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Australia

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

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

There were credible allegations of deaths due to abuse in custody by government agents.

Black Lives Matter protests held in major cities sought to raise awareness of black deaths in custody and high rates of indigenous incarceration. Protesters and multiple media reports highlighted the more than 400 indigenous deaths in custody since a royal commission looking into the issue concluded in 1991, and they complained of a lack of convictions despite claims of excessive force or neglect by police.

Since August 2019, the deaths of two indigenous persons in custody have led to murder charges. In August a Western Australia police officer pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting of a 29-year-old woman. In November 2019 a Northern Territory police officer was charged with murder after shooting a 19-year-old man.

A series of media reports alleged special forces soldiers carried out unlawful killings while on deployment in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2012. The Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force was investigating possible breaches of the laws of armed conflict by special forces personnel in Afghanistan.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody; mistreatment of juvenile detainees was a particular concern.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: The most recent data from the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 72 prison deaths in 2017-18. Media sources alleged at least seven suspicious deaths occurred since August 2019, two of which occurred in 2020. Death rates for indigenous Australian prisoners continued higher than for others. For example, in June and July, three Aboriginal prisoners died (two by suicide, the third of unknown causes) in Western Australia prisons.

Prison visits in recent years in Western Australia and Queensland showed a high percentage of inmates had a cognitive, mental health, or physical disability and that inmates with such disabilities were more likely to be placed in solitary confinement and may also suffer higher rates of violence or abuse at the hands of other inmates or prison staff than other inmates.

The Disruptive Prisoner Policy of Western Australia’s Corrective Services also raised particular concern. In July attorneys for three Aboriginal prisoners filed a complaint before the state supreme court, alleging that the policy led some prisoners at the Hakea and Casuarina Prison to spend more than 23 hours a day in solitary confinement with as little as 30 minutes of fresh air a day. The policy was suspended pending an administrative review.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhumane conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. A number of domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at domestic immigration detention centers (see section 2.f.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. The maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge is 24 hours, unless extended by court order for up to an additional 24 hours.

Under limited circumstances in terrorism cases, a number of federal and state or territorial laws permit police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge or questioning for up to 14 days. These laws contain procedural safeguards including on access to information related to lawyer-client communication.

By law the Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor helps ensure that counterterrorism laws strike an appropriate balance between protecting the community and protecting human rights. The federal police, the Australian Crime Commission, and intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight. The inspector general of intelligence and security is an independent statutory officer who provides oversight of the country’s six national intelligence agencies.

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carry a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to provide legal advice to and represent detainees who cannot afford counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law allows courts to detain convicted terrorists beyond the expiration of their sentence by up to an additional three years for preventive purposes where there is no less restrictive measure available to prevent the risk posed by the offender to the community. Various human rights organizations criticized this law as allowing the government to detain prisoners arbitrarily.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and timely public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. In state district and county courts and in state and territorial supreme courts, a judge and jury try serious offenses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, the right to an attorney, to be present at their trial, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government-funded attorneys are available to low-income persons. The defendant’s attorney can question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and appeal the court’s decision or the sentence imposed.

News emerged in late 2019 that a man known as both “Witness J” and Alan Johns (a pseudonym) had been prosecuted by the federal government and imprisoned in secret for crimes not made public. Media reports claimed Witness J is a former “senior military officer involved in intelligence” whose imprisonment in Canberra only came to light following a November 2019 judgment in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court arising from a dispute related to his treatment in prison. The Australian Capital Territory’s justice minister, Shane Rattenbury, told media in November 2019 he was “deeply disturbed by the extraordinary levels of secrecy surrounding the ‘Witness J’ case” imposed by the federal government, claiming it showed a “growing disregard for the principles of open justice and a robust democracy.” In a statement in December 2019 federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said the matter related to “highly sensitive national security information” that was “of a kind that could endanger the lives or safety of others.” Witness J has since been released from prison after serving a 15-month sentence.

The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, James Renwick, began a review into the Witness J trial in March, stating that “wholly closed criminal proceedings do indeed appear to be unprecedented in Australia, save possibly during the World Wars.” In April Renwick abandoned the review, citing limitations imposed by COVID-19. Renwick’s term concluded on June 30, and it will be up to the new monitor to consider restarting the review of Witness J’s trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and individuals or organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations. There is also an administrative process at the state and federal levels to seek redress for alleged wrongs by government departments. Administrative tribunals may review a government decision only if the decision is in a category specified under a law, regulation, or other legislative instrument as subject to a tribunal’s review.

Property Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens. The country is a signatory of the Terezin Declaration. Nongovernmental organizations were not aware of any recent restitution cases. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 9, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

National Security: In May, after the highest federal court ruled in April that a warrant used by federal police in a June 2019 raid on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was defective, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced it would not charge Smethurst for her use of classified information in a 2018 article on surveillance of citizens.

In July the federal police asked the federal director of public prosecutions to consider charging an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) journalist for publishing classified information in 2017 reports alleging Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. The AFP raided ABC’s Sydney headquarters in June 2019.

The News Corp and ABC raids (relating to separate reports but occurring in the same month) sparked a national discussion on press freedom, led by a coalition of media organizations calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In August the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released a report into “the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press.” The committee’s inquiry was initiated by the federal attorney general following public concerns about the two federal police raids. The committee recommended the government make changes to the use of warrants that would establish a “public interest advocate” to contest the issuance of warrants against journalists and media organizations. Media organizations including News Corp and the ABC said the report did not go far enough and continued to seek the ability to contest warrants themselves before raids take place.

Internet Freedom

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

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

The declarations of states of emergency by state and territory governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected a number of protests and demonstrations.

In June thousands of protesters in major cities and regional centers defied government health orders to protest the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the treatment of Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. The New South Wales Supreme Court upheld a police appeal to ban a march planned for Sydney on July 28 on public health grounds, with media reporting police arrested and imposed significant fines on six attendees. In Melbourne, police imposed similar fines on three protest organizers for breaching health directions in relation to a June 6 rally.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

To control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all state and territory governments, with the exception of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, enacted interstate border control measures, either outright prohibiting movement, or requiring an enforced mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival.

At various times all states and territories also temporarily prohibited or strongly discouraged movement within their borders to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading, especially to rural communities with vulnerable populations. For individuals, significant, for some burdensome, fines were the penalty for breaching social distancing and travel restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore–outside the country–can apply for a refugee visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally (onshore) can apply for a Temporary Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization, including preapproval to settle, are considered illegal migrants and subject to detention either in the country or in a third country. Individuals who arrived illegally may apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa, but it is generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.

Refugee processing centers operated on behalf of Australia in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were closed in March 2019 and October 2017, respectively. As of September 7, approximately 170 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government. An equivalent number remained in Papua New Guinea.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations reported credible allegations of abuse and deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in facilities in Brisbane and Melbourne. Alleged abuses included harsh conditions, inadequate mental health and other medical services, assault, and sexual abuse; these also contributed to suicide and self-harm. These organizations also reported suspicious deaths. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in several cases, family members were not allowed to accompany a relative sent to the country for medical treatment. Government policy required such persons to return to Nauru, Papua New Guinea, or their home country at the conclusion of treatment. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees. Months-long protests in Brisbane have sought policy changes, including a change to community detention.

Since the repeal of medevac legislation in December 2019, approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea–under the off-shore agreements with each country–to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing country remains subject to the discretion of federal ministers. The home affairs minister has approved the medical transfer of 71 persons from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia since the December 2019 repeal; the most recent person arrived from Nauru in July.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees identifies and refers most applicants considered under the program. The government rejected family reunification as a ground for approval of an asylum request.

The law allows the home affairs minister to enter into agreement with a third country to designate that country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally.

Unauthorized maritime arrivals transferred to a regional processing country have their protection claims assessed by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. Since 2019, persons transferred to these countries were no longer held in camps and resided in community-based accommodation while their claims were processed. Australia has memoranda of understanding on regional processing with Papua New Guinea and Nauru and had such arrangements with Cambodia from 2014-18. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess to need international protection.

Australia has another arrangement with Papua New Guinea for the settlement of persons it assesses need international protection. Under this arrangement, any unauthorized maritime arrival entering Australian waters is liable for transfer to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement there or in any other participating regional states.

Christmas Island was reopened in August to accommodate overflow in Australia’s immigration detention network. The government says it will initially support 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and are pending removal from Australia). The government stated there is no intention to take asylum seekers, including persons from regional processing countries, to Christmas Island.

By law the government must facilitate legal representation when requested (section 256 of the Migration Act). Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for unauthorized maritime arrivals.

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. In the largest jurisdiction, New South Wales, domestic violence offenses cover acts of personal violence (such as stalking, intimidation, or strangulation) committed against a person with whom the offender has (or had) a domestic relationship. For domestic-violence offenses, courts must impose a full-time prison sentence unless a valid exception applies. In the case of strangulation, an offense associated with domestic violence, the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

According to a 2019 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. In July a survey of 15,000 women by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed more than half of women who had experienced physical or sexual violence before the COVID-19 pandemic said violence had become more frequent. The research found 8.8 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former cohabiting partner between February and May.

Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.).

Children

The Law Council of Australia and other civil society groups campaigned for all Australian jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

The rate of indigenous children on care and protection orders was nearly seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons age 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and was effectively enforced.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than age 16 and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is a possibly substantial fine and 15 years’ imprisonment. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed, and the maximum penalty for persistent sexual abuse of a child outside the country is 25 years’ imprisonment.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory.

Public reaction to the interventions was mixed, with some indigenous activists asserting there was inadequate consultation and that the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. The nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported an incremental increase in anti-Semitic incidents every year since 2015. These incidents included vandalism, threats, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. According to press reports, persons in the country posted comments and shared various images online, portraying the coronavirus as a “Jew,” as well as accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the Human Rights Commission promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for commission mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Children with disabilities generally attended school. The government provided funding for early intervention and treatment services and cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities.

According to government sources, approximately half of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with approximately 80 percent of all working-age persons.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Of total complaints (2,307) received by the Human Rights Commission in 2019-20, 17 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to the provision of goods and services (37 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination related to employment (19 percent). One percent of racial discrimination complaints related to access to places and facilities.

Indigenous People

Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous peoples and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The National Indigenous Australians Agency has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country, and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources, and in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the national government administered indigenous communities directly and has a number of programs that provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constituted 27 percent of the full-time adult prison population. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Figures from parliament note that indigenous youth were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. The data indicates that 68 percent of detained juveniles were from an indigenous background, notably rising to 100 percent of detained juveniles in the Northern Territory in 2019 and 2020, when it was more likely that an indigenous juvenile would be incarcerated than at any other point since 1991, when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report was released. An Australian Law Reform Commission study released in March 2018 found that the justice system contributed to entrenching inequalities by not providing enough sentencing options or diversion programs for indigenous offenders.

The Human Rights Commission has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

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

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections for individuals and for corporations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The Fair Work Commission is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution; if dispute resolution is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the commission to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court. Procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Since 2019, companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws. Most forced labor cases were addressed through civil law, resulting in convicted labor traffickers receiving only fines and other civil penalties that were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. As noted by the International Labor Organization, no law prohibits the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for certain illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, in the Northern Territory.

There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. In Victoria, the minimum age of employment is 15. States and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

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

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination.

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

The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 14 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.

In 2017-18, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 30 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the Human Rights Commission were in the area of employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsman also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. Ombudsman inspectors may enter work sites unannounced if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of ombudsman inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. There were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.

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

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

There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the 2018 Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the ombudsman continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.

There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas.

Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible for developing and coordinating national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to November 5, 140 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 44 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 27 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 27 in construction.

Brunei

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law does not specifically prohibit torture. Caning may be ordered for certain offenses under both secular and sharia law, and it is mandatory for some offenses. The Sharia Penal Code (SPC) includes offenses punishable by corporal and capital punishments, including stoning to death, amputation of hands or feet, and caning. The SPC prohibits caning persons younger than 15. Secular law prohibits caning for women, girls, boys younger than eight, men older than 50, and those ruled unfit for caning by a doctor. Juvenile boys older than eight may be caned with a “light rattan” stick. Canings were conducted in the presence of a doctor, who could interrupt the punishment for medical reasons. The government generally applied laws carrying a sentence of caning impartially; the government sometimes deported foreigners in lieu of caning. The sharia court did not hand down any sentences imposing corporal or capital punishments.

There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: A government-appointed committee composed of retired government officials monitored prison conditions and investigated complaints concerning prison and detention center conditions.

The prison system has an ombudsperson’s office through which judicial officials, Legislative Council members, community leaders, and representatives of public institutions visit inmates on a monthly basis. A prisoner may complain to a visiting judge, the superintendent, the officer in charge, or, in the case of female prisoners, the matron in charge. “Spiritual rehabilitation” programs were compulsory for Muslim inmates.

“Spiritual rehabilitation” programs were compulsory for Muslim inmates.

Sharia convicts were kept in the same prison facilities but separated from inmates convicted in the secular courts. Sharia convicts were subject to the same regulations as secular convicts.

Independent Monitoring: There were no reports of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons arrested for secular (not sharia) offenses to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions but may supersede them by invoking emergency powers.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A magistrate must endorse a warrant for arrest, except when police are unable to obtain an endorsement in time to prevent the flight of a suspect or when a suspect is apprehended in the act of committing a crime. After an arrest, police may detain a suspect for a maximum of 48 hours for investigation before bringing the suspect before a magistrate or sharia judge. Secular and sharia law enforcement agencies respected and upheld this right. Police stations maintained a policy of no access to detained individuals during the 48-hour investigative period, including by attorneys. Authorities may hold detainees beyond the initial 48 hours with a magistrate’s or sharia judge’s approval.

Authorities reportedly informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities made information on detainees public after the 48-hour investigative period. Police may deny visitor access after the 48-hour investigative period in exceptional cases, such as probable cause to suspect witness tampering.

The law allows for bail at the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. There is no provision to afford pro bono legal counsel to poor defendants, except in capital offenses. In noncapital cases, indigent defendants may act as their own lawyers. Some civil society organizations provided pro bono legal service to indigent defendants in noncapital cases before secular courts. There were no reports of suspects being held incommunicado or without access to an attorney after the initial 48-hour investigative period.

Authorities may detain persons without a hearing in cases of detention or arrest under the Internal Security Act, which permits the government to detain suspects without trial for renewable two-year periods. In these cases, the government convenes an independent advisory board consisting of senior security and judicial officials to review individual detentions and report to the minister of home affairs. The minister is required to notify detainees in writing of the grounds for their detention and of relevant allegations of fact. The advisory board must review individual detentions annually.

Sharia law operates in parallel with the country’s common law-based courts. In cases involving offenses covered by both the SPC and secular law–such as murder, rape, and theft–an “assessment committee” including a secular law prosecutor, a sharia prosecutor, a regular police officer, and a religious enforcement officer determines whether the secular or sharia court system should try the case. If a dispute arises, the attorney general acts as final arbiter.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law does not provide specifically for an independent judiciary, and both the secular and sharia courts fall administratively under the Prime Minister’s Office, run by the sultan as prime minister and the crown prince as senior minister. The government generally respects judicial independence, however, and there were no known instances of government interference with the judiciary. In both judicial systems, the sultan appoints all higher-court judges, who serve at his pleasure. Deliberations by the assessment committee of secular and sharia officials convened to determine whether specific cases would proceed through secular or sharia court were not public, nor did the government make public the grounds for the committee’s decisions.

Trial Procedures

Secular law provides for the right to a fair, timely and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The Internal Security Act, which is part of secular law, allows for preventative detention in cases of subversion and organized violence. Sharia procedures do not specifically provide for the right to a fair trial.

Defendants in criminal proceedings are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials are public and conducted by a judge or panel of judges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, although the law does allow for trial in absentia, and to counsel of their choice. There were no reports of defendants who were not allowed adequate time or facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants had access to an interpreter (if needed) free of charge and have the right to confront accusers, to cross-examine and call witnesses, to present evidence, to not testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Lawyers have access to the accused, although not during the initial 48-hour investigatory period unless the investigation is concluded and charges are filed.

In general, defendants in sharia proceedings have the same rights as defendants in criminal cases under secular law.

While sharia courts have long had jurisdiction in certain civil matters when at least one party is Muslim, many SPC elements apply to all persons in the country, regardless of nationality or religion; some sections of the law have specific applicability to Muslims. In October the sharia court prosecuted its first case involving a non-Muslim citizen who was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for theft.

The Internal Security Act establishes significant exceptions to the rights granted in secular law. Individuals detained under the act are not presumed innocent and do not have the right to legal counsel. Those detained are entitled to make representation against a detention order to an advisory board, either personally or through an advocate or attorney.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law does not provide for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations, and there is no provision for judicial review of any action of the government. By customary practice, individuals may present written complaints about rights violations directly to the sultan for review.

Property Restitution

The law bans noncitizens (including foreign investors, permanent residents, and stateless individuals) from owning land outright or holding land via a power of attorney or trust deeds, and when implemented retroactively it declared all such contracts null and void. The law does not provide for financial compensation or restitution. These elements of the law, however, were not implemented.

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

The law permits government intrusion into the privacy of individuals, families, and homes. The government reportedly monitored private email, mobile telephone messaging, and internet chat-room exchanges suspected of being subversive or propagating religious extremism. An informant system was part of the government’s internal security apparatus to monitor suspected dissidents, religious minorities, or those accused of crimes. Persons who published comments on social media critical of government policy, both on public blogs and personal sites such as Facebook, reported that authorities monitored their comments. In some cases, persons were told by friends or colleagues in the government they were being monitored; in other cases, it appeared critical comments were brought to the attention of authorities by private complainants.

Longstanding sharia law and the SPC permit enforcement of khalwat, a prohibition on the close proximity of a Muslim and a member of the opposite sex other than a spouse or close relative. Non-Muslims may be arrested for violating khalwat if the other accused party is Muslim. Not all suspects accused of violating khalwat were formally arrested; some individuals received informal warnings.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Under the law and emergency powers, the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Speech: There is no provision for freedom of speech in the constitution or laws. Members of the Legislative Council may “speak their opinions freely” on behalf of citizens, but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This philosophy identifies Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or to “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. SPC sections provide, in certain circumstances, for death sentences for apostasy from Islam, deriding Islamic scriptures, and declaring oneself as god, among other offenses. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers did not permit comments or stories on these subjects.

The government interpreted the SPC to prohibit public celebration of religions other than Islam, including publicly displaying Christmas decorations. Some establishments, however, openly sold Christmas decorations or advertised Christmas-themed events. Christmas remained an official national holiday.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. Foreign newspapers generally were available. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

The government owns the only local television station. Three Malaysian television channels are also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything with what the government deems seditious intent. Punishments include suspension of publication for a maximum of one year, a prohibition on publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing for, or editing any other newspaper, and the seizure of printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law also face a significant fine and a maximum prison term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences.

Observers reported prohibitions against covering a variety of topics, such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and not being able to report on topics such as crime until there has been an official press release by the relevant government agency. In the past, the government shuttered media outlets, reprimanded media companies for their portrayals of certain events, and encouraged reporters to avoid covering controversial topics. There were no such reports during the year. The government maintained that most censorship was aimed at stopping violent content from entering the country.

The SPC prohibits publication or importation of publications giving instruction about Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution to Muslims or to persons with no religion of publications related to religions other than Islam. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference, and legal and professional concerns.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt or exciting disaffection against the sultan or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a significant fine, a maximum of three years in prison, or both. There were no reports of such cases during the year.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet, censored online content, and had the capability to monitor private online communications. The government monitored private email and internet chat-room exchanges it believed to be propagating religious extremism or otherwise subversive views, including those of religious minorities, or material on topics deemed immoral. The Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications and the Prime Minister’s Office enforce the law that requires internet service providers and internet cafe operators to register with the director of broadcasting in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Authority for the Infocommunications Technology Industry advised internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to the public interest, national harmony, and social morals.

Internet companies self-censored content and reserved the right to cut off internet access without prior notice. The government continued awareness campaigns warning citizens about the misuse of and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy. The government maintained a hotline for reporting fake or malicious information circulated on social media that involved public or national interests.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Although there are no official government restrictions on academic freedom, government authorities must approve public lectures, academic conferences, and visiting scholars, and the sultan serves as chancellor of all major universities.

Academics reported practicing self-censorship. In recent years, some researchers published overseas under a pseudonym when they perceived that certain topics would not be well received by the authorities. Religious authorities reviewed publications to verify compliance with social norms.

