Kamanga age 17 as he fled police enforcement of COVID-19 pandemic curfew restrictions at a Lusaka nightclub. The police officer responsible for the killing was charged with murder. His case was pending trial at year’s end.
On April 9, the Livingstone High Court convicted police officers Marstone Simweene and Muyunda Mufungulwa of the 2018 murder of Lemmy Mapeke at Macha Police Post in Choma and sentenced them to death. The conviction was under appeal at year’s end. On April 23, the Lusaka High Court awarded substantial compensation to the family of University of Zambia student Vespers Shimuzhila due to police negligence in her 2018 death. Shimuzhila died from “asphyxia due to smoke” from a fire in her dormitory room caused by errant teargas canisters shot by police during a student demonstration.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, no law addresses torture specifically. Local media reported police used arbitrary and excessive force to enforce public health regulations implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Chapter One Foundation, police routinely beat individuals found frequenting bars and other commercial locations in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, particularly police, and was especially common during the COVID-19 pandemic. The factors that contributed to impunity were a lack of training in, understanding of, and respect for human rights. The HRC investigates allegations of abuse. According to the HRC, police frequently used disproportionate force. On June 11, the Zambia Police Service with the HRC and UN Development Program assistance instituted COVID-19 standard operating enforcement procedures that provide for the enforcement of COVID-19 measures by security and law enforcement officers in a manner that safeguards human rights.
Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, frequent outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and other detention facilities remained a problem. According to the HRC, other than the Mwembeshi, Monze, and Kaoma prisons constructed in recent year, prisons were in a “deplorable” state and exceeded capacity by 300 per cent. The NGO Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), congestion due to a slow-moving judicial system, outdated laws, and increased incarceration due to higher numbers of prosecutions of petty offenses. Other factors included limitations on magistrates’ powers to impose noncustodial sentences, a retributive police culture, and poor bail and bonding conditions. Indigent inmates lacked access to costly bail and legal representation. A shortage of high court judges in the country’s six provinces delayed the execution of magistrate orders to transfer juveniles being held with adults in prisons and jails to reformatories. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities reduced overcrowding by pardoning nonviolent offenders. In May the president pardoned 2,984 inmates and in October an additional 966 inmates.
There were no reports of deaths in prison attributed to physical conditions.
The law requires separation of different categories of prisoners, but only gender separation was routinely practiced. According to the HRC, some correctional facilities did not strictly follow guidelines on separating different prisoner categories. For example, at Lusaka Correctional Facility, the HRC found that juvenile and adult prisoners were comingled during the day. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare could choose to have their infants and children younger than age four with them in prison. According to PRISCCA, facilities designated for pretrial detainees included convicted juvenile and adult inmates because the three reformatories and the three designated prisons were overcrowded.
Inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care remained problems. Many prisons had deficient medical facilities, and female inmates’ access to gynecological care was extremely limited. Many prisons had meager food supplies. Lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of waterborne and foodborne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. According to PRISCCA and the HRC, prison food was nutritionally inadequate, and prisoners noted insufficient bedding (blankets and mattresses) and poor sanitation. The prison health-care system remained understaffed. The incidence of tuberculosis remained high due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of compulsory testing, and prisoner transfers. The supply of tuberculosis medication and other essential drugs was erratic. Failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of tuberculosis and other illnesses and the deaths of several prisoners.
The HRC and PRISCCA expressed concern at the lack of isolation facilities for the sick and for persons with psychiatric problems. Although prisoners infected with HIV/AIDS were able to access antiretroviral treatment services within prison health-care facilities, their special dietary needs and those of persons under treatment for tuberculosis were inadequately met. Prisons also failed to address adequately the needs of persons with disabilities.
Administration: A formal mechanism to investigate allegations of prisoner mistreatment existed through the Police Public Complaints Commission. The commission received complaints and disciplined some erring police and prison officers, but human rights groups reported it did not effectively investigate complaints and was staffed by former officers who were often hesitant to prosecute their colleagues.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent local and international NGOs and religious institutions.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Although the government generally observed these requirements, there were frequent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, even in situations of civil disputes.