There were government restrictions on cultural events. All public musical or theatrical performances require prior approval by a censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The board determines the suitability of concerts, movies, cultural shows, and other public performances, and censored, banned, or restricted some activities. Although the Censorship Board rarely required changes in performances, delays associated with the censorship process posed logistical hurdles for performing arts organizations. Authorities restricted traditional Chinese New Year lion dance performances to Chinese temples, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese association members.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government’s emergency powers restrict the right to assemble. Public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police may disband an unofficial assembly of five or more persons deemed likely to cause a disturbance of the peace. Permits require the approval of the minister of home affairs. The government routinely issued permits for annual events but has in recent years occasionally used its authority to disrupt political gatherings. Organizers of events on sensitive topics tended to hold meetings in private rather than apply for permits or practiced self-censorship at public events.

Freedom of Association

The law does not provide for freedom of association. The law requires formal groups, including religious, social, business, labor, and cultural organizations, to register with the Registrar of Societies and provide regular reports on membership and finances. Applicants were subject to background checks, and proposed organizations were subject to naming requirements, including for example a prohibition on names or symbols linked to triad societies (Chinese organized-crime networks). The government reported it accepted the majority of applications to form associations, but some new organizations reported delaying their registration applications after receiving advice that the process would be difficult. The government may suspend the activities of a registered organization if it deems such an act to be in the public interest.

Organizations seeking to raise funds or donations from the general public are required to obtain permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and each individual fundraising activity requires a separate permit. Approved organizations dealt with matters such as pollution, wildlife preservation, arts, entrepreneurship, and women in business.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The government generally respected the legal right to freedom of internal movement and the right to emigrate but imposed restrictions on foreign travel and repatriation.

Foreign Travel: Government employees, including both citizens and foreign residents working on a contractual basis, must apply for exit permits to travel abroad. Government guidelines state no government official may travel alone, and unrelated male and female officers may not travel together, but the government enforced this policy inconsistently. The country’s tourist passports state the bearer may not travel to Israel.

Exile: By law the sultan may forcibly exile, permanently or temporarily, any person deemed a threat to the safety, peace, or welfare of the country. There have been no cases of banishment since the country became fully independent in 1984.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

There are no recent, reliable statistics on the number of stateless persons in the country, but observers estimated there were tens of thousands, most of whom had permanent resident status. Most stateless residents were native born, of Chinese heritage, and from families that have resided in the country for generations. Other stateless residents included members of indigenous tribes, whose lands span Brunei and the neighboring Malaysian state of Sarawak, and the foreign wives of Malay Muslim men. The vast majority of stateless persons held a certificate of identity, which functions as a passport. Certificate holders have some rights similar to those of citizens, including rights to subsidized health care and education. The government has no data available on stateless persons who hold no form of residency or certificate of identity.

Stateless persons may apply for citizenship if they are adults born in the country and resident for 12 of the last 15 years, provided they pass a test demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Malay culture and language. Women married to citizens and the minor children of citizens who did not obtain citizenship at birth–such as children of citizen mothers and permanent resident fathers–may also apply. Members of the stateless community who passed the Malay culture and language test have for years reported a de facto suspension of citizenship approvals for stateless adult residents, with many reporting that although five to 10 years had elapsed since they passed their test they still had not been granted citizenship. The minister of home affairs noted that most of the 389 applicants awarded citizenship during the year had married Malay Muslim citizens and were not members of the ethnic Chinese community, although the local press did highlight two members of the ethnic Chinese community who gained citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government. The sultan rules through hereditary birthright. While the country is a constitutional sultanate, in 1962 the then ruler invoked an article of the constitution that allows him to assume emergency powers. The sultan continued this practice and in December 2018 renewed the state of emergency for an additional two years. As of December 15, the sultan had not renewed the state of emergency for another two years.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Political authority and control rest entirely with the sultan. The Legislative Council, composed primarily of appointed members with little independent power, provided a forum for limited public discussion of proposed government programs, budgets, and administrative deficiencies. It convenes once per year in March for approximately two weeks. Council members serve five-year terms at the pleasure of the sultan.

Persons age 18 and older may vote by secret ballot in village consultative council elections. Candidates must be Muslim, approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and have been a citizen or permanent resident for more than 15 years. The councils communicate constituent wishes to higher authorities through a variety of channels, including periodic meetings chaired by the minister of home affairs. The government also meets with groups of elected village chiefs to allow them to express local grievances and concerns.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The National Development Party is the only registered political party. The party pledged to support the sultan and the government and made no criticisms of the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The constitution requires that all ministers be of Malay ethnicity and Muslim except as permitted by the sultan. The cabinet included an ethnic Chinese minister, and members of tribal minorities also held senior government positions. Women accounted for more than half of civil service employees, and many held senior positions, including at the deputy minister level. Women are subject to an earlier mandatory retirement age than men (55 versus 60 years), which may inhibit their career progression. The law requires that elected village heads be Malay Muslim men.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: Although corruption was not pervasive, the sultan publicly criticized police, the military, and the immigration and labor departments for corrupt activities, including visa fraud, among other shortcomings. In a high-profile criminal case, the common law High Court convicted a husband-and-wife duo of former judges in January on charges of misappropriating and laundering more than 11.5 million dollars in government funds. They were sentenced to five and 10 years, respectively. The case was particularly noteworthy because the couple was very well connected–one was the son of the minister of religious affairs and the other the daughter of a retired high ranking military officer.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are not subject to routine financial disclosure reports, but by law officials must declare their assets if they are the subject of an investigation. The government did not make these declarations public. The Anticorruption Bureau also issued a public warning to all government workers that it is empowered to investigate any official who maintains a standard of living above or disproportionate to his or her past or present emolument.

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

Neither domestic nor international human rights groups could operate freely due to government restrictions. No registered civil society organizations dealt directly with human rights, mostly due to self-censorship. A few domestic organizations worked on humanitarian issues, such as assistance for victims of domestic violence or provision of free legal counsel for indigent defendants. They generally operated with government support, and the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, although they reported practicing self-censorship and avoiding sensitive issues. Regional and other international human rights organizations occasionally operated in the country but faced the same restrictions as all unregistered organizations. In December 2019 the UN resident coordinator visited the country noting that UN agencies already had some roles there, including the International Labor Organization’s work with the Ministry of Home Affairs on labor standards and the World Health Organization’s work with the Ministry of Health on public-health issues.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Secular law stipulates imprisonment from eight to 30 years plus caning with a minimum of 12 strokes as punishment for rape. The SPC provides stoning to death as the maximum punishment for rape. The law does not criminalize rape against men or spousal rape and explicitly states that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife is not rape as long as she is not younger than 14 (15 if she is ethnic Chinese). There is no specific domestic violence law, but authorities arrested individuals in domestic violence cases under the law related to protection of women and girls. The criminal penalty under the law is one to two weeks in jail and a fine for a minor assault; an assault resulting in serious injury is punishable by caning and a longer prison sentence. Islamic family law provides protections against spousal abuse and for the granting of protection orders, and it has been interpreted to cover sexual assault. The penalty for violating a protection order is a significant fine, maximum imprisonment of six months, or both.

Police investigated domestic violence only in response to a report by a victim but reportedly did respond effectively in such cases.

The government reported rape cases, but there were no data available on the prevalence of the crime. All rape cases are tried under the secular civil law. However, if a rape case were to be tried under the Sharia Penal Code the high evidential standards may discourage reporting of the crime. A special police unit staffed by female officers investigated domestic abuse and child abuse complaints.

The Department of Community Development in the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided counseling for women and their spouses. Some female and minor victims of domestic violence and rape were placed in protective custody at a government-sponsored shelter while waiting for their cases to be scheduled in court. Islamic courts staffed by male and female officials offered counseling to married couples in domestic violence cases. Islamic courts recognized assault as grounds for divorce.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No law criminalizes FGM/C for women of any age. There were no statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but international media and contacts reported that in general Type 4 FGM/C was done within 40 days of birth based on religious belief and custom and that the practice was widespread. Contacts also reported that the procedure was sometimes performed outside of a medical setting. The Ministry of Religious Affairs declared “circumcision” for Muslim girls (sunat) to be a religious rite obligatory in Islam and described it as the removal of the hood of the clitoris (Type I per World Health Organization classification).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and states that whoever utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object intending to insult the modesty of a woman shall be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine. The law also stipulates that whoever assaults or uses criminal force, intending thereby to outrage, or knowing the act is likely to outrage the modesty of a person, shall be punished by caning and a maximum imprisonment of five years. There were reports of sexual harassment, but there were no data available on the prevalence of the crime.

Reproductive Rights: Couples have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and they have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Social, cultural, and religious pressures may have affected some women’s access to contraception or health care for sexually transmitted infections. Unmarried Muslim women had difficulty obtaining contraception from government clinics, turning to private clinics or reproductive services abroad instead. Women seeking medical assistance for complications arising from illegal abortions were reported to police after being given care. The government provides access to health services for sexual violence survivors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: In accordance with the government’s interpretation of the Quran, Muslim women and men are accorded different rights, particularly as codified in sharia law, applicable to Muslims. Secular civil law permits female citizens to own property and other assets, including business properties. Noncitizen husbands of citizens may not apply for permanent resident status until they reside in the country for a minimum of seven years, whereas noncitizen wives may do so after two years of marriage. Although citizenship is automatically inherited from citizen fathers, citizen mothers may pass their nationality to their children only through an application process in which children are first issued a certificate of identity (and considered stateless).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from the father, or, following an application process, the mother. Citizenship is not derived by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration is universal and equal for girls and boys. Stateless parents must apply for a special pass for a child born in the country. Failure to register a birth is against the law and later makes it difficult to enroll the child in school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is a crime and was prosecuted but did not appear prevalent. The Royal Brunei Police Force includes a specialized Woman and Child Abuse Crime Investigation Unit, and the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports provided shelter and care to victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 14 years and seven months with parental and participant consent, unless otherwise stipulated by religion or custom under the law, which generally sets a higher minimum age. The Islamic Family Act sets the minimum marriageable age at 16 for Muslim girls and 18 for Muslim men and makes it an offense to use force, threat, or deception to compel a person to marry against his or her own will. Ethnic Chinese must be 15 or older to marry, according to the Chinese Marriage Act, which also stipulates sexual intercourse with an ethnic Chinese girl younger than 15 is considered rape even if with her spouse. Observers reported that, although permitted by the law, marriages involving minors were rare and generally prohibited by social custom.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 14 (15 if ethnically Chinese) constitutes rape and is punishable by imprisonment of from eight to 30 years plus a minimum of 12 strokes of the cane. The law provides for protection of women, girls, and boys from commercial sexual exploitation through prostitution and “other immoral purposes,” including pornography. The government applied the law against “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” to prosecute rape of male children. The minimum age for consensual sex outside of marriage is 16.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community in the country. Comments disparaging Jewish persons collectively were occasionally posted online and on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities or mandate accessibility or the provision of most public services to them. Access to buildings, information, transportation, and communications for persons with disabilities was inconsistent. The law does not specifically address access to the judiciary for persons with disabilities. All persons regardless of disability, however, receive the same rights and access to health care.

Although not required by law, the government provided inclusive educational services for children with disabilities who attended both government and religious schools alongside nondisabled peers. Persons with disabilities may participate in local village elections.

During the year the Department for Community Development continued its outreach programs promoting awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities.

By a decree from the sultan, all children with disabilities younger than age 15 are eligible to receive a monthly disability allowance of Brunei Dollars (BND) 450 ($330). Nine registered NGOs worked to supplement services provided by the three government agencies that supported persons with disabilities. The government introduced alternative methods of payment to ensure that persons with disabilities received disability allowance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The government favors ethnic Malays in society through the national Malay Islamic Monarchy philosophy. Under the constitution, ministers and most top officials must be Malay Muslims, although the sultan may make exceptions. Members of the military must be Malay. The government pressured both public- and private-sector employers to increase hiring of Malay citizens. There were no known incidents of violence against members of ethnic minority groups, but the government continued policies that favored ethnic Malays in employment, health, housing, and land ownership.

Indigenous People

Some indigenous persons were stateless. Indigenous lands were not specifically demarcated, and there were no specially designated representatives for indigenous groups in the Legislative Council or other government entities. Indigenous persons generally had minimal participation in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions and in the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on and under indigenous lands.

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

Secular law criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” understood to mean sex between men. In 2017 legal amendments increased the minimum prison sentence for such carnal intercourse to 20 years. The amendments were intended to apply in cases of rape or child abuse wherein both attacker and victim are male, because existing law covered only assault of a woman by a man. The SPC bans liwat (anal intercourse) between men or between a man and a woman who is not his wife, with a maximum penalty of death by stoning. The SPC also prohibits men from dressing as women or women dressing as men “without reasonable excuse” or “for immoral purposes.” Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported that the Ministry of Religious Affairs summoned transsexual individuals to their offices and demanded that they agree to maintain the gender listed on their birth certificate, although no threats of punishment were made in any of these reported cases.

At a private Pride gathering, members of the LGBTI community reported societal discrimination in public and private employment, housing, recreation, and in obtaining services including education from state entities. Members said the absence of online or in-person support injured their mental health but that they were reluctant to seek counseling at government health centers. Members of the LGBTI community reported the government monitored their activities and communications. Like all events in the country, events on LGBTI topics were subject to restrictions on assembly and expression. The LGBTI community reported that the government would not issue permits for community events or other occasions on LGBTI topics.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related stigma continued and discrimination occurred. By law foreigners infected with HIV are not permitted to enter or stay in the country, although no medical testing is required for short-term tourists.

The Ministry of Health reported more than 70 persons were infected with HIV between 2018 and 2019, of whom 90 per cent were men. In response, on October 7, the Brunei Darussalam AIDS Council, a government-linked NGO, provided free HIV testing and anonymous counseling for all men, an initiative to encourage infected men to seek resources and assistance without fear of scrutiny over the cause or source of infection.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, with significant oversight by the Registrar of Trade Unions. It does not provide for collective bargaining and prohibits strikes. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers for union activities, but it does not provide for reinstatement for dismissal related to union activity. There were no unions or worker organizations in the country.

By law unions must register with the government under the same process and are subject to the same laws as other organizations (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). All unions that do not register with the Trade Union Registrar face penalties. The registrar is prohibited from registering unions whose pursuit is unlawful, where there is already a union deemed to be representative, or if it represents more than one industry. While the law permits the formation of trade union federations, as long as they are of the same sector, it forbids affiliation with international labor organizations unless the minister of home affairs and the ministry’s Department of Labor consent. The law prescribes the use of trade union funds, prohibiting contributions to political parties or payment of court penalties. The law requires officers of trade unions to be “bona fide” (without explanation), which has been interpreted to allow authorities broad discretion to reject officers and require that such officers have been employed in the trade for a minimum of two years.

Penalties for violating laws on unions include fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

In the absence of unions or worker organizations, there were no reports of government enforcement of laws respecting their establishment or operation. NGOs were involved in labor issues, such as wages, contracts, and working conditions. These NGOs largely operated openly in cooperation with relevant government agencies, but they reported avoiding confrontation with the government and engaged in self-censorship.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, although the government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Convictions for forced labor could lead to penalties including fines, imprisonment, and caning, but most cases alleging forced labor were settled out of court. Penalties were seldom applied. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The 2019 Antitrafficking in Persons Order and the 2019 Prevention of People Smuggling Order replaced a single law covering both offenses. The government subsequently established an interagency committee under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate the government’s efforts to counter human trafficking.

The government did not effectively investigate any cases of debt bondage or forced labor. The heads of specialist trafficking units within the police department continued to meet regularly to coordinate antitrafficking policy and implement the national action plan to combat trafficking, including for forced labor.

Some of the approximately 100,000 foreign migrant workers in the country faced involuntary servitude, debt bondage, nonpayment of wages, passport confiscation, abusive employers, or confinement to the home. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold wages, some employers, notably of domestic and construction workers, did so to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel continued service.

Although the government forbade wage deductions by employers to repay in-country agencies or sponsors and mandated that employees receive their full salaries, many migrant workers arrived in debt bondage to actors outside the country. Bangladeshi media reports indicated that widespread fraud in work visa issuance made many migrant workers–particularly an estimated 20,000 Bangladeshi nationals working mostly in the construction industry–vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Three local women, who were charged in November 2019 for providing false information to the Department of Immigration and National Registration on foreign workers’ visa applications, remained under investigation as of November. The accused allegedly submitted applications for foreign workers claiming that the workers would have jobs with a specific company, but the jobs did not actually exist. Under the law the charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a substantial fine.

The sultan conducted a surprise inspection of the Immigration and Labor Departments on October 5 to address what he called “shortcomings” in the trustworthiness and efficiency of both departments. Among his concerns, the sultan raised the case of a syndicate selling fake national identification cards, intimating that immigration officials must have been complicit in the operation. In a rare explicit reference to Bangladeshi workers, the ruler also attributed the “uncontrolled influx” of foreign labor to government mismanagement in issuing employee visas.

Although prohibited by law, retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remained a common practice.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Various laws prohibit the employment of children younger than 16. Parental consent and approval by the Labor Commission are required in order for those younger than 18 to work. Female workers younger than 18 may not work at night or on offshore oil platforms.

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law on procuring or offering children younger than 18 for prostitution or illicit intercourse refers only to girls and not to boys.

The Department of Labor, which is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, effectively enforced child labor laws. Penalties for child labor violations include a fine, imprisonment, or both, and were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There was no list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children. There is also no list of types of light work activities legal for children ages 14 to 16.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There is no law requiring equal pay for equal work. The law limits employment in certain government positions and the military based on ethnic origin (see section 6).

The law restricts women from serving in certain military combat roles, such as infantry. The government’s executive training program for middle managers introduced several initiatives to increase public awareness of sexual harassment in the work place, including discussion and outreach to members of the government and private sectors as well as NGOs. Reflecting government policy, most public and many private employers showed hiring biases against foreign workers, particularly in key sectors such as oil and gas. Some LGBTI job applicants faced discrimination and were often asked directly about their sexual identity. Many foreign workers had their wages established based on national origin, with those from certain foreign countries receiving lower wages than others.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not set a minimum wage for the private sector. Wages were set by contract between the employee and employer and were sometimes calculated based on national origin. Many employed citizens received adequate salaries with numerous allowances, but complaints about low wages were common, especially in entry-level positions. The government found that local employees in the private sector had an average monthly compensation of BND 2,260 ($1,670), compared with BND 1,570 ($1,160) for foreign workers. Wages for employed foreign residents varied widely.

The standard workweek for most government agencies and many private companies is Monday through Thursday and Saturday. The law provides for overtime in excess of 48 hours per week. The law also stipulates an employee may not work more than 72 hours of overtime per month.

Government regulations establish and identify appropriate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The law clarified that the responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions lies with OSH experts, not workers. Individuals were encouraged to report violations of health and safety standards, but the law does not explicitly protect the right to remove oneself from a hazardous workplace.

The government does not effectively enforce laws on working hours or occupational safety and health. The commissioner of the Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws. The Department of Labor inspected working conditions both on a routine basis and in response to complaints. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The number of labor inspectors in the department was adequate to conduct mandated inspections, but inspectors failed to bring charges against some employers who violated the law. For example, following numerous inspections of workers’ accommodations, many of which were found to be unsuitable, labor inspectors did not prosecute any employers. The focus was primarily on detecting undocumented foreign workers rather than worker protection. The department has the power to terminate the licenses of abusive employers and revoke their foreign labor quotas, and it did so occasionally.

Employers who violate laws regarding conditions of service–including payment of wages, working hours, leave, and holidays–may be fined for a first offense and, for further offenses, be fined, imprisoned, or both. Penalties for violations of wage, hour, and health and safety standards were not commensurate with those such as fraud or negligence.

Foreign laborers (predominantly Filipinos, Indonesians, and Bangladeshis) dominated most low-wage professions, such as domestic service, construction, maintenance, retail, and food service, in which violations of wage, overtime, and health and safety regulations most frequently occurred.

In September the Ministry of Energy issued a stop-work order against Hengyi Industries’ refinery following an unplanned inspection of the site where it found 27 foreign workers living in illegal dormitories, 10 of whom lacked employment documents.

Government enforcement in sectors employing low-skilled labor in small-scale construction or maintenance projects was inadequate. This was especially true for foreign laborers at construction sites, where complaints of wage arrears, inadequate safety, and poor, unsafe living conditions were reported.

There were some reports of industrial accidents during the year, most commonly in the construction sector, where the labor force is overwhelmingly foreign. In August, for example, a road worker was struck and killed by a car after authorities failed to close a bridge to traffic during repairs.

Marshall Islands

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. Majuro and Ebeye jail authorities routinely held drunk prisoners naked. Government officials stated they did this so prisoners could not use their clothing to attempt suicide.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Treatment of prisoners and prison conditions were harsh and at times degrading.

Physical Conditions: No specialized prison facilities existed for juvenile or adult female prisoners at the jail in Majuro. Authorities did not hold women with men in the Majuro jail. Generally, female prisoners in the capital were held under house arrest, which involved taking away their passports and confining them to their homes at night. According to jail guards, in a few isolated incidents, women arrested for driving under the influence were held with male prisoners for 24 to 48 hours, usually over a weekend or local holiday, when it was not possible to process them quickly enough to put them immediately under house arrest.

A chief complaint in the Majuro jail was the lack of adequate ventilation. Prisoners were held in cramped cells with no air conditioning, windows, or fans, while the temperature outside was usually above 90 degrees. Prisoners had to supply their own electric fans. Lighting in cells was inadequate; prisoners had to supply their own lamps or other light sources. The facility was unsanitary; the guards reported there were no janitors, but prisoners were given cleaning products.

The jail in Ebeye on Kwajalein Atoll, attached to the courthouse, is the only detention facility in the country other than the Majuro jail. It was often overcrowded, and observers have described conditions as degrading; Ebeye was supposed to send all prisoners to Majuro jail but did not always do so because of the high cost of transportation.

Authorities allowed prisoners to leave facilities periodically on work details or for meals at home. Police escorted prisoners needing medical treatment to the Majuro hospital where they received free treatment.

Administration: Although authorities permitted inmates to submit complaints about their treatment without censorship and investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions, there were no complaints of physical abuse submitted during the year. On-duty guards often left their posts during the lunch hour.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers and by religious groups visiting imprisoned members throughout the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Under the constitution a warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest if there is adequate time to obtain one. The courts interpret this requirement to exempt situations such as a breach of the peace or a felony in progress. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Authorities generally respected this right and informed detainees promptly of the charges against them.

There was a functioning bail system, and detainees may request bond immediately upon arrest for minor offenses. The constitution requires bail be set at a reasonable rate. Most serious offenses require the detainee to remain in jail until authorities can arrange a hearing, normally the morning after arrest. Detainees were allowed access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to one provided by the state. There were no known cases of incommunicado detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Most trials are bench trials, in which only a judge hears the case; however, if the penalty for the alleged offense is three or more years in jail, defendants may select either a bench trial or a four-member jury trial. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to counsel. The government provides an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing criminal charges. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation between English and Marshallese as necessary. Defendants also have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and with adequate time to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. They may question prosecution witnesses and present their own witnesses. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights apply equally to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is no separate judiciary in civil matters. There are administrative remedies for alleged wrongs, including human rights abuses, as well as judicial remedies within the general court system.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government implemented strict travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Foreign Travel: The government did not allow its citizens to return to the country because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Several citizens considered to have essential jobs were allowed to return. The government also restricted its citizens from travelling abroad during part of the outbreak, with limited exceptions granted by the government.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government, including their representatives in the Nitijela, in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The constitution also recognizes the hereditary Council of Iroij’s right to decide on issues of custom and tradition, including land tenure. The council consists of 12 traditional clan chiefs.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national legislative elections took place in November 2019 and were generally regarded as free and fair, although a lawsuit was filed in one electoral district alleging vote buying and fraud. The case was awaiting the lifting of the travel ban to proceed.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process; 6 percent of members of the legislature were women. During the previous election cycle, women held 9 percent of legislative seats. Traditional attitudes of male dominance (men generally preferred to women as candidates), women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies created hurdles for women to obtain political qualifications or experience.

There were few minorities in the country and none in the legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and although the government generally implemented the law effectively, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Freedom House reported that corruption was a chronic problem, particularly in foreign aid allocation, government procurement, and transfers, and that high-ranking public officials were rarely prosecuted for corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office issued three indictments of public officials for corruption and dismissed the chief of immigration who was under investigation. Credible evidence suggested problems with government officials colluding in goods being smuggled into the country.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are required to report any gifts in excess of $100; there are no other financial disclosure requirements.

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including by a spouse, is a crime with a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault; the law is gender neutral, although there have been no cases of men alleging rape. Domestic violence is also a crime. The law seeks to stigmatize it, to ensure investigation of incidents and the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and to provide support for survivors. Complainants can file for either a temporary or a permanent protective order, which requires that the alleged perpetrator keep a distance of 150 feet from the complainant. Temporary protective orders have a duration of 28 days. Permanent protective orders remain in effect until the complaint is withdrawn. The law also requires all citizens to report suspected domestic violence.

The police response to allegations of rape and domestic violence was intermittent, although there is a police domestic violence unit with both an investigative and community outreach role. A lack of resources and training limits the capacity of local police to respond to and assist victims. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes rape cases brought to its attention. Prosecutions for domestic violence were sporadic, and awareness of the law was low outside the capital. A general lack of capacity and resources hindered the prosecution of rape and domestic violence cases. Court rules protect women during testimony in rape cases, primarily by shielding the victim as witness from the accused, but human rights advocates reported hesitancy among victims to report these crimes to the police despite awareness-raising efforts. There were two reported cases of sexual assault and conviction in a domestic murder case.

Various studies have suggested sexual violence of all types is common but frequently unreported. A 2017 study by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) ascribed the high rate of domestic violence to patriarchal social norms that place women in a subordinate cultural role. According to the study, most citizens believed violence against women was justified in many situations.

Government health offices provided limited counseling services when spouse or child abuse was reported, but there were no government shelters for domestic violence victims. NGOs continued efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. WUTMI, formed to advance women’s rights, partnered with government and other donors for its Weto in Mour: Violence against Women and Girls Support Service, which provided survivors with safe accommodations, basic necessities, and transport fares to enable them to attend legal appointments. The Micronesian Legal Services Corporation offers free legal services to victims to obtain a protective order.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime, defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that makes a person feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated. The law was generally not well enforced.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care was available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls. On remote atolls only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available.

The government provides sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. Although statistics were not available, observers said there was a disproportionate number of premature births to teenage mothers. Maternal mortality statistics were not available.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal rights as men. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal on most atolls, although control of property was often delegated to male family members. Tribal chiefs, customarily the husband or eldest son of the female landowner, are the traditional authorities in the country. The government generally enforced these rights.

Women are represented in the workforce in proportion to their share of the general population. There is no law on equal pay for equal work; however, equal pay was in effect for government employees.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through one’s parents. Children born within the country to foreign parents do not acquire citizenship at birth but may apply for citizenship upon reaching age 18. Failure to register births generally did not result in the denial of public services such as education or medical care.

Education: Although primary education is compulsory beginning at age five, the government did not strictly enforce the law. The law does not specify an age at which students may drop out of school. To enter public high school, students must take an admission exam, but due to space constraints, not all who passed the exam could attend public high schools. School enrollment rates were 51 percent for boys and 49 percent for girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse and neglect are criminal offenses, but public awareness of children’s rights remained low. Convictions for violations are punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison, depending on the degree of the offense. The law requires teachers, caregivers, and other persons to report instances of child abuse and exempts them from civil or criminal liability for making such a report. Child abuse and neglect remained common.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years for both men and women. Marriage under the age of 18 requires parental consent. According to the UN Population Fund database, 26 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 18. There were no known government measures to prevent or mitigate early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual relations are illegal for boys younger than age 15 and for girls younger than age 16. The country’s statutory rape law, which provides penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violators, was largely unenforced. The law criminalizes the exploitation of children, including child sex trafficking, child pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation, and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The law stipulates authorities may not punish child victims of sexual exploitation and that these victims should have access to support services. The law was generally enforced, although unsubstantiated reports of child sexual exploitation persisted.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were few Jewish residents in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials, but it does not include disability in its listing of specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Relevant law is designed to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and gives persons with disabilities equal rights under the law.

Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced difficulties in obtaining employment and accessing health care and other state services.

There were no specific psychiatric facilities in the country or community-based supports for persons with mental disabilities, although the Ministry of Health provided short-term care at the Majuro hospital or facilities off-island.

The Ministry of Health addresses the health needs of persons with mental and physical disabilities. The public school system is responsible for supporting special education for children with disabilities and continued to incorporate awareness programs for students with disabilities, in particular those with hearing disabilities.

There were no reports of violence against persons with disabilities.

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

Neither the constitution nor law provides specific protection against discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government interpreted this right as allowing persons to form and join independent labor unions. The law neither provides for nor prohibits collective bargaining or the right to strike. The law does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government enforced freedom of association laws. Penalties take the form of fines and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

With a small number of major employers, there were few opportunities for workers to unionize. Independent trade unions did not exist, and there were no NGOs promoting the rights of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor and prescribes penalties which are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government effectively enforced the law, conducting investigations that did not yield any instances of forced labor.

There were reports some foreign fishermen were subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age, hours of work, or occupational health restrictions for employment of children. The law prohibits exploitation of children younger than age 18, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. The government effectively enforced the law. Government inspections found no evidence of child labor. Penalties for child exploitation were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes such as kidnapping.

Children typically did not work in the wage economy, but reports persisted that it was common for them to assist their families in fishing, agriculture, retailing, and other small-scale enterprises, particularly in the subsistence economies of the more remote atolls where copra production can take children from school and may reduce educational outcomes. The government reported it found no evidence of this during its inspections.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials. Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination. The constitution states that the attorney general, in all cases of violations of the constitution, whether by private or public officials, has the standing to complain of the violation in judicial proceedings. The criminal code does not stipulate any specific penalty in such cases. There were no formal complaints of employment discrimination during the year. There were no legal restrictions against women in employment. No law mandates equal pay for equal work; government employees receive pay equity. Under the law citizens receive preference in hiring, and noncitizen workers are hired only to supplement the local workforce when no citizens qualify for the job. The law requires that employers who hire foreign workers pay a fee used for training citizen workers. Many employers willingly paid the fee to hire technically skilled labor, which was not widely available in the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a minimum wage which is not above the poverty line. Foreign employees and local trainees of private employers who invested in or established a business in the country are exempt from minimum-wage requirements provided the employer receives government authorization. Most foreign workers, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the workforce (excluding agroforestry), and most of the professional and technical classes in the country earned considerably more than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a standard workday of eight hours but places no restrictions on the amount of overtime that may be worked. No legislation provides protection for workers who file official complaints about conditions that endanger their health or safety. The law does not provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Occupational health and safety standards are generally appropriate. The Board of Inquiry within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the authority to make recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, such as the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards for workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. There were no policy recommendations or political initiatives by the Board of Inquiry during the year, and the board did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The board is empowered to do so, but it does not have dedicated inspectors to carry out inspections to enforce sufficient compliance.

Micronesia

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

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

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

In October 2019 Rachelle Bergeron, a U.S. citizen who was the acting attorney general for Yap State, was murdered in front of her home; observers believed it may have been related to her work as acting attorney general. Later that month police arrested and charged two local men (one a former police officer). The case was pending trial.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Authorities usually held pretrial detainees in the same facilities but in separate areas from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of medical facilities or community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government used separate jail cells to house persons with mental disabilities who had no criminal background.

There are no separate juvenile detention facilities, but two of the four states have designated cells for juveniles. The states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsman to respond to complaints. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but they rarely investigated such allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government is obliged to investigate and monitor prison and detention center conditions, but no information was available publicly on whether it did so. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there was no information publicly available on whether independent monitoring occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Warrants are required for arrests, and authorities advised detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities generally observed the requirement to bring detainees before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest. Courts released most arrested persons on bail or after they relinquished their passports. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members and lawyers. Not all detainees who requested help from the public defender’s office received adequate legal assistance due to an insufficient number of trained lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Authorities allowed closed hearings for cases involving juveniles. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, have the right to be present at their trial, and cannot be forced to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to counsel of their choice, or have counsel provided at public expense, subject to availability of trained lawyers, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges; receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons. In some cases, however, state governments attempted to deport foreign workers who were victims of a crime before their cases came to trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights abuses.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no cases in which the government had to cooperate with the UNHCR and other organizations regarding treatment of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 2019 election for 14 congressional legislators to serve either four- (the at-large member from each of the four states) or two-year terms was generally free and fair. Following the election, Congress selected David W. Panuelo as president from among the four at-large members who were eligible to serve as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there were no significant efforts to organize political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family, allied clan groupings, and religious groups.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women’s representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, but they were notably few in the upper ranks. At year’s end a woman held one of nine cabinet-level department head positions (postmaster general), and another woman served as consul general at the country’s consulate in Guam. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. The country’s first female ambassador served as permanent representative to the United Nations. There were four elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature, an increase from the previous election cycle. No women were elected in the March 2019 congressional election, and there were no female members in the other state legislatures.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both Congress and the executive branch included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively, but some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous anecdotal reports of corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for combating government corruption, including investigation and prosecution of individual cases. It operated somewhat independently. The office had sufficient resources, but observers said it allowed the Transnational Crime Unit (which investigates corruption) to deteriorate. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year.

Financial Disclosure: No laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by public officials.

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

Although there are no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and there were active women’s associations throughout the country. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Sexual assault of women or men, including rape, is a crime. There is no specific law against spousal rape. Sexual assault involving a dangerous weapon or serious physical or psychological harm to the victim is punishable by a maximum nine years’ imprisonment in Chuuk and 10 years’ imprisonment in the other three states, and a fine. If neither a dangerous weapon nor serious physical harm is involved, the assault is punishable in all states by a maximum five years’ imprisonment and a fine. Due in part to social stigma, family pressure, fear of further assault, or the belief that police would not involve themselves in what is often seen as a private family matter, such crimes were underreported, and authorities prosecuted few cases. According to police and women’s groups, there were several reports of physical and sexual assaults against women, both citizens and foreigners, outside the family context.

Reports of domestic violence, often severe, continued during the year. Although assault is a crime, effective prosecution of offenses was rare. Pohnpei State police stated they would not arrest anyone in a domestic violence scenario if the parents of both individuals involved in the altercation were present. The traditional extended family unit deemed violence, abuse, and neglect directed against spouses or children as offenses against the entire family, not just the individual victims, and addressed them by a complex system of culturally defined familial sanctions. Traditional methods of coping with family discord were breaking down with increasing urbanization, monetization of the economy, and greater emphasis on the nuclear family in which victims were isolated from traditional family support. No institution, including police, has succeeded in replacing the extended family system or in addressing directly the problem of family violence.

The national government operates a shelter available to all victims of sexual, domestic, and human trafficking crimes in Chuuk. The Pohnpei Department of Public Safety’s program against domestic violence included a hotline to handle domestic violence cases. The national government hotline to handle possible cases of human trafficking also reported receiving domestic and sexual assault calls.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested it occurred.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and they had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care were widely available at public medical facilities and private clinics.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence in the form of counseling and legal and medical assistance, including in partnership with nongovernmental organizations.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women have equal rights under the law, including the right to own property, and there were no institutional barriers to education or employment for women. The government enforced the law effectively. The largest employers were the national and state governments, and they paid female employees equal pay for equal work although this is not mandated by law. Societal discrimination against women continued, however, and cultural mores encouraged discriminatory treatment for women. Examples of discrimination against women included many instances of women being pressured to stop their higher educational pursuits once they become pregnant. Women were also discouraged from returning to school once the child was born.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen. Individual states maintain birth records. Kosrae State requires registration within two weeks after a birth. In the other three states, registration takes place for hospital births, but on remote outer islands there are no hospitals, and authorities do not register children until and unless they come to a main island for education.

Education: By law education is free and compulsory for children from ages six through 14, or upon completion of eighth grade; however, many students left school before that.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, although the constitution provides for a right of parental discipline. Cultural attitudes regarding parental discipline limited reporting of abuse, and there were anecdotal reports of child abuse and neglect. The government made no efforts to combat child abuse or neglect. There are no shelters for child victims of domestic abuse. Traditional mediation usually involved agreement among male elders and provided no support for child victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both boys and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law sets a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine for child trafficking. The states’ statutory rape laws apply to children age 13 or younger in Yap and Kosrae, 15 or younger in Pohnpei, and 17 or younger in Chuuk. Maximum penalties vary by state. In Chuuk and Pohnpei, it is five years’ imprisonment and a fine, while in Kosrae and Yap it is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Only Pohnpei has a statute prohibiting child pornography. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei have provisions against filming explicit movies of underage children, but Yap and Kosrae have no such provisions. Both Chuuk and Pohnpei impose a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for violations.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical disabilities in public service employment; no cases of such discrimination were reported. The National Disability Policy mandates accessibility to public buildings or services for persons with disabilities and provides for access to information and communications for persons with disabilities. The law protects access to health services and education for persons with disabilities.

By law students with disabilities have the right to separate education and training until they are age 21; however, there are no separate education facilities. The government provided children with disabilities, including learning disabilities, separate education in mainstream schools and instruction at home if necessary and if foreign funding was available. Separate education programs faced difficulties serving all eligible children.

Due to a lack of facilities and community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government housed some persons with mental disabilities but no criminal background in jails. Authorities continued to provide separate rooms in jails for persons with mental disabilities, and state health departments provided medication and other treatment free to all incarcerated persons with mental disabilities.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but did not provide significant services.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Each of the country’s four states has a different language and culture. Traditionally Yap State had a caste-like social system with high-status villages, each of which had an affiliated low-status village. In the past those who came from low-status villages worked without pay for those with higher status in exchange for care and protection by those of higher status. The traditional hierarchical social system has gradually broken down, and capable persons from low-status villages may rise to senior positions in society. Nonetheless, the traditional system affected contemporary life. Authorities sometimes continued to underserve low-status communities.

The national and state constitutions prohibit noncitizens from owning land, and foreign investment laws limit the types of businesses they can own and operate.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; nor does it prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons. The culture stigmatized public acknowledgement or discussion of certain sexual matters, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Persons rarely publicly identified as LGBTI.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, under the constitution citizens have the right to form or join associations, and by law government employees can form associations to “present their views” to the government without being subject to coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. Citizens did not exercise this right. No law deals specifically with trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Although the law does not prohibit workers, including foreign workers, from joining unions, there were no unions and most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses or in subsistence farming and fishing. No nongovernmental organizations focused on unions or labor issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although resources and inspections were minimal. Penalties were commensurate with those of other analogous serious crimes. The national antitrafficking law provides for penalties that were sufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

National and state laws do not establish a minimum age or prescribe limits on hours or occupations for employment of children. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. There was no employment of children for wages, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and family-owned shops. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex, particularly to foreign fishermen and other seafarers. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. Labor law also prohibits discrimination based on race and gender. The law also provides protections for persons with disabilities, but they are limited in scope. The law does not provide for specific legal protections for age, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or positive diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

There was no pattern of discrimination in most areas, although discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities. Traditional customs, especially in Yap State, limited professional opportunities for lower-status and outer-island persons. Women were underrepresented in all areas except in the service sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. There is no other minimum wage.

The law sets a standard of an eight-hour workday and a five-day workweek, with premium pay for overtime. There are no legal provisions prohibiting excessive or compulsory overtime. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are practiced and enforced by the appropriate government entity, such as Public Health and Environmental Protection Agency. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Government entities did effectively enforce OSH laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

The Division of Immigration and Labor within the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing these standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections, and initiate sanctions. The tax system monitored the minimum wage effectively. The government generally was effective in its enforcement of these standards and provided sufficient resources for effective enforcement. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Approximately one-half of workers were in the informal economy where the law does not apply, predominantly in subsistence agriculture and fishing. There were no reports on working conditions for any foreign-owned fishing vessels during the year in the country’s waters.

Palau

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were inadequate and did not meet the international standards.

Physical Conditions: The country’s only jail, in Koror, with a capacity of 58, held 86 prisoners as of September; 82 were men. There are separate prison cells for male and female prisoners.

Administration: There were no reports of mistreatment. The Office of the Ombudsman, vacant since 2016, is not independent.

Independent Monitoring: There were no requests for human rights observers to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires warrants for arrests, and officials observed the law. The Office of the Attorney General or the Office of the Special Prosecutor prepares warrants and a judge signs them. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, a requirement authorities observed. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them and provided prompt access to family members and lawyers. If a detainee could not afford a lawyer, the public defender or a court-appointed lawyer was available. There is a functioning system of bail.

An arrested person has the right to remain silent and to speak to and receive visits from counsel, family members, or the person’s employer. Authorities must release or charge those arrested within 24 hours, and authorities must inform detainees of these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to consult with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense), and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Foreign Travel: Due to COVID-19, the country closed its borders in March, and no commercial flights were permitted to enter the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On November 3, voters elected Surangel Whipps Jr. as president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prohibit or limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the November 3 election, two women were elected–one to the 13-seat Senate, and one to the 16-seat House of Delegates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Government corruption was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The Office of the Special Prosecutor, an independent entity, is authorized to prosecute any corruption in the government.

Corruption: The Office of the Special Prosecutor continued to receive reports of corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

On July 27, the government charged Leon Gulibert, president of the Angaur State legislature, with nine felonies and 15 misdemeanors for misconduct in office, ethics violations, assault, sexual harassment, terrorist threats, nonpayment of wages, tax violations, and filing false and fraudulent tax returns. The case has yet to go to trial.