The constitution and law require authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person for most offenses. Police officers do not need a warrant, however, if they suspect a person has committed offenses such as treason, sedition, defamation of the president, or unlawful assembly. Police rarely obtained warrants before making arrests regardless of the offense.
Although the law requires that detainees appear before a court within 24 to 48 hours of arrest and be informed of the charges against them, authorities routinely held detainees for as long as six months before trial. The HRC noted this abuse remained common, particularly in rural districts, where subordinate courts operated in circuits because detainees could be tried only when a circuit court judge was in the district.
Based on a constitutional presumption of innocence, the law provides for bail in most cases. Bail is not granted for persons charged with murder, aggravated robbery, narcotics violations, espionage, or treason. Before granting bail courts often required at least one employed person, usually a government employee, to vouch for the detainee.
Detainees generally did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Although the law obligates the government to provide an attorney to indigent persons who face serious charges, many defendants were unaware of this right. The government’s legal aid office and the Legal Resources Foundation provided legal services to some indigent arrestees but could not meet demand.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to human rights groups, arbitrary or false arrest and detention continued. Police often summoned family members of criminal suspects for questioning, and authorities arrested criminal suspects based on uncorroborated accusations or as a pretext for extortion. Human rights groups reported police routinely detained citizens when enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. In August police arrested and fined persons not wearing facemasks in public. Those unable or unwilling to pay the fine faced six months’ imprisonment. Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja suspended the practice following a public outcry and stated the arrests constituted an abuse of power.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, including that of irregular migrants awaiting trial or removal, continued to be a problem. On average detainees spent an estimated six months in pretrial detention, which often exceeded the maximum length of the prison sentence corresponding to the detainee’s alleged crime. Contributing factors included inability to meet bail requirements, trial delays, and trial continuances due to absent prosecutors and their witnesses.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but police often prevented detainees from filing challenges to prolonged detention.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. While the government largely refrained from direct interference, the Ministry of Finance’s control of the judiciary’s budget limited judicial independence. In most cases authorities respected court orders.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judicial system was open to influence by the ruling party in cases in which it had an interest. While the law provides the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly of charges, and to be present at a fair and timely trial, these rights were not consistently protected. There were reports of lengthy detentions without trial and defendants who were not informed promptly of charges against them, and the overburdened and insufficiently resourced judicial system led to lengthy and delayed trial procedures. For example, in December 2019 Chama Fumba, the hip hop recording artist popularly known as Pilato and two other persons were arrested for holding a meeting without a permit at the Youth Community Training Centre of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Livingstone. They were charged with unlawful assembly and in September tried and acquitted.
While defendants enjoy the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have adequate time to prepare a defense, to present their own witnesses, and to confront or question witnesses against them, courts rarely provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense despite a legal requirement to do so. Interpretation services in local languages were available in most cases. There were no reports of defendants being compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Although there were politically motivated arrests, there were no reports of lengthy detention or imprisonment of individuals for political reasons.
Although individuals or organizations may seek redress for human rights violations from the High Court, lack of access to affordable or pro bono legal services prevented many persons from exercising this right.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government frequently did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires a search or arrest warrant before police may enter a home, except during a state of emergency or when police suspect a person has committed an offense such as treason, sedition, defaming the president, or unlawful assembly. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports that government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.
Domestic human rights groups reported authorities routinely detained, interrogated, and physically abused family members or associates of criminal suspects to obtain their cooperation in identifying or locating the suspects.
The law grants the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Zambia Security and Intelligence Service, and police authority to monitor communications using wiretaps with a warrant based on probable cause, and authorities generally respected this requirement. The government required cell phone service providers to register all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August the nongovernmental organization (NGO) ZimRights suspected members of the security forces in the extrajudicial killing of Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance councilor Lavender Chiwaya. Police ruled there was no foul play. In September the Zimbabwe Republic Police reported killing two men they claimed shot two members of the security forces, killing one and injuring the second. Security officials claimed they tracked the two men and killed them in a shootout when they resisted arrest. Government officials praised security forces’ “swift response,” while human rights organizations, such as ZimRights, questioned security forces’ version of events and called the incident an extrajudicial killing.
Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution. Investigations continued into violence from previous years, including state-sponsored violence, that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in January-February 2019 and seven during postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in the cases.
There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.
The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that security forces engaged in such practices with impunity and with the implicit support of government officials. NGOs reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assault on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects. In some cases police arrested and charged the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators and accused abduction victims of filing false reports.
Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members during abductions. Reported torture methods included sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and sjamboks (a heavy whip); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; and oral chemical poisoning, as well as pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin. As of November there were a minimum of five reports of short-term abductions and assaults or torture allegedly performed by state security actors. These instances typically occurred at night, although some happened in broad daylight. The abductors forcibly removed persons from their homes, parking lots, and press conferences and assaulted them for hours before abandoning them, usually severely injured and naked, in a remote area.
National Assembly member Joana Mamombe and opposition party members Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova reported being removed from police custody, then abducted and tortured by unknown individuals whom credible sources believed to be government security agents, after they were arrested at a protest at a roadblock on May 13. The three women sustained severe injuries from 36 hours of physical, sexual, and psychological torture. After the three women reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. The case remained pending.
From March to September, during a government-mandated lockdown due to COVID-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distance.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers. To date, no one has answered for disappearances, civilian deaths, rape, abduction, or torture allegations from the 1980s to as recently as November. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities. The ZPCS provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities. The ZPCS also allowed churches and other organizations to teach life-skills training.
Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were often harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported that most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs. The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) did not provide adequate food, water, and sanitary conditions as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.
Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic. Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs observed during the past several years. As of year’s end, no investigation of the death of Hilton Tamangani in October 2019 had begun. Tamangani was found dead in his cell in the Harare Remand Prison. His lawyers claimed he was severely beaten by police and then denied medical treatment.
NGOs reported female prisoners generally fared better than did male prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. Women generally received more food from their families than male prisoners. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of female inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed feminine hygiene supplies. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.
There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys when left together. Authorities generally sent juveniles to prison rather than to reformatory homes as stipulated in the law, as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles remained vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners.
Prisoners with mental health issues were often held together with regular prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.
According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April to address COVID-19, NGOs and other contacts as well as several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were only tested when sent to nonremand prisons.
Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, PPE, and information about the virus, but distribution decreased during the year. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding because of the country’s protracted economic crisis.
The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 while incarcerated in August (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. Prisoners identified as malnourished received additional meals. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water-collection systems.
Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.
Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.
Administration: The inspections and audit unit of the ZPCS, intended to assess prison conditions and improve monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman. There were statutory mechanisms to allow alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, but the number of nonviolent offenders benefitting from these mechanisms was unknown.
Prisoners and detainees had relatively unrestricted access to visitors before COVID-19, except in maximum-security prisons, where remoteness hampered access by prisoners’ relatives. The COVID-19 lockdown cut off prisoners from most people and organizations.
Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported that meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown. One NGO reported prisoner authorities authorized a few prison visits for special donation missions.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weaken these prohibitions. The government enforced security laws in conflict with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists, labor leaders, and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested large numbers of persons during and following antigovernment protests.
The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these requirements. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. This was not followed consistently. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.
The law provides for bail for most accused persons. The government amended the law to include provisions that allow prosecutors to veto judicial bail decisions and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days, despite a prior Constitutional Court ruling declaring this power unconstitutional. Prosecutors relied on these provisions to extend the detention of opposition leaders, civil society activists, and labor leaders, some of whom were denied bail for almost two months.
Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients. An indigent detainee may apply to the government for an attorney in criminal cases, but only in capital cases. Some opposition party members, civil society activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens had limited or no access to their legal counsel. In one instance a magistrate attempted to revoke prominent human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa’s license to practice law during her defense of a journalist who had written articles exposing government corruption and made social media posts encouraging peaceful protests against corruption. As of November the magistrate’s petition to revoke the law license remained pending.