The case of the former governor of Ngiwal State, Ellender Ngirameketii (son-in-law of former president Thomas Remengesau Sr.), who was arrested in July 2019 and charged with misconduct in office, falsifying financial disclosure statements, and understating payments for security services provided by his company to the government, continued. The trial was delayed because of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial Disclosure: The government requires elected and some appointed public officials to file annual financial disclosure statements; candidates for office must file a similar statement including precampaign statements with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the President has an Office of the Ombudsman, but the position has remained vacant since 2016. The government held numerous meetings and training sessions on human rights topics during the year. The special prosecutor held outreach sessions in hamlets throughout the country to inform community members of their right to complain to her office anonymously. She also created a web site for citizens to lodge complaints, which has received complaints that have been investigated.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both. Domestic violence is a criminal offense. The law is enforced when police respond to calls of domestic violence; however, many persons are reluctant to call police in these situations due to societal pressure. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), Semesemel Klengeakel Organizations (Strengthening Family) helped families at high risk of domestic violence with counseling sessions and services, working closely with the Ministries of Justice and Health.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. On July 27, the president of the Angaur State legislature, Leon Gulibert, was charged with sexual harassment among other offenses (see section 4).

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the necessary information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The Ministries of Health and Education coordinated efforts to provide sex education, sexual health, and family planning services, including to victims of sexual violence. Public health clinics offered women’s health services such as annual examinations while providing, along with private medical facilities, access to contraception and prenatal care. The Health Ministry encouraged women, including those residing in outlying or isolated states, to seek prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care at Belau National Hospital in Koror, the only facility with the trained professionals and skilled attendance for delivery and postpartum care. Many women who could not travel to the main island visited community health centers in the outlying states for these services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank, however, is matrilineal. There were no reports of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately. Authorities register a child born to foreign national parents as a citizen of the parents’ countries.

Child Abuse: By law a mandatory reporter (physician, dentist, intern, health assistant, medical officer, nurse or practical nurse, schoolteacher or other school official, day-care worker, law enforcement officer, and any other person authorized to provide care or well-being of a child) must report incidents of child abuse. Failure to report is a misdemeanor punishable by not more than one-year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: There is no minimum age for marriage between two citizens. The minimum age for marriage between a citizen and a noncitizen is 18 for a man and 16 for a girl, and girls younger than 18 must obtain parental permission. Underage marriage was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not explicitly prohibit child pornography, but it does prohibit the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the law was enforced. The age of consensual sex is 17. Sexual assault of a minor younger than age 15 is a felony and is subject to a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, a substantial fine, or both. Child sexual abuse is a felony with penalties being substantial fines, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html .

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly fewer than 20 persons in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The law covers persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the government enforced these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students. Issues regarding persons with disabilities are coordinated with the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Health. Nongovernmental organizations like Omekesang and Palau Parent Network also collaborate with these ministries in providing additional assistance to persons with disabilities.

Qualified disabled adults are able to vote. An authorized representative of the voter needs to file a request by the disabled voter for an absentee ballot to enable an authorized person from the Election Commission to go to the voter’s home and take his or her vote with a witness.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and there are no provisions for naturalization. Some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.), pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination. Authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.

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

No laws addressed sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including to join and organize labor unions and to bargain collectively; no laws regulate trade union organization. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue. There is no law concerning antiunion discrimination. The government enforced the laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

There were no active labor unions or other employee organizations. The majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor offenses include imprisonment, fines, or both. By allowing fines in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Office of the Attorney General, the Bureau of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources (all within the Ministry of Justice) are responsible for enforcing the law. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

There were reports some employers forced foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers, unskilled construction laborers, and workers in the tourism industry, to accept jobs different from those for which they had signed contracts and to accept less pay than stipulated in the contracts. There were also reports of fraudulent recruitment onto fishing boats, with fishermen subsequently facing conditions indicative of forced labor. Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Chinese, Thai, and Korean immigrants who pay thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and immigrate to the country for the types of jobs noted above are the most vulnerable to these arrangements. Employers sometimes verbally threatened, or withheld passports and return tickets from, foreign workers seeking to leave unfavorable work situations.

The government reported only four victims of forced labor compared with seven in 2018. An international organization explained that few cases were identified or investigated because migrant workers feared that complaints would result in job termination and deportation.

Abuses most commonly reported included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There were also complaints of physical abuse. In several cases local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age of employment for citizens is 16, and the minimum age for noncitizens is 21, excluding entertainers applying for temporary identification certificates. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law requires the government to protect children from exploitation. The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and regulations. The government effectively enforced the law, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were no reports children worked in the formal economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, marital status, place of origin, religion, disabilities, or political grounds. The law protects women from job discrimination and provides for equal pay for equal work. The Bureau of Aging and Gender, under the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, promotes workplace gender equality. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status. No formal or documented reports of employment discrimination were reported, but if there is discrimination with regards to unfulfilled contractual terms of employment, an employee may go to the Bureau of Labor for assistance.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The Office of the Attorney General and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources handle cases of workplace discrimination against foreign workers. Penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage (which applies only to citizens) is above the poverty line for both government and private-sector employment. Farmers and domestic helpers are exempted from the minimum wage.

The minimum wage does not apply to the informal sector, including, for example, domestic service, some categories of agricultural labor, and NGO work. It also does not apply to foreign workers, employees who are students, or temporary or probationary work by students and persons younger than 21. According to the law, employers are subject to a civil penalty for noncompliance with minimum wage requirements, in addition to the amount of taxes, social security contributions, and interest on unpaid wages. Penalties for violations of minimum wage laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources has established some regulations regarding conditions of employment for foreign workers, who are entitled to one day off per week, consisting of 10 continuous hours without work between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The bureau may inspect workplace conditions and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of an employee, but enforcement was inconsistent, and working conditions varied. There were continuing reports of the mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers. Foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, cashiers, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. There were approximately 7,000 foreign workers including Filipinos who make up 60 percent of the country’s total workforce. Local workers were employed in the government sector, while foreign workers, particularly from the Philippines, worked in the private sector, mainly in tourism.

Although the law states that employers shall adopt reasonable and adequate occupational safety and health rules, no law protects workers who file complaints about hazardous conditions. Foreign workers may self-censor complaints due to fear they could lose their job if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety.

The Division of Labor had seven labor inspectors responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws, regulations regarding working conditions of foreign employees, and safety standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties for violations of acceptable conditions of work rules include a range of monetary fines per violation and imprisonment; these were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

In July, President Remengesau signed an executive order authorizing government stipends to frontline workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as compensation for time and activities that “entail an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Investigations by an Immigration and Labor Monitoring Task Force resulted in the departure of some workers who had overstayed their visas, were working without permits, or were involved in unsolvable disagreements with their employer. There were no reports of significant industrial accidents.

Papua New Guinea

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

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

During the year there were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August police officers shot and killed a 29-year-old man from West Sepik Province while the victim was in police custody, local media reported. Four police officers allegedly struck the man with their firearms after removing him from a cell. According to media reports, police shot the victim seven times. Police supervisors suspended the officers, confirmed that the victim had not instigated the incident, and referred the case to the Internal Affairs Unit for further investigation.

Public concern regarding police and military violence against civilians and security forces’ impunity persisted. In September, Minister for Police Bryan Kramer, writing about his first 15 months in the job, stated: “The very organization that was tasked with fighting corruption had become the leading agency in acts of corruption. Add to that a rampant culture of police ill-discipline and brutality.”

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits torture, individual police and correctional-services officers frequently beat and otherwise abused citizens or suspects before or during arrests, during interrogations, and in pretrial detention. There were numerous press accounts of such abuses, particularly against young detainees. In June, East Sepik Province Governor Allan Bird criticized police abuse under the COVID-19 State of Emergency, citing reports by women who marketed food that police beat them and took money from them.

In April, for example, media reported that police raided an open-air market outside of Port Moresby, where they broke vendors’ goods, stole items, and carried out body searches of men and women. A police superintendent told media that since no victims had come forward, police would not investigate the allegations. According to an August news report, police stole beer valued at 80,000 kina (PGK) ($23,000) and PGK 300,000 ($86,000) in cash from a store owner in multiple incidents in April and May. In August police officials told media the investigation was ongoing.

In October media reported that a sexual assault suspect in police custody was stripped naked in a cell and beaten by the families of the alleged victims with police complicity. Police Minister Bryan Kramer launched an investigation of the beating and of “excessive force used in his arrest.” One station sergeant was suspended.

Police units operating in highland regions sometimes used intimidation and destruction of property to suppress tribal fighting. Police raids, searches, and forced evictions of illegal squatter settlements and suspected criminals often were marked by a high level of violence and property destruction.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were poor overall. The prison system continued to suffer from serious underfunding, food shortages, inadequate medical facilities, and overcrowding in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: The country’s prisons were overcrowded. Infrequent court sessions, slow police investigations, and bail restrictions for certain crimes exacerbated overcrowding.

Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same prisons with convicted prisoners but in separate cells. Pretrial detainees, frustrated by the slow processing of their cases, at times led prison breaks, which were common.

All prison facilities had separate accommodations for juvenile offenders. The Department of Justice and Attorney General operated four juvenile facilities, and the Roman Catholic Church operated three juvenile reception centers to hold minors awaiting arraignment prior to posting of bail. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch reported authorities routinely held juveniles with adults in police detention cells, where older detainees often assaulted younger detainees. Police sometimes denied juvenile court officers access to detainees. Authorities usually held male and female inmates separately, but some rural prisons lacked separate facilities.

Sanitation was poor, and prisoners complained of disease. Media commented on overcrowding at jails and prisons, reporting in August that police in Port Moresby made arrests selectively due to insufficient room at local prison facilities and concerns that overcrowding would spread disease at police and corrections facilities. Also in August a mass escape took place at the Buimo prison in Lae, Morobe Province, after the prison recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case. Media reported that the prisoners staged the breakout on the pretense of seeking medical aid for an allegedly sick fellow inmate. Forty-five inmates escaped.

In January international media described execrable conditions at the Bomana Immigration Center in Port Moresby (see section 2.f.), where refugees formerly held on Manus Island were housed. The reports detailed the facility’s lack of shade and air conditioning, the minimal food and clean water, and the poor sanitation.

In September media reported that police in New Ireland Province held arrestees in a condemned cell with no toilets, no showers, no ventilation, and no separate facilities for men and women or for adults and juveniles. The articles noted that police leadership reassigned officers from the site once it was condemned, but that prisoners continued to be held at the facility.

Administration: The government mandated the Ombudsman Commission to visit prisons and investigate complaints from prisoners. Through September the commission lacked adequate resources to monitor and investigate effectively prison conditions. In October it received funding for prison visits, conducted one visit, and scheduled multiple visits in November.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent observers. Correctional service officials said that individual church representatives made visits, but that the service did not keep records or statistics on the number or types of visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but police frequently detained citizens arbitrarily without evidence. In some cases police detained citizens without charge to steal from them. In April a man in Hela Province alleged that 20 police officers broke into his store, stealing PGK 10,000 ($2,900) in goods. The man told media that when he confronted the officers, they beat him, arrested him, and held him for four hours without charge. The man filed a formal complaint. As of October there was no known police response. Persons have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always respect this right.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police must have reason to believe that a crime was, is being, or is expected to be committed before making an arrest. A warrant is not required, but police, prosecutors, and citizens may apply to a court for a warrant. Police normally do so only if they believe it would assist them in carrying out an arrest. Judicial authorization is usually provided promptly but is not requested in the majority of cases. Suspects may be charged with minor offenses and released after bail is paid. Only national or Supreme Court judges may grant bail to persons charged with murder or aggravated robbery. In all other cases, police or magistrates may grant bail. If bail is denied or not granted promptly, suspects are transferred to prisons and may wait for years before they appear before a judge. Arrested suspects have the right to legal counsel and to be informed of the charges against them; however, the government did not always respect these rights. Detainees may have access to counsel, and family members may have access to detainees.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 40 percent of the prison population. Due to very limited police and judicial resources and a high crime rate, authorities often held suspects in pretrial detention for lengthy periods. According to correctional services data, detainees could wait for as long as five years before trial, sentencing, or release. A correctional services official confirmed that as of October, five codefendants arrested in 2012 had yet to be tried. Although pretrial detention is in law subject to strict judicial review through continuing pretrial consultations, the slow pace of police investigations, particularly in locating witnesses, and occasional political interference or police corruption, frequently delayed cases for years. In addition there were delays due to infrequent circuit court sittings because of shortages of judges and travel funds.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a presumption of innocence and due process, including a public trial, and the court system generally enforced these. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants have the right to an attorney, to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, to be present at their trial, to free interpretation services if desired, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The Public Solicitor’s Office provides legal counsel for those accused of “serious offenses” (charges for which a sentence of two years or more is the norm if convicted) who are unable to afford counsel. Defendants and their attorneys may confront witnesses, present evidence, plead cases, and appeal convictions. The shortage of judges created delays in both the trial process and the rendering of decisions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. A mechanism established by the national court is used to fast-track cases of alleged human rights abuses. Through this process the national court may award civil remedies in cases of human rights abuses. District courts may order “good behavior bonds,” commonly called “protection orders,” in addition to ordering that compensation be paid for violations of human rights. Courts had difficulty enforcing judgments. In addition largely unregulated village courts adjudicated many human rights matters.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, there were instances of abuse.

Police threatened and at times harmed family members of alleged offenders.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not fully respect these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists in the past have complained of intimidation aimed at influencing coverage by agents of members of parliament and other government figures. Self-censorship by journalists was common, especially when reporting on contentious political events.

Freedom of Speech: There were no known instances of government restrictions on freedom of speech during the year, although this has been a problem in prior years.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Unlike in prior years, media members made no allegations of harassment or other forms of pressure during the year. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were not generally subjected to harassment, intimidation, or violence by police or supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. In April the police minister accused two journalists with online publication Loop PNG of false reporting related to the government’s COVID-19 response and for misrepresenting a financial report issued by the treasury minister. The police minister called for the journalists to be fired. Loop PNG defended the reporters and their article, describing the minister’s accusations as inappropriate in view of the publication’s right to editorial independence. Other news outlets published pieces in support of Loop PNG.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and criminal prosecution of offenses including defamatory publication of material concerning another person.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Internet access remained limited but continued to grow through the increasing use of mobile phones. The growth of internet access resulted in increased use of social media and blogs to discuss and develop evidence of abuse of power and corruption in government.

The law prohibits using electronic systems to incite any form of unrest (called cyber-unrest). Responsibility for enforcing the law lies with police. The penalties for conviction of violations are a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Natural disasters, tribal violence, ethnic clashes, and land disputes have historically contributed to the displacement of communities in the country. Displacement was generally protracted, with families living in temporary situations for more than one year on average. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) were vulnerable because they lacked access to land, basic services, and protection. Women and children were especially susceptible to abuse. The government has no policy or legislation to address the needs of IDPs, and host communities often react with violence to displaced populations. During the year, however, approximately 80 percent of those displaced by natural disasters in West New Britain in 2019 returned to their homes, according to government officials. The provincial government established care centers to support the remaining 20 percent who were still displaced. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) cooperated with the country’s National Disaster Center, the Red Cross Society, two provincial administrations, and a local government to complete displacement tracking assessments, identify displaced persons living in care centers, and register them following previous incidents that led to displacement in West New Britain.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were sometimes subjected to abuse by security forces and the local population. In August 2019 the government opened a detention facility, the Bomana Immigration Center, in Port Moresby, for asylum seekers who had their claims rejected or who were transferred from the Australian government-funded Regional Reprocessing Center on Manus Island (closed in 2017) and other centers on Manus Island to Port Moresby. Refugee and legal groups noted that asylum seekers detained at the Bomana detention facility were unable to speak to lawyers and doctors, blocking medical evacuations to Australia. Several other asylum seekers approved for medical transfer were subsequently relocated to Bomana, where they lost contact with their lawyers and were therefore unable to effect their transfer. International media, which in January described execrable conditions at the Bomana facility (see section 1.c.), reported shortly thereafter that the last 18 asylum seekers in Bomana were released on January 22.

As of August 31, 170 refugees or asylum seekers formerly housed at the Manus Island centers or the Bomana Immigration Center remained in the country, living in guesthouses in Port Moresby and supported by the national government.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Legislation provides a refugee status determination process, under which those approved are eligible to apply for a refugee visa and certificate of identity. The law allows persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province (formerly Irian Jaya) to apply for citizenship without having to pay the usual fee.

The government has had two agreements with Australia on refugees. The first allowed Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus Island (see section 1.c.) for processing only. The second, which superseded the first in 2013, allows refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the country under the same rules that apply to all other foreign nationals applying for citizenship, which require eight years of permanent residence in the country. Refugees brought into the country under the latter agreement were exempted from paying the PGK 10,000 ($2,900) application fee and were exempted from a work permit requirement to secure employment. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups in the country questioned the constitutionality of both agreements.

The Immigration and Citizenship Authority worked with the support of international organizations and NGOs to provide training, job matching, and temporary financial support to help refugees establish themselves in the country. Resettlement efforts were problematic, however, because several refugees who tried to resettle in the country became victims of crime.

Durable Solutions: Approved asylum claimants may settle permanently in the country and, after eight years, apply for citizenship. In addition Indonesian Papuans may apply for Papua New Guinean citizenship without having to wait for eight years or pay the citizenship fee. The Immigration and Citizenship Authority estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Indonesian Papuans lived in Papua New Guinea. As of October there was no report of how many, if any, Indonesian Papuans were granted citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province who may not qualify as refugees. Approximately 3,000 persons, classified by the government as “border crossers,” lived in villages adjacent to the border with Indonesia, and approximately 2,400 lived in urban areas, including Port Moresby.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2017. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue political and tribal influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the election. There were also many incidents of violence and destruction of property, primarily in the Highlands, during and after the voting period, causing the deaths of at least 40 persons, including four police officers. An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges that were partly to blame for significant problems with the voter registration process. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and group voting occurred.

In November and December 2019, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville held a nonbinding referendum on whether Bougainville should be independent or remain autonomous within the country. The referendum took place peacefully and was considered free and fair by international observers. Voters opted overwhelmingly for independence, setting the stage for negotiations and an ultimate outcome determined by a vote of the National Parliament. In August and September, Bougainville held elections to fill the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s House of Representatives (the provincial parliament) and its presidency. Despite media reports detailing allegations of tampering with ballot boxes and concerns that some candidates illegally pressured voters, the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commission and Bougainville Police Service reported that police and elections officials investigated the allegations, determining that procedural gaps contributed to the allegations but that no criminal activity took place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no restrictions on party registration, and 45 parties contested the 2017 national elections. Several parties alleged that sitting members of parliament used government resources for campaigning, although the lack of transparency in accounting for funds made such claims hard to verify. The Ombudsman Commission issued a directive to freeze public funds controlled by parliamentarians starting when the campaign officially opened in 2017. The commission reported after the election, however, that unusually large amounts of money were withdrawn from these accounts in the 30 days before the freeze went into effect.

In some areas tribal leaders determined which candidate a tribe would support and influenced the entire tribe to vote for that candidate.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation by women or members of minority groups in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected in 2017 to the 111-seat parliament despite a record number of female candidates contesting for office (167 of 3,332 candidates). The political participation of women was often limited, since there were social expectations for them to vote along tribal and family lines. The Electoral Commission instructed polling officials to create separate lines for women in order to allow them to vote more freely. There were five female judges in the national court and the Supreme Court out of a total of 65 judges serving on those bodies. The chief magistrate and deputy chief magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. Members of minority groups generally did not face limitations in running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. International civil society and human rights groups termed corruption “widespread” and “pervasive.” Minister for Police Bryan Kramer stated that corruption was “so deep-rooted and so entrenched in every aspect of politics and business that it is almost beyond comprehension.” There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption was so serious a problem in part due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and the social pressure of traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee as a whole was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The committee generally operated independently of government influence, but a lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission.

Corruption: In May former prime minister Peter O’Neill was arrested on allegations that he illegally bypassed national public financial management laws when his government purchased two commercial turbines for PGK 50 million ($14 million) for use by the public utility PNG Power. A police statement identified the charges as “misappropriation, abuse of office, and official corruption.” In June the public prosecutor referred a case against Foreign Minister Patrick Pruaitch to the Leadership Tribunal for investigation. The foreign minister allegedly misused government office for financial gain, submitted false government vouchers, and failed to provide financial statements during previous service as cabinet minister. In October, Pruaitch pled guilty to three minor procedural charges and paid token fines, while the Leadership Tribunal dismissed the six most serious charges pertaining to corruption and abuse of office. On October 23, Pruaitch resumed his duties as foreign minister.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating alleged misconduct and defective administration by governmental bodies, alleged discriminatory practices by any person or body, and alleged misconduct in office by leaders under the leadership code. Staffing constraints often caused delays in investigations and thus in the completion and release of reports.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a sentence ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence, was a serious and widespread problem. Although the law also criminalizes family violence and imposes maximum penalties of two years’ imprisonment and monetary fines, it was seldom enforced. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence as well, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity.

Most informed observers believed that a substantial majority of women experienced rape or sexual assault during their lives. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women had been beaten by their partners. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, most women did not report rape or domestic violence to authorities. In June a woman was punched, head-butted, burned across the face and stomach with a hot iron, and beaten with the iron while her children watched. Her domestic partner, a soldier, was arrested, charged with grievous bodily harm, and released on bail. In July hundreds of individuals dressed in mourning marched through Port Moresby calling for an end to domestic violence after a woman age 19 died after six days of beatings with her arms and legs chained and her mouth gagged. Her domestic partner was charged with willful murder.

Those convicted of rape received prison sentences, but authorities apprehended and prosecuted few rapists. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation to victims in lieu of trials for rapists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that victims and their families pursue tribal remedies, including compensation, in preference to procedures in official courts. Village and district courts often hesitated to interfere directly in domestic matters. Village courts regularly ordered payment of compensation to an abused spouse’s family in cases of domestic abuse rather than issuing an order to detain and potentially charge the alleged offender.

Police committed sexual violence (including against women in detention, see section 1.c.), and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges.

There were family and sexual violence units in 18 of 22 provincial police headquarters across the country to provide victims with protection, assistance through the judicial process, and medical care. Police leadership in some provinces led to improved services for victims of gender-based violence. Nevertheless, comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were lacking in most of the country. This lack of services, along with societal and family pressure, often forced women back into violent and abusive homes.

As of September, Port Moresby hosted eight shelters for abused women in the National Capital District and neighboring provinces. Three of these shelters opened during the year. Outside the capital small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained some shelters. In June media reported that COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns and other health measures hurt operations at shelters across the country. The media report stated that transportation restrictions, lack of personal protective equipment, and limited financial resources forced multiple shelters to close temporarily.

Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged a large number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husband or another woman.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued. This contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experienced harassment in public locations and the workplace (see section 7.d.). In Port Moresby the government and UN Women, the UN office promoting gender equality, worked together to provide women-only public buses to reduce instances of sexual harassment on public transportation.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right, albeit constrained by the level of medical advice available, to manage their reproductive health, with girls from age 16 provided access to contraceptives, regardless of marital status and free from coercion or violence. Cultural barriers that impede contraceptive access include low educational and literacy levels among women; religious beliefs; risk of gender-based violence; the “entitlement” belief that younger women, women not in a union, or unmarried/childless women should not use contraceptives; lack of training among health-care workers; and community gossip and discrimination. The National Department of Health works to strengthen Family Support Centers that provide counseling and support to survivors of gender-based violence and their families.

According to the UN Fund for Population, the maternal mortality ratio in 2019 was 171 deaths per 100,000 live births due to factors including minimal access to maternal health services, the lack of health facilities and supplies, unmet needs for family planning and contraception, unsupervised deliveries, and sensitivities surrounding sexual and reproductive health. One-third of married women had an unmet need for family planning, seeking to stop or delay childbearing but not using any method of contraception. Only 32 percent of married women used modern contraceptive methods.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life.

Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law, however, requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposition of the sentence, and judges frequently annulled such village court sentences.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth to a citizen parent. Birth registration often did not occur immediately due to the remote locations in which many births took place. Failure to register did not generally affect access to public services such as education or health care.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 10. There were many complaints the government did not adequately fund education, leading to overcrowded classrooms and too few teachers. Some schools did not receive promised government education subsidies and reportedly closed as a result. Many schools charged fees despite the official free-education policy. Only one-third of children completed primary school. Primary and secondary education completion rates tended to be slightly higher for boys than for girls. Recent reports confirmed that girls were at high risk of sexual harassment in schools, which, in addition to girls’ generally high risk of sexual violence and harassment, commercial exploitation, and HIV infection, posed serious threats to their education.

Child Abuse: In July 2019 the NGO Save the Children released the results of a small-scale study showing that an estimated 2.8 million children, or 75 percent of the child population, faced physical or emotional violence, and 50 percent faced sexual violence or family violence in the home. Child protection systems, especially in rural areas, were not adequate to meet the needs of children facing abuse. The NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that children made up 50 percent of sexual violence cases referred to clinics. Other studies found that only the most egregious forms of sexual and physical abuse of children were reported to police, because family violence is viewed as a domestic matter.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. There are younger legal marriage ages (16 for boys and 14 for girls) with parental and court consent.

Customary and traditional practices allow marriage of children as young as age 12, and early marriage was common in many traditional, isolated rural communities. Child brides frequently were taken as additional wives or given as brides to pay family debts and often were used as domestic servants. Child brides were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The maximum penalty for child rape is 25 years’ imprisonment or, if the victim is younger than age 12, life imprisonment. Making or possession of child pornography is illegal; penalties range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, but enforcement remained a problem. There were cases of sex trafficking of children in urban areas, including of minors working in bars and nightclubs. There were reports of exploitation of children in the production of pornography and of sex trafficking involving both local and foreign children. The law specifically prohibits using, procuring, and offering a child for pornographic performances. NGOs reported continued prevalence of child sex trafficking.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community in Port Moresby. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and access to other state services. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities experienced an underresourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. Those with certain types of disabilities, such as amputees, attended school with children without disabilities, while those who were blind or deaf attended segregated schools. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited. Public addresses by government officials have simultaneous sign language interpretation, as do all local broadcast news programs.

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family (see section 7.d.).

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

Consensual same-sex sexual relations and acts of “gross indecency” between men are illegal. The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual relations is 14 years’ imprisonment and for acts of gross indecency between male persons (a misdemeanor), three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions during the year. There were reports of societal violence against such persons, which police were disinclined to investigate, and discrimination against them. Their vulnerability to societal stigmatization may have led to underreporting.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of government discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; however, there was a strong societal stigma attached to HIV/AIDS infection, which prevented some persons from seeking HIV/AIDS-related services.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Press reported vigilante killings and abuses remained prevalent across the country. Many killings were related to alleged involvement in sorcery and witchcraft and typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In July, two sisters were accused of sorcery after a man from their Highlands Province village died. Both women were tortured with red-hot iron rods by a group of villagers. According to media reports, one sister died shortly after the attack, while the second sister died from her injuries in September. Police stated that there were 25 sorcery-related attacks in Enga Province as of September. In June police in Northern Province declared they were overwhelmed by a rise in sorcery-related violence, leading to an unspecified number of cases not being investigated.

Church leaders and policy makers observed that the number of persons reportedly tortured and killed for alleged sorcery was increasing. Many believed perpetrators used claims of sorcery to mask criminal violence (e.g., theft or revenge) against vulnerable members of the community, especially women. Reliable data on the matter remained elusive with estimates ranging from 30 to 500 attacks per year resulting in death.

Long-standing animosities among isolated tribes, a persistent cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs, and the lack of law enforcement were factors underlying frequent violent tribal conflict in highland areas. During the year tribal fighting continued in highland provinces. The number of deaths and IDPs resulting from such conflicts continued to rise due to the increased availability of modern weapons (see section 2.e.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the public and private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government has limited influence over trade union formation and registration. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the labor force, most of whom were engaged in small-scale farming.

The law requires unions to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. An unregistered union has no legal standing and thus cannot operate effectively. Although the law provides for the right to strike, the government may, and often did, intervene in labor disputes, forcing arbitration before workers could legally strike or refusing to grant permission for a secret ballot vote on strike action. Some union leaders complained that the Labor Department’s refusal to allow for votes on strike action constituted undue government influence. By law the government has discretionary power to intervene in collective bargaining by canceling arbitration awards or declaring wage agreements void when deemed contrary to government policy.

The law prohibits both retaliation against strikers and antiunion discrimination by employers against union leaders, members, and organizers. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. In cases of retaliation or unlawful dismissal for union activity, the court may fine an employer and may order the reinstatement of the employee and reimbursement of any lost wages. If an employer fails to comply with such directives, the court may order imprisonment or fines until the employer complies. Judicial proceedings are subject to lengthy delays.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law, but did not do so effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous violations. With two labor inspectors per province and inadequate resources, inspectors usually monitored and enforced the law on an ad hoc basis. The Labor Department did not always act to prevent retaliation against strikers or protect workers from antiunion discrimination, which remained widespread in the logging sector and in state-owned enterprises. Observers attributed its ineffectiveness to insufficient manpower and resources.

Unions were generally independent of both the government and political parties, whose influence diminished from previous years. Employees of some government-owned enterprises went on strike on several occasions during the year, primarily to protest privatization policies, terminations, and appointments of managers or board members, or in pay disputes. In most cases the strikes were brief due to temporary agreements reached between the government and workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Criminal penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Logging and mining sites primarily operated in remote regions with negligible government oversight, and authorities did not make efforts to identify forced labor victims at them.

Foreign and local men and boys seeking work on fishing vessels go into debt to pay recruitment fees, which vessel owners and senior crew leverage to compel them to continue working indefinitely. The law allows officials, on order of a judge or magistrate, to apprehend a noncitizen crewmember of a foreign-registered ship who fails to rejoin the crewmember’s ship during its time in the country. The crewmember is placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of the country in which the ship is registered (or, if no such representation exists, the ship’s owner or representative) in order to return the crewmember to the ship. Observers noted this practice might prevent foreign workers from reporting or escaping situations of forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and local women and children were subjected to forced labor as domestic servants, as beggars or street vendors, and in the tourism sector (see section 7.c.). Foreign and local men were subjected to forced labor, including through debt bondage, in the logging, mining, and fishing sectors. There also were reports of foreign workers, particularly from China and other Pacific nations, entering the country with fraudulent documents and being subjected to forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. By law the minimum working age is 16, although children ages 14 to 15 may be employed if the employer is satisfied that the child is no longer attending school. In addition children ages 14 and 15 may work aboard ships. The minimum age for hazardous work is 16, but the government has no list of hazardous occupations. There are no provisions prohibiting children ages 16 to 18 from engaging in hazardous work. Children as young as age 11 may be employed in light work in a family business or enterprise, provided they have parental permission, medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. This type of employment was rare, except in subsistence agriculture. Work by children ages 11 to 16 must not interfere with school attendance. The law does not, however, specify the types of activities in which light work is permitted nor the number of hours per week this work may be undertaken. The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing child labor law provisions.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. There was a high prevalence of child labor in urban and rural areas, including in hazardous occupations.

Many children worked in the informal economy and were seen directing parking vehicles and selling cigarettes, food, and DVDs on the street and in grocery stores throughout the country, sometimes near mining and logging camps. There were reports of boys as young as 12 being exploited as “market taxis” in urban areas, carrying extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may have been victims of forced labor. There were also reports of children engaging in mining activities, including prospectors forcing children to work in alluvial gold mining.

Children worked mainly in subsistence agriculture, cash crop farming, and livestock herding. This included seasonal work on plantations (for coffee, tea, copra, and palm oil) in the formal and informal rural economies.

Some children (primarily girls) worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes, often to repay a family debt to the “host” family, in situations that sometimes constituted forced labor. In some cases the host was a relative who informally “adopted” the child.

The law specifically prohibits using, procuring, and offering a child for pornographic performances. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on disability and the law bans discrimination based on gender in employment and wages in the workplace. The law nonetheless explicitly precludes women from employment in certain occupations, allows the government to recruit either men or women for certain civil service positions, and discriminates by gender in eligibility for certain job-related allowances. No law prohibits discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but were not applied in all sectors. Discrimination occurred against women and against persons with disabilities in hiring and access to the workplace. Migrant workers were vulnerable to discrimination; the International Labor Organization noted there were concerns regarding discrimination against certain ethnic groups, including Asian workers and entrepreneurs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law regulates minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holiday leave, and overtime work. The law limits the workweek to 42 hours per week in urban areas and 44 hours per week in rural areas, and it provides for premium pay for overtime work. Labor law does not apply to workers in the informal sector. The government did not effectively enforce the minimum wage and overtime law; penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law regarding minimum wage and work hours and occupational safety and health (OSH). It sets OSH standards and is required by law to inspect work sites on a regular basis. The law does not specify protection for employees who seek to remove themselves from conditions they deem hazardous. In the case of a second or subsequent violation of wage or safety and health law, the employer is liable to a fine for each day or part of each day for which the offense continued. When an employer fails to obey an order, direction, or requirement, the court may order imprisonment of the offender until the directive is obeyed.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on OSH. The number of OSH and industrial relations inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH law and regulations were common in the logging, mining, agricultural, and construction sectors due to the government’s lack of enforcement capacity. The logging industry in particular was known for extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including cramped and unhygienic worker housing. Workers in the mining sector were also subjected to hazardous and exploitative conditions, including exposure to toxic metals such as mercury.

According to World Bank data, 90 percent of the 2.9 million workers labored in rural areas, where labor law enforcement and monitoring were weak.

Singapore

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Killings by law enforcement officers and military personnel are investigated by the Special Investigation Section of the Singapore Police Force, prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Chambers, and tried in civilian courts. If the killing occurred overseas and the deceased was subject to military law or the offense was committed while the offender was on active service, the case is investigated by the Special Investigation Branch of the Singapore Armed Forces, prosecuted by the Military Prosecutor, and tried in a military court.

Two Singapore Civil Defense Force officers were convicted in September and sentenced to 10 weeks in prison for their involvement in the 2018 death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, who drowned when he was pushed into a pump well at a fire station during hazing celebrations. Three other officers were imprisoned in 2019 for their actions in the same incident.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law mandates imprisonment and mandatory caning for approximately 30 offenses, such as certain cases of rape, robbery, and drug trafficking. Caning is discretionary for convictions on other charges involving the use of force, such as kidnapping or voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Caning also may be used as a punishment for legally defined offenses while in prison, if a review by the Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee deems it necessary and the commissioner of prisons approves. Women and girls, men older than 50 years and boys younger than 16, men sentenced to death whose sentences were not commuted, and persons determined medically unfit were exempt from punishment by caning.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The government took active steps to investigate and file charges against members of the security services when it deemed their behavior inappropriate or illegal.

In September police Staff Sergeant Mahendran Selvaragoo was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment for seeking sexual favors in 2019 from two subjects of interrogation, as well as accessing the subjects’ personal devices for personal purposes without authority.

In November, Central Narcotics Bureau officer Vengedesh Raj Nainar Nagarajan went on trial for three counts of voluntarily causing hurt to extort a confession about drugs found in a suspect’s possession in 2017. The trial continued at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns about physical conditions or inmate abuse in prisons and detention centers.

Administration: Prisoners may file complaints alleging mistreatment or misconduct with judicial authorities without censorship and may request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. When called upon, the Provost Unit investigates complaints. Criminal charges may be brought against government officials.

The Board of Visiting Justices, composed of justices of the peace appointed by the home affairs minister, examines the prison system and has oversight of any investigations undertaken by the Provost Unit. The board conducts regular prison inspections to provide for prisoners’ basic welfare and adherence to prison regulations. It may also conduct random visits. All inmates have access to the visiting justices. Authorities documented the results of investigations in a publicly accessible manner. Members of the Board of Visiting Justices visited prisons at least once a month.

The Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee renders an opinion to the commissioner of prisons on whether an instance of corporal punishment (which is permitted) was excessive.

The status of the suspect or convict determined the frequency and type of permitted visits. In general authorities allowed family members and close relatives to visit inmates. Prison authorities must approve visits from nonrelatives.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed members of the press to visit the prisons with prior approval. The Ministry of Home Affairs also appointed a nongovernmental body composed of citizens to conduct regular prison inspections.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The law permits arrest without warrant and detention without trial in defined circumstances. Persons detained under these circumstances have a right to judicial review of their case but the scope is limited by specific legislation. The government generally observed the laws.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In most instances, the law requires issuance of an authorized warrant for arrests, but some laws, such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), provide for arrest without a warrant if the government determines the suspect acted in a manner prejudicial to the security of the country. The law specifies that some offenses, such as robbery or rape, do not require an arrest warrant.

Those arrested according to regular criminal procedure must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours or be released. Authorities expeditiously charged and brought to trial the majority of those arrested. A functioning bail system existed.

Persons who face criminal charges are allowed access to counsel within a “reasonable,” but undefined, period of time. Any person accused of a capital crime is entitled to free counsel assigned by the state. The government also funded a Criminal Legal Aid Scheme run by the Law Society that covers additional, but not all, criminal offenses.

Arbitrary Arrest: Some laws, such as the ISA and the Criminal Law (temporary provisions) Act (CLA), have provisions for arrest and detention without a warrant, trial, or full judicial due process in defined circumstances where there is evidence that a person is associated with any of the criminal activities listed in the law that pose a threat to public safety, peace, and good order. ISA cases are subject to review by the courts to provide for compliance with its procedural requirements. Authorities invoked the ISA primarily against persons suspected of posing a security threat and employed the CLA mostly against persons suspected of organized crime activity or drug trafficking.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was not excessively long. Some individuals, however, were in prolonged detention without trial and with minimal judicial due process under laws that allowed for such detention.

The ISA and the CLA permit preventive detention without trial for the protection of public security, safety, or the maintenance of public order.

The government used the CLA against serious criminal activities involving narcotics, loan sharks, or criminal organizations. The government revised the law in 2019 to specify the criminal activities for which individuals could be detained without trial or placed under police supervision. Before issuing a CLA detention for an initial period of one year, the home affairs minister must obtain consent of the public prosecutor. A Supreme Court judge chairs a committee that reviews all cases and conducts hearings at which detainees or their lawyers are present. The country’s president considers the committee’s recommendations when deciding whether to cancel, confirm, or amend the detention. The president may extend detention for unlimited additional periods of up to one year at a time. Each detention, however, is reviewed by a separate advisory committee on an annual basis. The CLA lapses unless parliament renews it every five years.

The CLA allows for supervision within the community through means such as curfews, residence limitations, requirements to report regularly to authorities, and limitations on travel.

The ISA authorizes the home affairs minister, with the consent of the cabinet and with formal endorsement from the president, to order detention without filing charges if the minister determines that a person poses a threat to national security. The initial detention may be for a maximum of two years, after which the minister may renew the detention indefinitely. ISA detainees are permitted legal counsel. An independent advisory board consisting of a Supreme Court judge and two other presidential appointees reviews each detainee’s case within three months of initial detention and at intervals of no longer than 12 months thereafter. If the advisory board recommends that the detainee be released but the minister disagrees, the president has discretion over the detainee’s continued detention.

As of September the government held 18 persons under ISA orders of detention for alleged involvement in terrorism-related activities.

In January authorities detained a minor, age 17, under the ISA for supporting the Islamic State, the youngest individual to be arrested under the act. He was first investigated in 2017 for posting an image of President Halimah Yacob on social media and calling for her beheading. Authorities stated that, despite receiving religious counseling, he remained supportive of the Islamic State and was subsequently detained.

In November authorities detained a 26-year-old construction worker from Bangladesh under the ISA for suspected terrorism-related activities. The worker was reportedly radicalized by online ISIS propaganda, donated funds to a Syria-based organization, shared terrorist propaganda on social media, and intended to undertake armed violence once he returned to Bangladesh, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Early in the year, three Indonesian women held under ISA detention orders in September 2019 for activities in support of the Islamic State were convicted of terrorism financing in normal criminal proceedings. In February, Retno Hernayani and Turmini (one name only) were imprisoned for 18 months and three years and nine months, respectively, while Anindia Afiyantari was sentenced in March to two years in prison. They were the first foreign domestic workers to be detained under the ISA and the first jailed for terrorist financing.

In addition to detention, the ISA allows for issuance of restriction orders that require an individual to seek official approval for a change of address or occupation, overseas travel, or participation in any public organization or activity. Individuals subject to restriction orders could be required to report regularly to authorities. As of September, 27 persons were subject to such restrictions. This number included both released ISA detainees and alleged terrorists whom authorities never detained.

In February the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that Abu Thalha bin Samad was released on a restriction order when his detention order expired in September 2019. Abu Thalha, a Singaporean, was deported to Singapore by a regional government in 2017 and detained for being an alleged member of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

There is also a category of restriction called “suspension direction” that replaces a suspended order of detention and may prohibit association with specified groups or individuals and overseas travel without prior written government approval. Suspension directions also include reporting conditions. As of September no individuals were subject to them for terrorism-related conduct.

The drug laws permit detention without judicial approval of drug addicts in an approved institution for treatment and rehabilitation. If a suspected drug abuser tests positive for an illegal drug or displays signs of drug withdrawal, the director of the Central Narcotics Bureau may commit the person to a drug rehabilitation center for a six-month period, which a review committee of the institution may extend for a maximum of three years. By law the bureau director may order treatment as long as six months of a person determined by blood test or medical examination to be an abuser of intoxicating substances. The detained individual has the right to file a complaint to a magistrate who can issue an order to release the individual from the institution.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus in regular criminal law, although not in ISA or CLA cases.