Arbitrary Arrest: The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, attorneys, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. The government sometimes used COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to arrest individuals perceived as threats against the government. Police and media reported that security forces arrested more than 105,000 political and civil society activists, journalists, labor leaders, and ordinary citizens from March 30 to September for their alleged violation of COVID-19 lockdown measures or alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities. For example two journalists were arrested in May for violating COVID-19 measures during their interviews with abduction and torture victims. After four months of enduring strict bail conditions, such as weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the case against the journalists was dismissed in September. Police arrested more than 20 individuals who organized, promoted, or participated in a July 31 anticorruption demonstration, including opposition party Transform Zimbabwe president Jacob Ngarivhume, who was arrested and charged on July 23 with inciting the public to commit violence. As of November several human rights defenders remained in hiding after police issued a list of persons wanted for questioning in connection with the July 31 protest.
After more than a year of strict bail conditions, including weekly reporting to police stations and surrender of passports, the government dismissed the cases of seven civil society activists charged with subversion in 2019.
The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued that they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was rare for nonpolitical prisoners. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, and an insufficient number of court officials to hear many cases. The constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects. Despite this provision, the government routinely opposed bail for political detainees, and judges generally upheld these motions. When judges issued bail rulings, they would often delay announcing their rulings until after the court cashier closed on Fridays to ensure political detainees remained in prison over the weekend.
Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Sometimes their parents could not be located or did not have the funds to travel to court. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but executive influence and interference remained a problem. There continued to be some instances where the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite being under intense pressure to conform to government policies.
The government often refused to abide by judicial decisions and routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it in civil cases. Judicial corruption was widespread, extending beyond magistrates and judges. For example, NGOs reported senior government officials undermined judicial independence, including by giving homes, farms, and agricultural machinery to judges.
Magistrates heard the vast majority of cases. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were less likely to receive a fair hearing in magistrates’ courts than in higher courts. In lower courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates, particularly rural magistrates, to rule in the government’s favor. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure from high-ranking judges and officials of the ruling party, including harassment and intimidation. Some high court justices demonstrated a greater degree of independence and granted opposition party members and civil society activists bail against the government’s wishes. There were reports of instances where judges or magistrates should have recused themselves from politically charged cases but failed to do so.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but political pressure and corruption frequently compromised this right. By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts did not always respect this right. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were usually open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Government officials liberally interpreted state security matters to include trials and hearings for defendants who protested against the government or reported on government corruption. Assessors–usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices–in lieu of juries, could be appointed in cases in which conviction of an offense could result in a death penalty or lengthy prison sentence. Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choosing, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases an indigent defendant may apply to have the government provide an attorney, but requests were rarely granted except in capital cases, in which the government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Individuals in civil cases may request free legal assistance from the Legal Resources Foundation or Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English and Ndebele-English interpretation was generally available. The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense is also provided for by law but was often lacking. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and to confront adverse witnesses.
Any person arrested or detained for an alleged offense has the right to remain silent and may not be compelled to confess. There were no known cases of torture-induced confessions used in court. Authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities sometimes denied or significantly delayed attorneys’ access to their clients or falsely claimed the attorneys’ clients were being held at another facility.
Conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution bears the burden of proof. The right to appeal both conviction and sentence exists in all cases, and it is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed.
Government officials sometimes ignored court orders, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government.
The public had fair access to the courts of law, particularly the magistrates’ courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas and arbitrary rules about note taking during hearings.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, civil society activists, and labor leaders. Authorities sometimes detained such individuals for one or two days and released them without charge. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees, and prison authorities arbitrarily denied visitor access to political prisoners. There were reports police beat and physically abused political and civil society activists while they were in detention.
Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which move from investigation to trial within months, prosecuting agents regularly took abnormally long to submit for trial cases involving members of the political opposition or civil society critics of the government. Hearings were sometimes scheduled when presiding judges were on vacation. Prosecutors in political cases were often “unprepared to proceed” and received numerous continuances. In many cases where authorities granted bail to government opponents, they did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but instead chose to “proceed by way of summons.” This left the threat of impending prosecution remaining, with the accused person eventually being called to court, only to be informed of further delays.