Under the CLA, the minister for home affairs’ decision on a suspect’s engagement in criminal activities is final and not subject to appeal, as is the minister’s subsequent decision on whether detention is necessary for reasons of public safety, peace, and good order, once concurrence by the public prosecutor is secured. The courts can review the decision, but only based on the tests of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety.

Persons detained under the CLA and remanded for trial may apply to the courts for a writ of habeas corpus. Persons detained without trial under the CLA may challenge the substantive basis for their detention only to the CLA advisory committee, which is chaired by a Supreme Court judge.

Under the ISA, detainees may challenge their detention in the judicial system only by seeking judicial review of whether their detention complied with procedural requirements of the ISA; they have no right to challenge the substantive basis for their detention through the courts. Detainees under the ISA have a right to legal counsel and to make representations to an advisory board chaired by a past or sitting judge of the Supreme Court. The ISA specifically excludes recourse to the normal judicial system for review of a detention order made under its authority.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Some civil society activists and government critics expressed concern about undue government influence in the judicial system. Laws limiting judicial review, moreover, permitted restrictions on individuals’ constitutional rights.

The ISA and CLA explicitly preclude normal judicial due process and empower the government to limit, on broadly defined national security grounds, other fundamental liberties provided for in the constitution.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a fair and public trial, except for persons detained under the ISA, CLA, and similar legislation. The judiciary generally enforced this right when applicable. Some commentators observed a small number of exceptions in cases involving direct challenges to the government or the ruling party. The judicial system generally provided an efficient judicial process.

In most circumstances the criminal procedure code requires that when a defendant is first charged in court, the charges must be framed, read, and explained to the defendant. After the charges are filed in court, the accused may seek advice of counsel before deciding whether to plead guilty or request a trial. At a pretrial hearing no earlier than eight weeks after criminal charges have been made, a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and sets a court date.

Criminal defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence in most cases. Cases involving narcotics are an exception; the law stipulates that a person who possessed narcotics shall be assumed to be aware of the substance and places the burden on the defendant to prove otherwise. The law also stipulates that if the amount of the narcotic is above set limits, the defendant must prove he or she did not have the drug for trafficking purposes.

Trials are public and heard by a judge; there are no jury trials. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to be represented by an attorney. The Law Society administered a legal aid plan for persons facing criminal charges who could not afford an attorney. The state did so for anyone facing a capital charge. Defense lawyers generally had sufficient time and facilities to prepare an adequate defense. Criminal defendants who do not speak or understand English, or who have limited proficiency, are provided with translation services at no cost. Defendants have the right to question prosecution witnesses and to provide witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.

Defendants enjoy the right of appeal, which must be filed within 14 days in most cases. The criminal procedure code provides for an automatic appeal process for all death sentence cases. Those sentenced to death may ask for resentencing under certain circumstances, and judges may impose life imprisonment instead. The courts may offer nonviolent offenders the option of probation or paying a fine in lieu of incarceration.

Persons detained under the ISA or CLA are not entitled to a public trial. Proceedings of the ISA and CLA advisory boards are not public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Access to the courts is open, and citizens and residents have the right to sue for infringement of human rights.

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

The constitution does not address privacy rights; statutory or common law provide remedies for infringement of some aspects of privacy rights. Several laws safeguard privacy, regulate access to and processing of personal data, and criminalize unauthorized access to data. Public agencies, however, are exempted from data protection requirements, can intercept communications, and can surveil individuals if it is determined to be in the national interest or necessary for investigations or proceedings. The government generally respected the physical privacy of homes and families. Normally, police must have a warrant issued by a court to conduct a search but may search a person, home, or property without a warrant if they decide that such a search is necessary to preserve evidence or permissible according to discretionary powers of the ISA, CLA, and other laws.

Law enforcement authorities have broad powers to search electronic devices without judicial authorization, including while individuals are in custody. According to Privacy International, “Singapore has a well-established, centrally controlled technological surveillance system.” Law enforcement agencies, including the Internal Security Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, had extensive networks for gathering information and conducting surveillance and highly sophisticated capabilities to monitor telephone, email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. No court warrants are required for such operations and the law gives police access to computers and decryption information under defined circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but allows parliament to impose such restrictions on freedom of speech as it “considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the country or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.”

Freedom of Speech: The government significantly restricted any public statements that it contended would undermine social or religious harmony, or that did not safeguard national or public interest. Government pressure to conform influenced some journalists and users of the internet. Freedom House reported that self-censorship occurred in media and among academics.

International and regional human rights organizations criticized the government’s use of the law to bring contempt of court charges as a means to curtail speech. In March activist Jolovan Wham refused to pay a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars (S$) ($3,700) for a 2018 Facebook post claiming that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.” Instead Wham served a one-week jail sentence starting March 31.

Also in March police raided the offices of lawyer Ravi Madasamy and of Terry Xu, editor of alternative media website The Online Citizen Asia, after the website published a story questioning why the government extradited one of Madasamy’s clients to Malaysia. Authorities initiated an investigation for contempt of court against Madasamy, Xu, and two others. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

In July the high court found Li Shengwu, a nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, guilty of contempt and fined him S$15,000 ($11,000). Li paid the fine but he refused to admit guilt. He had posted private Facebook comments in 2017 criticizing the “litigious” nature of the government and claiming that it “has a pliant court system,” screenshots of which were later shared publicly.

The law gives the minister for home affairs discretion to authorize special police powers if a “serious incident” such as a terrorist attack is occurring or there is a threat of one. These powers allow the commissioner of police to prohibit anyone from taking or transmitting photographs or videos in a defined area, or from making text or audio messages about police operations if these actions could compromise the effectiveness and safety of the law enforcement operations. A breach of the order may lead to imprisonment for up to two years, a substantial fine, or both. Some civil society groups expressed concern that authorities could use the law to stop activists documenting the abuse of police powers, such as when authorities use force to break up a large but peaceful demonstration.

The law prohibits the public display of any foreign national emblems, including flags or symbols of political organizations or leaders. The law restricts the use of the coat of arms, flag, and national anthem.

The government-approved Speakers’ Corner was the only outdoor venue where citizens could give public speeches without a public entertainment license. Speakers’ Corner may be used for exhibitions, performances, assemblies and processions, and citizens do not need a police permit to hold these events. All event organizers must, however, preregister online with the National Parks Board and must provide the topic of their event. Regulations state that the event should not be religious in nature or cause feelings of enmity, ill will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups. The commissioner of parks and recreation has the right to cancel or disallow any event or activity that he or she believes may endanger, cause discomfort to, or inconvenience other park users or the general public. Only citizens or permanent residents of the country are allowed to attend events at Speakers’ Corner.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion. Indoor private events are not subject to the same restrictions. Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to the ISA and other legislation, the government may restrict or place conditions on publications that incite violence, counsel disobedience to the law, have the potential to arouse tensions in the country’s diverse population, or threaten national interests, national security, or public order.

Government leaders openly urged news media to support the government’s goals and help maintain social and religious harmony. The government enforced strict defamation and press laws, including in cases it considered personal attacks on officials, likely resulting in journalists and editors moderating or limiting what they published. The government also strictly enforced laws protecting racial and religious harmony.

There were no legal bans on owning or operating private press outlets, although in practice government managerial and financial control strongly influenced all print and some electronic media. Two companies, Singapore Press Holdings Limited and Mediacorp, owned all general circulation newspapers in the four official languages of English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Singapore Press Holdings is a publicly listed company with close ties to the government, which must approve (and may remove) the holders of management shares, who appoint or dismiss the firm’s management. The government investment company Temasek Holdings wholly owned Mediacorp. As a result, coverage of domestic events and reporting of sensitive foreign relations topics usually closely reflected official policies and views.

Government-linked companies and organizations operated all domestic broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations. Only one radio station, the BBC’s World Service, was completely independent of the government. Residents could receive some Malaysian and Indonesian television and radio programming, but with a few exceptions, authorities prohibited satellite dishes. Cable television was widespread, and subscribers had access to numerous foreign television shows and a wide array of international news and entertainment channels. The government did not censor international news channels but entertainment programs must meet the content codes of the state’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Broadcasters often censored or edited content they anticipated would breach the IMDA code, such as content that normalized or positively portrayed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) relationships. Residents routinely accessed uncensored international radio and television content via the internet.

The government may limit broadcasts or the circulation of publications by “gazetting” (listing) them under the Broadcasting Act and may ban the circulation of domestic and foreign publications. The law empowers the minister for communications and information to gazette or place formal restrictions on any foreign broadcaster it assesses to be reporting on domestic politics in a one-sided or inaccurate manner.

The government may require a gazetted broadcaster to obtain express permission from the minister to continue broadcasting in the country. The government may impose restrictions on the number of households receiving a broadcaster’s programming and may impose a substantial fine on a broadcaster for failing to comply.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The IMDA, under the Ministry of Communications and Information, regulates broadcast, print, and other media, including movies, video materials, computer games, and music. Most banned publications were sexually oriented materials but also included some religious and political publications. The IMDA develops censorship standards including age appropriate classification of media content with the help of various citizen advisory panels. The law allows the banning, seizure, censorship, or restriction of written, visual, or musical materials if authorities determine that such materials threaten the stability of the state, contravene moral norms, are pornographic, show excessive or gratuitous sex and violence, glamorize or promote drug use, or incite racial, religious, or linguistic animosities. The law gives IMDA officers power to enter and search premises and seize evidence without a warrant for “serious offenses,” such as those involving films prohibited on public interest grounds or the unlicensed public exhibition of a film. The IMDA has the power to sanction broadcasters for transmitting what it believes to be inappropriate content. All content shown between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. must be suitable for viewers of all ages.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and may result in a maximum prison sentence of two years, a fine, or both. Critics charged that government leaders used defamation lawsuits or threats of such actions to discourage public criticism, coerce the press, and intimidate opposition politicians.

In December the district court charged lawyer Ravi Madasamy with criminal defamation of Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam. In a Facebook post, Madasamy suggested that, according to a fellow lawyer, the minister “wields influence over the Chief Justice” and “calls the shot and controls.” At year’s end, the case continued.

The Online Citizen website editor Terry Xu went on trial in October on charges of criminal defamation lodged in 2018 for publishing a reader’s letter accusing the People’s Action Party (PAP) leadership of “corruption at the highest echelons.” The letter’s author, Daniel De Costa, also charged with criminal defamation, went on trial at the same time. In June a high court judge dismissed De Costa’s third constitutional challenge on the case. Both cases continued as of December.

Separately, in November the trial began in a 2019 civil defamation suit brought by Prime Minister Lee against Xu over his refusal to take down and apologize for an article about a dispute between Lee and his two siblings. In March the high court dismissed Xu’s application to obtain documents from Lee and during the November hearing, Xu announced that he would no longer seek to bring Lee’s siblings as third parties in the suit. The case continued as of December.

In October and November, the high court heard arguments in a 2018 civil defamation suit filed by the prime minister against financial advisor Leong Sze Hian after Leong shared a news article on his Facebook page that alleged a secret deal between Lee and former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. The article alleged local banks assisted in laundering money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Lee sought S$150,000 ($112,000) in damages and the case continued as of December.

Internet Freedom

The law permits government monitoring of internet use, and the government closely monitored internet activities, such as social media posts, blogs, and podcasts. The IMDA can direct service providers to block access to websites that, in the government’s view, undermine public security, national defense, racial and religious harmony, or public morals. Political and religious websites must register with the IMDA.

Individuals and groups could express their views via the internet, including by email, and the internet is readily accessible. The government, however, subjected all internet content to similar rules and standards as traditional media, as defined by the IMDA’s Internet Code of Practice. Internet service providers are required to provide content that complies with the code. The IMDA licenses the internet service providers through which local users are required to route their internet connections. The IMDA investigates content that is potentially in breach of the code when it receives complaints from members of the public.

Since the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) came into effect in October 2019, the government has invoked it 34 times and issued 76 orders against content the ministers deemed contained “falsehoods.” The law requires online platforms to publish corrections or remove online information that government ministers consider factually false or misleading, and which they deem likely to be prejudicial to the country, diminish public confidence in the government, incite feelings of ill will between persons, or influence an election. POFMA is not supposed to apply to opinions, criticisms, satire, or parody. Individuals in breach of the law may face a substantial fine and imprisonment for up to five years, with penalties doubled if the individual used bots. A platform that fails to remove false content may receive a much steeper fine and, in the case of a continuing offense, a fine for each additional day the offense continues after conviction.

As of October most POFMA orders directed individuals and internet platforms to publish corrections, but the government also issued orders disabling in-country users’ access to several Facebook pages and blocking access to the website for the Malaysia-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Lawyers for Liberty. The number of POFMA orders increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as the government sought to correct alleged falsehoods about the virus. News outlets like The Online Citizen website, Yahoo! Singapore, and Channel News Asia were required to publish correction notices on articles containing claims regarding the application of the death penalty in prisons, speculation over the annual salary of the prime minister’s wife as the head of quasi-sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, and criticism of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by an opposition politician. No ministries withdrew their orders following appeals by recipients. Two recipients of orders, The Online Citizen and the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, filed appeals with the country’s highest court, the Court of Appeal, against their respective POFMA correction orders. They argued that the burden of proof that a statement is false should be on the government and that a correction order should be issued only if the statement-maker refuses to carry a government response. The hearings occurred in September and the cases continued at year’s end.

The Online News Licensing Scheme requires heavily visited internet sites focused on news about the country to obtain a license, submit a bond of S$50,000 ($38,000), and remove prohibited content within 24 hours of notification from the IMDA. Many citizens viewed this regulation as a way to censor online critics of the government. The IMDA cited the need to regulate commercial news sites and promote conformity with other forms of media such as print and television. All 11 major news sites operated with IMDA licenses; the most recent addition was the alternative media website The Online Citizen, which joined two other licensed non-state-linked publications.

Smaller news sites that cover political topics are required to register under the Broadcasting Act Class License so that registrants do not receive foreign funding.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Public institutions of higher education and political research had limited autonomy. Although faculty members were not technically government employees, they were potentially subject to government influence. Academics spoke, published widely, and engaged in debate on social and political problems, although public comment outside the classroom or in academic publications that ventured into prohibited fields could result in sanctions. Freedom House noted that self-censorship on topics related to the country occurred among academics, who can face legal and career consequences for critical speech. Publications by local academics and members of research institutions rarely deviated substantially from government views.

In October the Raffles Hall Association, an alumni group of former National University of Singapore students, replaced Hong Kong-based Singaporean academics Cherian George and Donald Low as guest speakers for a webinar on “Public Discourse: Truth and Trust” without an explanation or any notification to the speakers. Raffles Hall Association had previously promoted the event in a Facebook post, citing a new book by George and Low that advocated ruling PAP reforms, but later released a post with a new set of speakers. After the topic arose on social media, one of the replacement speakers withdrew from the event, explaining that the organizers had not fully briefed him on what had transpired. The university stated the association was an “autonomous alumni group” not governed by the university, but George told local media the organizers had informed him that the university wanted the event canceled.

The law authorizes the minister of communications and information to ban any film, whether political or not, that in his opinion is “contrary to the public interest.” The law does not apply to any film sponsored by the government and allows the ministry to exempt any film from the act.

Certain films barred from general release may be allowed limited showings, either censored or uncensored.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides citizens the right to peaceful assembly, parliament imposed restrictions in the interest of security, public order, or morality. Public assemblies, including political meetings and rallies, require police permission. It is a criminal offense to organize or participate in a public assembly without a police permit, and those convicted may be assessed a substantial fine. Repeat offenders face a steeper fine.

By law a public assembly may include events staged by a single person. Citizens do not need permits for indoor speaking events, unless they touch on “sensitive topics” such as race or religion, or for qualifying events held at Speakers’ Corner. The Commissioner of Police may decline to authorize any public assembly or procession that could be directed towards a political end and be organized by, or involve the participation of, a foreign entity or citizen. Police may also order a person to “move on” from a certain area and not return to the designated spot for 24 hours.

International human rights organizations criticized authorities’ use of the law and concerns about public order to harass human rights defenders and prevent peaceful protest.

In March police questioned, investigated, and issued “stern warnings” to two climate change activists for participating in a public assembly without a permit. In separate cases, Wong J-min, age 18, and Nguyen Nhat Minh, age 20 held up a placard in public to protest climate change, had photos taken of themselves, and posted those on social media.

As of December several illegal assembly cases were pending against activist Jolovan Wham. In November, Wham was charged with illegal assembly for two separate incidents when he held up signs in public and posted photos on social media. In one case, Wham in March held up a sign with a hand-drawn smiley face outside a police station to demonstrate support for two climate activists, an illegal one-person protest without a police permit. In August the Court of Appeal rejected Wham’s final appeal against his January conviction for organizing an indoor public assembly without a permit in 2016. Wham refused to pay the fine and instead served a 10-day jail sentence starting August 21. The event was entitled, “Civil Disobedience and Social Movements,” and included a Skype address by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong.

Some civil society groups and members of parliament expressed concern that the government’s use of a law to maintain public order (see section 2.a.) conflated peaceful protests and terrorist violence. The law’s illustrations of “large-scale public disorder” included a peaceful sit-down demonstration that attracts a large group of sympathizers and starts to impede the flow of traffic, interfering with local business activities.

The government closely monitored political gatherings regardless of the number of persons present.

Spontaneous public gatherings or demonstrations were virtually unknown.

Freedom of Association

Most associations, societies, clubs, religious groups, and other organizations with more than 10 members are required to register with the government. The government could deny registration to or dissolve groups it believed were formed for unlawful purposes or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or public order, although it approved the majority of applications in recent years. The government has absolute discretion in applying criteria to register or dissolve societies.

The government prohibits organized political activities except by groups registered as political parties or political associations. These may not receive foreign donations but may receive funds from citizens and locally controlled entities. The ruling PAP was able to use nonpolitical organizations, such as residential committees and neighborhood groups, for political purposes far more extensively than could opposition parties. Due to laws regulating the formation of publicly active organizations, there were few NGOs apart from nonpolitical organizations, such as religious or environmental groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited them in certain circumstances.

In-country Movement: The ISA permits authorities to restrict a person’s movement, and they did so in the case of some former ISA detainees. Several dozen suspected terrorists were subject to such restrictions. Freedom of movement for migrant workers required to quarantine under temporary COVID-19 legislation was restricted for more than six months during the pandemic and remained significantly more limited and controlled than for the rest of the population (see section 7.e.).

Foreign Travel: The government may refuse to issue a passport; this was done primarily on security grounds.

Persons with national service reserve obligations (male citizens and permanent residents between ages 18 and 40 (for enlisted men) or 50 (for officers)) are required to advise the Ministry of Defense of plans to travel abroad. Men and boys age 13 and older who have not completed national service obligations are required to obtain exit permits for international travel if they intend to be away for three months or more.

The law allows the government to deprive naturalized citizens of citizenship if they have engaged in activities deemed harmful to public safety and order or resided outside of the country for more than five consecutive years and either did not register annually at a consulate or were believed by the government to have no intention of retaining citizenship.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government may, on a case-by-case basis, cooperate with organizations such as UN High Commissioner for Refugees to repatriate or send refugees to a third country.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status.

g. Stateless Persons

As of December 2019 there were 1,252 stateless persons living in the country. Many were reportedly born in the country before independence but did not or could not meet requirements for citizenship then in force. Others were permanent residents who lost their foreign citizenship, or were children born to foreign nationals who are not recognized as citizens in their home countries. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship.

Approximately 78 percent of stateless persons have obtained permanent residency, but those who have not may not buy or rent real estate, are not entitled to government health or education subsidies, and may have difficulty securing employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in open and free periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In five decades of continuous rule, however, the PAP has employed a variety of measures that effectively limited the ability of the opposition to mount a serious challenge to its hold on power. In recent years, the opposition won additional seats, although it still held a small fraction of seats in parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law provides for the popular election of the president to a six-year term from among candidates approved by two committees selected by the government. The constitution also requires multiracial representation in the presidency. The office of the president is reserved for a member of a specific racial community (Chinese, Malay, or Indian and other minority communities) if no person belonging to that community had held the office of the president for any of the last five terms of office. The 2017 presidential election was thus restricted to eligible Malay candidates. In 2017 former speaker of parliament Halimah Yacob became president without a vote because she was the only candidate; two other applicants were ruled ineligible according to criteria applicable to private sector candidates.

The parliamentary general election held in July was free and open. In addition to the governing PAP, 10 opposition parties participated in the election, and all seats were contested for the second time since independence. The general elections operate according to a first-past-the-post system and there are both single-member and group constituencies. The PAP won 61 percent of the popular vote, capturing 83 of 93 seats in parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party won 10 seats, the most seats won by the opposition since independence. Because a constitutional provision mandates at least 12 opposition members in parliament, two losing candidates from the newly founded Progress Singapore Party were also seated as nonconstituency members of parliament, chosen from the highest finishing runners-up in the general election.

In September the Elections Department filed a police report, prompting an investigation of sociopolitical media website New Naratif for breaching the law by running online content during the election campaign without prior authorization to conduct election activity. New Naratif and international human rights organizations condemned the investigation and criticized the government for selectively using broadly worded laws to target critics and alternative media. A police investigation continued at year’s end.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The opposition criticized the PAP for its abuse of incumbency to restrict opposition parties. Some opposition parties and human rights groups such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights criticized temporary COVID-19 related voting and campaign regulations put in place for the July general election as further benefitting PAP incumbents. The PAP maintained its political dominance in part by circumscribing political discourse and action. For example, government-appointed and predominantly publicly funded Community Development Councils, which provide welfare and other services, strengthened the PAP’s position. The PAP also had an extensive grassroots system and a carefully selected, highly disciplined membership. The constitutional requirement that members of parliament resign if expelled from their party helped promote backbencher discipline.

The PAP controlled key positions in and out of government, influenced the press, and benefited from structural advantages such as the group constituency system and short campaign period that disadvantaged smaller opposition parties according to some human rights groups. While the PAP’s methods were consistent with the law and the prerogatives of parliamentary government in the country, the overall effect was to perpetuate PAP power. The government created the position of an official Leader of the Opposition in parliament following the July general election, which the Workers’ Party accepted.

Although political parties were legally free to organize, authorities imposed strict regulations on their constitutions, fundraising, and accountability, including a ban on receiving foreign donations and a requirement to report donations. There were 30 registered political parties, 13 of which were active.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Three of the 20 members of the new cabinet were women and seven were members of a minority group. The country’s female president was a minority-group member. Presidential elections may be reserved for certain racial communities. There are no other restrictions in law or practice against voting or political participation by members of minority groups; they were well represented throughout the government and civil service, except in some sensitive national security positions in the armed forces and intelligence community. The country’s group representation constituency system also requires at least one candidate from a racial minority group in each group constituency to provide representation in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Among the 119 cases the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau investigated in 2019, 12 were public-sector related. Of the 147 individuals prosecuted in court for corruption in 2019, five were public-sector employees.

In July former senior Land Transport Authority officer Henry Foo Yung Thye was charged with 36 counts of corruption for accepting bribes amounting to S$1.24 million ($912,000). Six other individuals–both citizens and foreigners–and the China Railway Tunnel Group’s local branch were also charged in the case.

In July the high court heard both the government and Victor Wong Chee Meng appeal Wong’s sentence to 27 months’ imprisonment for receiving inducements from building and repair companies. Wong, the former general manager of the Ang Mo Kio town council, was charged in 2018 with 55 counts of corruption. The high court increased Wong’s jail sentence by 12 months to 39 months after hearing the appeals. The high court also set a new sentencing framework, taking into account the level of harm inflicted, the level of culpability involved, and the public-service rationale of the offender’s function, under the Prevention of Corruption Act for public-sector corruption involving agents.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires civil servants to declare their respective permanent secretaries their investments, properties, and indebtedness. According to the code of conduct for ministers, ministers make financial disclosures to the prime minister. Declarations are not made public. If evidence surfaces that a declaration is fraudulent, administrative “disciplinary measures” may be imposed. The salaries of ministers and senior officials were public information.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government interference, but subject to close monitoring and legal restraints, and these organizations investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs were subject to registration according to the Societies Act or the Companies Act.

Some international human rights NGOs criticized the government’s policies in areas such as capital punishment, migrant workers’ rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons. They charged that the government generally ignored such criticisms or published rebuttals.

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

In January amendments to the Criminal Law Reform Act, the Penal Code, and the Protection from Harassment Act took effect and were welcomed by NGOs for increasing protections for victims of rape, abuse, and harassment. Under the amended laws, individuals convicted under the Penal Code for any offenses committed against vulnerable victims–children below the age of 14, persons with mental or physical disabilities, and domestic workers–are subject to up to twice the maximum penalty. This is also the case for individuals who repeatedly breach protection orders. The amended law also decriminalizes attempted suicide.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Under the law rape is a crime, with maximum penalties of 20 years’ imprisonment and the possibility of caning. As of January the law abolished marital immunity for rape and expanded the definition of rape to make it gender neutral. For offenses affecting the human body committed by partners in a close or intimate relationship, even if unmarried, the law imposed up to twice the maximum penalty for these offenses outside such relationships. Domestic violence is a crime. Victims may obtain court orders restraining the respondent and barring a spouse or former spouse from the victim’s home until the court is satisfied the spouse has ceased aggressive behavior. The government enforced the laws on rape and domestic violence.

Identity protection orders are mandatory from the time a police report of a sexual crime (or child abuse) is lodged. Victims of sexual crimes may video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person. Victims may testify in closed-door hearings, with physical screens to shield them from the accused person. Lawyers may not ask questions about a victim’s sexual history, unless the court grants them permission to do so.

Several voluntary welfare organizations that assisted abused women noted that gender-based violence was underreported but the number of reported incidents was increasing, which they stated was the result of advocacy campaigns to address social stigma.

The women’s rights advocacy group AWARE reported a sharp increase in domestic violence and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the two-month lockdown from April to June. In May the organization’s helpline received an all-time record 752 calls; 180 of these were related to family violence–a 137 percent year-on-year increase–and 150 to emotional and psychological distress–a 436 percent year-on-year increase. From April 7 to May 6, a total of 476 police reports were filed for domestic violence compared to a usual monthly average of 389. In response, the government set up a National Care Hotline to provide psychological and emotional support.

In June the high court sentenced serial sex predator Muhammad Anddy Faizul Mohamed Eskah to 22 years’ imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane. The judge called his offenses against 19 young women, mostly minors, “one of the most shocking and horrifying” cases of sexual crimes to come before the court.

In July a court sentenced a university student to 12 days of detention and 80 hours of community service for strangling his former girlfriend until she lost consciousness. Women’s groups and members of parliament expressed dismay at the light punishment imposed by the court. Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam responded that it was not the courts but the legal policy framework that was at issue, and he committed to review the penalty framework for similar cases.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Type I (a) (as classified by the World Health Organization) FGM/C was practiced among a portion of the Muslim population. There was no legislation banning FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Harassment is a crime, and the law covers harassment within and outside the workplace, cyberbullying, and bullying of children. The law also prescribes mandatory caning and a minimum of two years’ imprisonment on conviction of any charge for “outraging modesty” that causes the victim to fear death or injury. The law also subjects to a fine persons convicted of using threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior. It also provides a range of self-help measures, civil remedies, and enhanced criminal sanctions to protect against harassment. Additionally, stalking is an offense punishable by a fine, imprisonment for up to 12 months, or both.

As of January the law introduced criminal offenses for technology-related crimes such as voyeurism and sexual exposure. The Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act made doxing (publishing private information) an offense, improved judicial procedures for victims of online falsehood harassment, and enhanced protection for harassment victims.

According to police statistics, outrage of modesty incidents decreased by 7.1 percent in 2019 to 1,605. Media gave significant coverage to sexual harassment convictions throughout the year. The government ran awareness campaigns encouraging women to report molestation, and several members of parliament urged the government to address sexual harassment in the workplace more actively.

The National University of Singapore was the focus of several high-profile sexual harassment cases. In October the university filed a police report and dismissed a residential college fellow accused of sexual misconduct for behaving inappropriately toward two undergraduate students. Criticized for its handling of the case, the university pledged to be more transparent. The university announced in November that the former director of its East Asian Institute had behaved inappropriately toward a colleague in 2018 and issued him a written warning. In December the university filed a police report and dismissed a political science professor for sexually harassing a student.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including civil liberties, employment, commercial activity, and education. Women were well represented in many professions (see section 7.d.).

Polygyny is permitted for Muslim men but is limited and strictly regulated by the Registry of Muslim Marriages, which oversees Muslim marriages and other family law matters. Polygynous marriages constituted 0.2 percent of Muslim marriages.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents as long as one parent is a citizen of the country and both parents are registered as legally married. The law requires that all births be registered within 14 days. Dual citizens born abroad to citizen parents must renounce their foreign citizenship after turning 21 to retain their citizenship.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes mistreatment of children, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The government enforced the law and provided support services for child abuse victims.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development investigated 1,088 child abuse cases in 2019, a 6.5 percent decrease from 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law characterizes unmarried persons younger than age 21 as minors and persons younger than 14 as children. Individuals younger than 21 who wish to marry must obtain parental consent, and the couple must attend a mandatory marriage preparation program. Individuals younger than 18 also require a special license from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to wed or, if they are marrying under Muslim law, they require permission from the kadi (a Muslim judge appointed by the president), who would grant permission only under special conditions.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, and authorities enforced the law.

The age of consent for noncommercial sex is age 16. Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16 is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine, or both, and if the victim is younger than 14 it is punishable by as long as 40 years in prison and a fine or caning.

The law prohibits commercial sex provided by anyone below age 18. Authorities may detain (but generally do not prosecute) persons younger than 18 whom they believe to be engaged in prostitution. They prosecute those who organize or profit from prostitution, bring women or girls to the country for prostitution, or coerce or deceive women or girls into prostitution.

As of January the law increased the protection of minors from sexual exploitation and made a distinction between child pornography and other types of pornography. The law made it a separate offense to use or involve a child below age 16 in the production of child abuse material and criminalized every person involved in the supply and consumption of child abuse material. The law criminalized and introduced penalties for offenses, such as sexual intercourse, pornography, or sexual grooming, committed in the context of exploitative relationships when the victim was above age 16 but below age 18, even if the victim had consented.

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

Anti-Semitism

Although estimates varied widely, the government estimated there were approximately 2,500 members in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

There is no comprehensive legislation addressing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in education or employment or preventing discrimination.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and coordinates implementation of the government’s 2017-21 policy plan for programs and services in the disability sector, which focuses on greater inclusiveness. In 2019, amendments to the Employment Act provided more grants, legal protection, and training to employers and persons with disabilities to provide better safeguards for employees, including persons with disabilities. In March the Ministry of Manpower announced additional training grants for persons with disabilities and allowed employers to offset up to S$400 ($230) of an employee’s monthly salary.

The government maintained a comprehensive code on barrier-free accessibility and standards for facilities for persons with physical disabilities in all new buildings, and mandated the progressive upgrading of older structures. The “SG Enable” program, established by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, administered several assistance schemes for persons with disabilities, and provided a job training and placement program for them. The government reported that in 2019 companies hired more than 9,000 persons with disabilities through use of government-sponsored support programs, an increase of 4.7 percent from 2018.

The Disabled People’s Association (DPA), an advocacy group, stated that discrimination against persons with disabilities was underreported because affected individuals either did not file a complaint or were unaware of their rights and the available resources. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received an average of one complaint per year of discrimination against persons with disabilities. DPA also reported private discrimination against persons with disabilities who were seeking employment.

The country provided a high level of educational support for children and minors with disabilities from preschool to university. Children with moderate to severe educational needs were required to participate in compulsory education until they reached age 15. Elementary and secondary levels both included mainstreaming programs and separate education schools. All primary schools and the majority of secondary schools had specialist support for students with mild disabilities. Mainstreaming programs catered primarily to children with physical disabilities. Separate education schools, which focused on children who required more intensive and specialized assistance, were operated by social service organizations and involved a means-tested payment of fees. The Special Educational Needs Support Offices, established in all publicly funded tertiary education institutions including universities, provided support for students. Informal provisions permitted university matriculation for those with visual, hearing, or physical disabilities through assistive technology devices and services such as note taking.

In October the government inaugurated a mandatory national disability insurance program providing policyholders with a monthly payout for life if the person suffers from a severe disability requiring long-term care.

The law allows voters who are unable to vote in the manner described by law to receive assistance from election officials, who are under oath to maintain voting secrecy. For the general election held in July, the government improved support for persons with disabilities. Voters with visual disabilities could cast their vote independently with stencils, wheelchair users could use a portable booth placed on their laps, and those with physical disabilities could instruct election officials to mark the ballot paper on their behalf. Polling stations were barrier-free with special drop-off points.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 15 percent of the population. The constitution recognizes them as the indigenous inhabitants of the country and charges the government to support and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and linguistic interests. The government took steps to encourage educational achievement among Malay students and upgrading of skills among Malay workers, including through subsidies for tertiary education fees for poorer Malays. Malay educational performance has improved, although ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels and, some asserted, in certain sectors of the government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued it also was the result of employment discrimination.

The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills so they do not disadvantage any particular group. It also reports to the government on matters that affect any racial or religious community.

Government policy designed to facilitate interethnic harmony and prevent the formation of racial enclaves enforced ethnic ratios, applicable for all ethnic groups, in all forms of public housing.

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

Section 377A of the penal code criminalizes consensual male-to-male sexual relations, subject to up to two years’ imprisonment. Authorities have not enforced this since 2010 and have stated since then that they do not intend to do so. There were no indications the provision was used intentionally to intimidate or coerce. Its existence, however, intimidates some gay men, particularly those who are victims of sexual assault but who will not report it to the police for fear of being charged with violating Section 377A.

A constitutional challenge to section 377A which combined three separate cases was dismissed by the high court in March. Justice See Kee Oon rejected arguments that the law was unconstitutional and stated the law still served “the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts” even if it was not enforced. Justice See declared that a 2014 decision by the Court of Appeal, the highest court in the country, retaining section 377A remained binding. All three plaintiffs filed appeals in the Court of Appeal and hearings were scheduled for early 2021.

No laws explicitly protect the LGBTI community from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, since single persons are prevented from purchasing government housing reserved for married couples until age 35 and same-sex marriage is not permitted, LGBTI persons were unable to receive certain government services and benefits available to other citizens before reaching 35.

As of January same-sex partners were covered under the amended Protection from Harassment Act and enjoyed access to legal protections such as expedited protection orders in cases of harassment or violence, including by close and intimate partners.

LGBTI persons experienced discrimination in the military, which classifies individuals by sexual orientation and evaluates them on a scale of “effeminacy” to determine fitness for combat training and other assignments. Openly gay servicemen faced threats and harassment from their peers and were often ostracized.

Individuals were prohibited from updating their gender on official documents unless they underwent sex reassignment surgery.

Media censorship of LGBTI individuals resulted in underrepresentation and negative stereotypes of the LGBTI community. In July national public broadcaster Mediacorp came under public scrutiny after it portrayed a gay character in one of its television shows as a pedophile with a sexually transmitted disease. Mediacorp released an apology for the portrayal. The IMDA censored films and television shows with LGBTI themes. According to the IMDA website, authorities allow the broadcast of LGBTI themes on television “as long as the presentation does not justify, promote, or glamorize such a lifestyle” (see section 2.a.).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There is no legislation barring employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their HIV status. The government’s guidelines for employers state that employees who are dismissed based on their medical status have grounds for wrongful dismissal claims against their employers, including on the grounds of HIV. Many persons living with HIV are, however, afraid to disclose their HIV status during the job application process and, during employment, fear dismissal if they are discovered to have made a false declaration.

Some persons with HIV/AIDS claimed that they were socially marginalized and faced employment discrimination or possible termination if they revealed their HIV/AIDS status. Some HIV-positive persons sought diagnosis and treatment outside the country. In September the Ministry of Health added 16 drugs used for the treatment of HIV to its list of subsidized drugs, making them more affordable. Advocacy group Action for AIDS welcomed the move as helping to reduce stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

The government discouraged discrimination, supported initiatives that countered misperceptions about HIV/AIDS, and publicly praised employers that welcomed workers with HIV/AIDS. HIV-positive foreigners, however, are barred from obtaining work permits, student visas, or immigrant visas.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join trade unions. Workers have the legal right to strike and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Parliament may impose restrictions on the right of association based on security, public order, or morality grounds. The Ministry of Manpower also has broad powers to refuse to register a union or to cancel a union’s registration. Refusal may occur when a trade union already exists in an industry or occupation. Laws and regulations restrict freedom of association by requiring any group of 10 or more persons to register with the government. The law also restricts the right of uniformed personnel and government employees to organize, although the president may grant exemptions. Foreigners and those with criminal convictions generally may not hold union office or become employees of unions, but the ministry may grant exemptions.

The law requires the majority of affected unionized workers to vote in favor of a strike by secret ballot, as opposed to the majority of those participating in the vote. Workers in “essential services” are required to give 14 days’ notice to an employer before striking, and there is a prohibition on strikes by workers in the water, gas, and electricity sectors.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Unions were unable to carry out their work without interference from the government. The law limits how unions may spend their funds, prohibiting, for example, payments to political parties, or the use of funds for political purposes.

Almost all unions were affiliated with the National Trade Union Congress (hereafter trade union congress), an umbrella organization with a close relationship with the government and the ruling PAP. Trade union congress policy prohibited union members who supported opposition parties from holding office in its affiliated unions.

Collective bargaining was a routine part of labor-management relations in the private sector. Because nearly all unions were its affiliates, the trade union congress had almost exclusive authority to exercise collective bargaining power on behalf of employees. Union members may not reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and an employer. Although transfers and layoffs are excluded from the scope of collective bargaining, employers consulted with unions on both matters. In July the trade union congress threatened to strike over concerns Eagle Services Asia, an aircraft maintenance and repair company, was not following the correct process for retrenchment. The company and union were able to agree on the retrenchment process, and the strike was averted.

Foreign workers constituted approximately 15 percent of union members. Labor NGOs also filled an important function by providing support for migrant workers, including legal aid and medical care, especially for those in the informal sector and during the COVID-19 outbreak in migrant workers’ dormitories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not define “forced labor,” but the government has accepted as law the definition found in International Labor Organization Convention 29. Under the law, destitute persons can be compelled to work.

The government enforced the law, although it was more likely to prosecute employers for less serious charges than domestic servitude or bonded labor. Penalties included prison terms and fines, which were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government increased investigations of forced labor allegations in 2019 and imposed fines on some employment agencies for illegal practices. In January the Ministry of Manpower charged the director of San Tong Engineering Pte Ltd for illegal employment of migrant workers and failing to pay salaries and other charges. In view of the number of low-paid foreign workers in the country, however, outside observers believed that many cases of abuse were undetected.

Practices indicative of forced labor, including withholding of wages and passports, occurred. Migrant workers in low-wage and unskilled sectors such as domestic work, hospitality, and construction were vulnerable to labor exploitation. Several NGOs reported that migrant workers did not receive their salary during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown in spite of government efforts to require construction sector employers to make monthly declarations on the payment of salaries to their foreign workers. The Ministry of Manpower acknowledged that some employers were unable to pay salaries owed due to financial difficulties but also indicated the ministry would work with them to provide for salary payment.

The law caps the fees payable by foreign domestic workers to employment agencies in the country at one month’s salary per year of the employment contract, not to exceed two months’ salary, irrespective of the duration of the contract. Observers noted that unscrupulous agencies in migrant workers’ countries of origin could charge exorbitant fees.

Some observers also noted that the country’s employer sponsorship system made legal migrant workers vulnerable to forced labor because there are limited circumstances in which they may change employers without the consent of their employer.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 13. A child age 13 or older may engage in light, nonindustrial work, subject to medical clearance. Exceptions include work in family enterprises; a child 13 or older may only work in an industrial undertaking that employs members of his or her family. Ministry of Manpower regulations prohibit night employment of children and restrict industrial work for children between ages 15 and 16. Children younger than 15 may not work on commercial vessels, with moving machinery, on live electrical apparatus lacking effective insulation, or in any underground job, and normally they are prohibited from employment in the industrial sector.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Employers who violated laws related to child labor were subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Government officials asserted that child labor was not a significant problem.

The incidence of children in formal employment was low, although some children worked in family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality in employment. No specific antidiscrimination legislation exists, although some statutes prohibit certain forms of discrimination. For example, employers may not dismiss female employees during pregnancy or maternity leave, and employers may not dismiss employees solely due to age, gender, race, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, disability, or medical condition.

In addition, the Ministry of Manpower’s Fair Consideration Framework requires all companies to comply with the Guidelines of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (guidelines) which cover procedures from recruitment to dismissal so that all employment practices are open, merit based, and nondiscriminatory. These guidelines call for eliminating language referring to age, race, gender, religion, nationality, marital status, family responsibilities, and disability in employment advertisements. Employers are required to provide explanations for putting requirements such as specific language skills in the job advertisement. Penalties for violation of government guidelines are at the discretion of the Ministry of Manpower. There were no similar government guidelines with respect to political opinion, sexual orientation, or HIV or other communicable disease status. The Fair Consideration Framework was updated in January further to prevent workplace discrimination. Personnel involved in making false declaration on fair hiring may now be prosecuted and penalties were increased. Companies found guilty of discrimination may not hire foreigners for at least 12 months, and also may not renew work passes of existing foreign workers. In March, for example, the Ministry of Manpower fined Ti2 Logistics Pte Ltd for making false declarations to hire a foreigner in preference to citizens. In June the Ministry of Manpower introduced new license conditions on all employment agencies requiring them to comply with the guidelines.

The government effectively enforced the guidelines. Penalties were not commensurate to those for other laws related to civil rights but had a deterrent effect.