In July police arrested opposition party leader Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for their alleged roles in planning and promoting a July 31 protest against government corruption. They were held for approximately six weeks before being released on strict bail conditions that included surrendering their passports, agreeing not to use social media to promote public violence, and reporting regularly to police stations. On November 3, authorities rearrested Hopewell Chin’ono for abusing social media and detained him until November 20, when he received bail. Both Ngarivhume and Chin’ono’s cases remained pending.
In 2019 the government charged 22 persons with subversion for their participation in organizing demonstrations or attending civic engagement trainings. As of November courts had dismissed charges against 10 of the defendants. The government alleged the defendants intended to take over a constitutionally elected government. As of year’s end, the Mnangagwa administration had not fully prosecuted anyone for subversion, but those charged with subversion must surrender their passports and report to local police stations regularly.
There were credible reports that for politically motivated purposes the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to take adverse action against specific individuals or groups. In September media reported government officials secured an extradition treaty with South Africa to allow the forcible return of some members of the “G40,” a group comprised of former Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) members aligned with Grace Mugabe, widow of the late president Robert Mugabe. As of November 30, no publicized extraditions of G40 members had occurred.
Civil judicial procedures allow for an independent and impartial judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political influence and intimidation, particularly in cases involving high-ranking government officials, politically connected individuals, or individuals and organizations seeking remedies for abuses of human rights.
The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for the delivery of compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not take action against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorization from the state to do so.
Support was uneven and inconsistent for more than 1,800 households resettled in the past decade from the diamond mining fields of Marange in Chiadzwa to a government-owned agricultural estate outside Mutare. Each household was entitled to receive $1,000 for relocation, although reportedly only a handful received the money. Most of the relocated families had not received compensation of any kind, including agricultural land, while the government classified them as “people with no recognizable legal rights or claim to the land they are occupying,” stating that their former land became state land, despite customary and traditional rights to the contrary.
A majority of commercial farmers reported the government had not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program that began in 2000. According to the attorney general and Ministry of Lands, beginning in 2000 a description of every white-owned farm in the country was published in state media and the farms effectively became state property. According to the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe (CFU), after authorities published a description of the property, it was usually transferred to a politically connected individual at the first available opportunity.
The CFU reported that since 2000 most titleholders who lost their homes or properties, where most of their life earnings were invested, were not compensated. As a result of evictions, there were scores of destitute elderly former farmers and former farm workers. In July the government, the CFU, and other farmers’ groups signed a $3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. Despite the negotiated agreement, government officials continued to seize farms without compensation as recently as September 11.
The CFU estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, threatened with eviction, and evicted by unemployed youth and individuals hired by politically connected individuals standing to benefit from the farm seizures.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect these rights. Throughout the year government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF. Through threats and intimidation, local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists also compelled individuals, mostly in rural areas, to contribute money and public resources, such as school buses and school meeting spaces, toward ZANU-PF political rallies.
Government entities manipulated the distribution of government-provided food aid, agricultural inputs, and access to education and other assistance programs to exclude suspected political opposition supporters and to compel support for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF supporters threatened to withhold food aid to citizens in Glenview, Mangwe, and Nyanga during the period preceding each area’s constituency by-election in 2019.
The law permits the interception and monitoring of any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) in the course of transmission through a telecommunication, postal, or other system in the country. Civil liberties advocates claimed the government used the law to stifle freedom of speech and target political and civil society activists (see section 2.a.).
Security forces sometimes punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. On July 29, police searched the Bulawayo home of news site ZimLive.com editor Mduduzi Mathuthu for information on subversive materials linked to protests scheduled for July 31. Mathuthu was not at home when police arrived and remained in hiding as of November. Police detained his sister, Nomagugu Mathuthu, at the Bulawayo Central Police Station, then released her after arresting Mathuthu’s nephew, Tawanda Muchehiwa, on July 30. Muchehiwa reportedly disappeared from police custody and then was left at his residence on August 1, badly beaten by individuals suspected of being state security agents.