The guidelines prohibit questions on family status during a job interview. The government supported flexible work policies, although no laws mandate it, and subsidized childcare.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices received and investigated complaints of employment discrimination. In August the Ministry of Manpower announced that it had placed 47 companies on a watch list for engaging in discriminatory hiring practices. According to Ministry of Manpower statistics, reported cases of workplace discrimination based on age, race, and gender decreased from 240 in 2016 to 125 in 2019. In March the government barred five companies from hiring or renewing the work passes of foreign employees for age-related discriminatory hiring, the most common discrimination-based complaint received.

The Council for Board Diversity reported that as of December 2019, women’s representation on boards of the largest 100 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange was 16.2 percent, while women filled 25.1 percent of positions on statutory boards, and 27.8 percent of those on registered NGOs and charities, an increase in all industries compared to June 2019 data. In January the government reported that the adjusted gender pay gap had narrowed to 6 percent from 8.8 percent in 2002 but that occupational segregation continued.

Some ethnic Malays and Indians reported that discrimination limited their employment and promotion opportunities. Malays were prohibited from holding certain sensitive national security positions in the military.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices investigated a July allegation of workplace discrimination at a local shopping center. Employees at the shopping center reportedly told a part-time promoter to remove her hijab while working. After public pressure, the shopping center announced that it would standardize its practice to allow all employees to wear religious headgear while working.

There were also some reports of discrimination based on disability, pregnancy, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Pregnancy is a breach of the standard work permit conditions for foreign workers, and the government cancels work permits and requires repatriation of foreign domestic workers who become pregnant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not specify a national minimum wage for all sectors. The government, in consultation with unions and employers, has a progressive wage model, which sets wage floors and skills requirements for specific positions in cleaning, landscaping, elevator maintenance, and security services sectors. Employers must follow these pay scales as a requirement to obtain a business license. Most such wages were below the unofficial poverty line determined by the National University of Singapore’s Social Service Research Center. The government did not have an official poverty line.

The law sets the standard legal workweek at 44 hours, and requires employers to apply for an overtime exception from the Ministry of Manpower for employees to work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Workplace protection, including paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave, and protection against wrongful dismissal, is available to all private sector employees except domestic workers and seafarers who are covered under separate laws. Foreign domestic workers must receive one rest day per week. The law also mandates benefits for part-time employees, defined as those working 35 hours per week or less. The government effectively enforced wage floor and overtime laws; penalties were lower than those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The law establishes a framework for workplaces to comply with occupational safety and health standards, and regular inspections enforced the standards. Officials encouraged workers to report situations that endanger health or safety to the Ministry of Manpower and the law provides employees with the right to terminate employment without notice if the individual is threatened by a danger not agreed to in the contract. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced laws and regulations establishing working conditions and comprehensive occupational safety and health regulations. The government took action against employers for workplace violations, including for nonpayment of salaries, serious safety violations, and abuse or mistreatment of foreign domestic workers. Penalties for violating these regulations–fines and stop-work orders–were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance.

The majority of foreign domestic workers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, worked under clearly outlined contracts. Any employer of a foreign domestic worker or a member of the employer’s family, if convicted of certain offenses against the worker, such as causing hurt or insulting the modesty of the worker, is liable to a maximum penalty of one and one-half times the mandated penalty when the victim is not a domestic worker. Nevertheless, there were reports of employers abusing or mistreating such workers (see section 7.b.). Throughout the year, the government investigated and sentenced several employers for abuse of their foreign domestic workers. In August a woman was sentenced to 21 months in jail and her husband to four months’ imprisonment for repeatedly abusing their domestic helper.

The Ministry of Manpower continued to promote training to reduce the frequency of job-related accidents in high-risk sectors such as construction, and authorities provided tax incentives to firms that introduced hazard control measures. Workplace fatalities in 2019 were the lowest since 2004, when statistics first became publicly available, with 39 recorded deaths (1.1 per 100,000 workers). Nonfatal injuries increased by 5 percent to 629 cases (18.1 per 100,000 workers). In 2019 the government issued 58 stop-work orders for workplace safety violations with an average duration of six weeks and fined almost 1,000 companies a total of S$1,426,000 ($1,045,000). The government also enforced requirements for employers to provide one rest day per week or compensation for foreign domestic workers.

In September a court sentenced Tan Wee Meng and Lee Chung Ling to two and three months’ imprisonment, respectively, for negligence that endangered the safety of workers and resulted in the death of a Bangladeshi worker in 2017. The government also issued fines and penalties and closed businesses for noncompliance by employees with temporary COVID-19 safe distancing measures.

The Work Injury Compensation Act took effect in September. This law incentivizes companies to prevent workplace injuries by permitting employers with better safety records to pay lower insurance premiums, expedites the benefit claim process for workers, and increases the size of benefit payouts to injured workers.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which includes the Ministry of Manpower, unions, and the employers’ federation, offers advice and mediation services to help employees and employers to manage employment disputes. The Alliance provided free advisory services to both foreign and local workers who experienced problems with employers; it provided mediation services for a fee. The ministry operated a hotline for foreign domestic workers.

Most foreign workers were concentrated in low-wage, low-skill jobs in construction, shipbuilding, services, and domestic work and were often required to work long hours. Living conditions for those workers were criticized after COVID-19 infections in purpose-built dormitories housing approximately 323,000 migrant workers accounted for more than 94 percent of the country’s total infections as of October 1. Public health experts and NGOs stated COVID-19 spread was accelerated by poor hygiene standards and the limited living space allocated to individuals in these dormitories. In response, the government used temporary COVID-19 legislation to declare dormitories with high infection rates as isolation areas, required workers to quarantine, and surged resources and support teams to dormitories. Freedom of movement for these migrant workers was restricted for more than six months during the pandemic and remained significantly more limited and controlled than for the rest of the population. In September the court fined Shaun Pang Tong Heng after he pleaded guilty to wrongful confinement of three of his Indian workers in an 11-foot by 14-foot room for 42 days during the country’s lockdown.

In June the Ministries of Manpower and National Development released a joint statement with short-, medium-, and long-term arrangements to improve living standards within dormitories and the Ministry of Manpower established a new division to support migrant workers and dormitory operations. NGOs advocated for structural changes to the work permit employment system in order to reduce the financial vulnerability and potential for exploitation of such workers.

Solomon Islands

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints and request investigations of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The respective prison commanders screened complaints and requests made to the Professional Standards Unit of the Correctional Service, which investigates credible allegations of problematic conditions and documents the results in a publicly accessible manner. The Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor investigate credible allegations of misconduct made against Correctional Services officers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers; but there were no reports of such visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Only a magistrate or judge may issue warrants, although police have power to arrest without a warrant if they have reasonable belief a person committed a crime. The law requires detainees be brought promptly before a judge, and authorities respected this right. Delays sometimes arose after the preliminary hearing, but authorities brought detainees to court as soon as possible following arrest, especially if they were held without bail.

Police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The Public Solicitor’s Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants, and detainees had prompt access to family members and counsel. There was a functioning system of bail for less serious cases, and police and courts frequently granted bail.

Pretrial Detention: Delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some detainees. Pretrial detainees comprised 50 percent of the prisoner population. The average length of time held in pretrial detention was approximately two years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Prisoners were not afforded timely trials due to a judicial backlog that resulted in long delays in bringing cases to trial.

Trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Detainees had access to attorneys of their choice and to free assistance of an interpreter, and the rights to be present at their own trial, to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses and evidence, to refrain from self-incrimination, and to appeal convictions. The law extends these rights to both citizens and noncitizens. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts provided an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides that any person whose human rights or freedoms were contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no known refugees in the country.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the April 2019 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first since the full withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Electoral law requires all candidates to present party certificates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and four female permanent secretaries in the 25 government ministries. There was one female judge on the High Court. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Although a 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provided it with investigative and prosecutorial powers, as of September it was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.

Taskforce Janus, operated by the police and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service.

The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established in the constitution with a mandate to examine public accounts and report to parliament.

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In September a senior public officer was convicted of bribing a principal internal auditor in the Ministry of Finance and Treasury to stop the audit of an oil palm project in West Are’are, Malaita Province.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission investigates misconduct involving members of parliament or senior civil servants. If the commission finds conclusive evidence of misconduct, it sends the matter to the Office of Public Prosecution, which may proceed with legal charges. The commission chairperson and two part-time commissioners constitute a tribunal with power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply fines for members of parliament or senior civil servants.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an Office of the Ombudsman with power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. Although independent, a lack of resources limited its effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a substantial fine. Violence against women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.

Police often charged persons suspected of domestic violence and assault against women. As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a sexual assault unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.

For victims of domestic violence, the law provides for access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community if they cannot return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments remained common and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was not illegal and was a widespread problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government’s National Family Planning Program provides all women and men with information on contraception and access to contraceptives. Skilled health-care providers assisted 86 percent of deliveries.

A reported 64 percent of reproductive-age women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives. Although the National Population Policy 2017-2026 includes a goal to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, this goal appeared to be aspirational only.

According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio was 104 per 100,000 live births in 2017 due to factors including a high adolescent birth rate (79 per 1,000 ages 15-19 years), minimal access to antenatal care, and a high rate of unmet need for contraception. Although a reported 94 percent of women and 98 percent of men were aware of at least one contraceptive method, only 29 percent of married women used contraception.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not enforce equal rights laws effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents. The law does not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in the denial of public services to children.

Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. Government policy was to cover operational costs for children age six to 15 years to attend school, but it rarely covered all costs and allowed schools to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash or labor. These additional costs prevented some children from attending school.

Child Abuse: Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. On September 21, police arrested a 19-year-old man on allegations that he raped a 14-year-old girl multiple times in August. On September 24, a 60-year-old man was arrested for raping an eight-year-old girl and a 10-year-old girl on multiple occasions throughout 2018 and 2019. The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes the courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.

The government did not effectively enforce laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect (see section 7.c.). The law criminalizes domestic violence including violence against children, but there was poor public awareness, and the law was not well enforced; however, on August 24, a 44-year-old man was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for raping his 12-year-old niece at knifepoint in 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15 years. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 15, the penalty is 15 years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was age 16 or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors younger than 18 for prostitution is punishable as a criminal offense. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as age 12, but in most cases official charges were not filed.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, or storing of sexually exploitative materials involving children. Girls and boys were exploited in prostitution and sexual servitude. Commercial sexual exploitation of children carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. The law requires electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to do so. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.

There were very limited government facilities or services for persons with mental disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of the nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence lasting from 1998 to 2003. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

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

“Sodomy” is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and for the latter five years. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons under these provisions during the year, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.

There are no specific antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may hinder some from reporting.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Sorcery-related violence was reported. Such violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In March authorities charged 12 men with beating a man to death after they accused him of using sorcery to kill a fellow villager. The court case continued. In April police arrested 10 boys for burning down the house of someone they believed had used sorcery. Police continue to investigate the arson.

Nongovernmental organizations operate 11 safe houses throughout the country. The safe houses receive funding from church groups and international donors, but do not receive government funding or support. One safe house in Honiara provides professional training and workshops and also paralegal counseling for victims of gender-based violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the formal sector to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. A notice to the government 28 days prior to a strike is required for strikes to be legal. The government has discretionary power in relation to cancellation and suspension of registration of unions, a power which can take effect even in the case of judicial review.

The government prohibits strikes by civil servants in essential services, but there are procedures in place to provide these workers due process and protect their rights. The government defines essential services as including, but not limited to, the health, public security, aviation, marine, immigration, and disaster-relief sectors. The law does not provide for the rights of workers in the informal sector to organize or to collective bargaining. In addition the law places limits on the rights of workers to act as union representatives based on age, literacy, criminal record, and membership in more than one union.

Government enforcement of the law was inconsistent; the small penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The penalty for antiunion discrimination was not effective, for example, because employers could afford to pay the fine and easily replace workers. Penalties for illegal strikes, on the other hand, served as a deterrent for employees to strike.

Collective bargaining agreements determined wages and conditions of employment in the formal economy. Disputes between labor and management not settled between the two sides were referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. While the panel deliberates, employees have protection from arbitrary dismissal or lockout. The three-member panel, composed of a chairperson appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to associate and bargain collectively, although employers did not always respect these rights. Since only a small percentage of the workforce was in formal-sector employment, employers could easily replace workers if disputes were not resolved quickly.

The Workers Union of Solomon Islands actively negotiated with private employers during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court sentence or order, such as community service in lieu of a fine or jail term. The immigration act prohibits transnational forced labor, and the penalties are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Penalties for forced labor that is not transnational are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government typically relied on labor inspectors to report on any instances of forced or compulsory labor during regularly scheduled routine inspections; however, there were not enough inspectors or resources to enforce the laws effectively. Unlike in prior years, the Labor Division did not report conducting any monitoring and inspection activities at logging operations or in the fishing or mining sectors.

There were reports of children and adults forced to work in logging camps, on plantations, and of children in domestic servitude or service industries. Local and foreign fishermen reported situations indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages, severe living conditions, violence, and limited food supply on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s territorial waters and ports.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits labor by children younger than age 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents, or other labor approved by the commissioner of labor. Children younger than age 18 may not work at night in any industry without specific written permission from the labor commissioner. Girls younger than age 18 may not work on a ship or underground in mines; boys may work on a ship or underground in a mine if they are at least 16 years old, provided they have a medical certificate attesting they are fit for such work. The law bars children younger than age 15 from work in industry or on ships, except aboard training ships for educational purposes. The law does not limit the number of hours a child can work, nor does it clearly set forth a minimum age for hazardous work or delineate the type of work considered hazardous for all children. The law prohibits child sexual exploitation and penalizes anyone who causes, facilitates, or procures a child for sexual purposes. Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. The law does not specifically outlaw the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the resources devoted to investigating child labor cases were inadequate to investigate or deter violations. The law provides for penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children worked in agriculture, fishing, alluvial mining, as domestic servants, cooks, and in logging camps where conditions often were poor. For example, young girls worked long hours and in isolation as domestic workers in mining camps. In some cases these conditions could amount to forced labor (see section 7.b.). There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children). Children also assisted in cultivating, distributing, and selling local drugs such as betel nut or marijuana. They were at risk of physical abuse, mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, and robbery.

According to the Solomon Islands Demographic and Health Survey, 2 percent of children age five to 11 years and 12 percent of children age 12 to 14 were engaged in paid labor. Paid child labor was more common among female children in urban areas and all children living in rural areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No laws prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. By regulation public-service officers should ensure their workplace is “free from harassment, including sexual harassment.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on grounds of gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status.

Women experienced discrimination especially in the attainment of managerial positions. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. A significant gender gap exists in senior positions. For example, women dominated the lower administrative level of the public-service workforce, but very few women held senior management positions. A shortage of jobs compounded the limited entry and advancement opportunities for women in the workforce. A program, “Waka Mere” (She Works), funded and implemented by the International Finance Corporation, Australia, and New Zealand, worked with businesses to promote gender equality in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August 2019 the minimum wage was increased and is above the poverty level. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week.

Occupational safety and health laws require employers to provide a safe working environment and forbid retribution against any employee who seeks protection under labor regulations. These laws are current and appropriate for main industries. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens. Some workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety, particularly in the fishing and logging industries, without jeopardy to their employment.

The commissioner of labor in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labor and Immigration, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws and usually reacted to complaints. The government, however, did not effectively enforce labor laws. The government’s minimal human and financial resources limited its ability to enforce the law in smaller establishments, the informal economy, and the subsistence sector. While inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor labor practices routinely, particularly in extractive sectors outside of the capital. An active labor movement and an independent judiciary, however, helped provide effective oversight of labor law enforcement in major state and private enterprises. The law does not specify penalties for violations, significantly weakening effective enforcement.

Workers in the logging, construction, and manufacturing industries were subject to hazardous and exploitative work.

Vanuatu

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Civilian authorities did not always have effective mechanisms to punish police abuse or corruption but exercised overall control of the force. The law mandates the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate complaints of security force abuses. Additionally the police Professional Standards Unit investigates allegations of ethics violations and misuse of force, and may also prosecute cases in court.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Foreign assistance designed to address some of the problems confronting the security force continued. Under the Vanuatu Australia Police Project, the number of Australian Federal Police advisors working full time remained at four.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions in prisons created harsh conditions.

Physical Conditions: Male and female detainees were held in separate prison facilities. The country has no juvenile prison, so juvenile offenders are remanded to home communities, where tribal elders or in some cases a community justice supervisor oversees the court-appointed sentence. Probation officers regularly check in with the offender, noting compliance with the sentence.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by media and independent human rights observers. Scheduled visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the New Zealand Department of Corrections were cancelled due to COVID-19.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest, although police made a small number of arrests without warrants. Authorities generally observed the constitutional provision to inform suspects of the charges against them.

The law outlines the process for remanding alleged offenders in custody. To remand a person in custody requires a valid written warrant from a magistrate or a Supreme Court justice. Warrants typically are valid for 14 days in the first instance, and the court may extend them in writing. In general the Correctional Services Department’s practice was not to accept any detainee into custody without a valid warrant. A system of bail operated effectively, although some persons not granted bail spent lengthy periods in pretrial detention due to judicial inefficiency. Authorities allow detainees prompt access to counsel and family members. The Public Defender’s Office provides free legal counsel to indigent defendants, defined as those who earn less than 50,000 vatu ($450) per year.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted approximately one-quarter of the prison population. Judges, prosecutors, and police complained about large case backlogs due to a lack of resources and limited numbers of qualified judges and prosecutors. The average length of time spent in remand before a case went to trial was approximately 12 weeks, although it could be longer in the outer islands.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The judicial system derives from British common law. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts uphold constitutional provisions for a presumption of innocence, a prohibition against double jeopardy, a right to counsel, a right to free assistance of an interpreter, a right to question witnesses, a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, a right to be present at trial, and a right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, including for human rights violations. The government, including police, generally complied with court decisions on human rights violations. Reports continued that police sometimes did not promptly enforce court orders related to domestic violence (see section 6, Women).

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Violence and Harassment: According to Freedom House, “elected officials have sometimes been accused of threatening journalists for critical reporting.” For example, in November 2019 the government prevented Dan McGarry, a Canadian citizen, long-time resident, and media director of the country’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily Post, from returning to the country after a trip abroad; the Supreme Court in December 2019 overturned that decision and McGarry did return. McGarry told media that he believed the prime minister was specifically displeased with Daily Post reporting about the government’s cooperation with China to deport six Chinese nationals, four of whom had recently acquired Vanuatu citizenship through a program designed to attract Chinese investment.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The country faced multiple volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, cyclones, and tsunami during the year. In April, Tropical Cyclone Harold displaced 6,218 individuals; they remained housed with host families or at evacuation centers at year’s end. Internally displaced persons complained that it was difficult to earn an income or access food and water in some evacuee camps. Almost half of those displaced were children, who had no regular access to education and were left in vulnerable conditions, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting “child abuse concerns in 22 percent of evacuation centers and 16 percent of host families.”

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Despite time and funding constraints faced by the Electoral Commission, international and domestic observers considered the March 19-20 general election free and fair. Voter rolls continued to be problematic and larger than would be expected based on population size, but this situation did not appear to affect results significantly.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Most of the 49 political parties that contested the March election were newly formed.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process. Traditional attitudes regarding male dominance and customary familial roles, however, hampered women’s participation in political life. No women served in the 52-member parliament, although 18 women contested the March election, an increase from eight in 2016. Women candidates and independent candidates–whether male or female–faced significant hurdles to fundraising, which limited their electoral prospects, according to one report.

The law allows municipal governments to reserve council seats for women for each ward in each municipality, and Port Vila and Luganville have done so. Port Vila has five reserved seats for women out of 14 seats in the municipal council. Luganville has four seats reserved for women out of 13 seats.

A small number of ethnic-minority persons (non-Melanesians) served in parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government made some efforts to implement the law. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Auditor General’s Office are key government agencies responsible for combating government corruption.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law. In July, two senior officials and several line officers from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utility were suspended following accusations that they improperly awarded contracts by failing to adhere to established law and procedures. In August former prime minister and current Member of Parliament Charlot Salwai and three of Salwai’s former cabinet ministers were accused of bribery and corruption for “vote buying” in parliament. In a December ruling, the court acquitted Salwai and his codefendents.

Financial Disclosure: Members of parliament and elected members of provincial governments are subject to a leadership code of conduct specified by law that includes financial disclosure requirements. They must submit annual financial-disclosure reports to the Office of the Ombudsman, which then publishes a list of elected officials who did not comply and informs the public prosecutor who may initiate legal proceedings to hold the official accountable. The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates those who do not submit reports, confirmed that some officials did not comply with these requirements. Reports are not made available to the public.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: In consultation with other political leaders, the president appoints a government ombudsman to a five-year term. Investigating alleged human rights abuses is among the Office of the Ombudsman’s responsibilities. The office, however, does not have the power to prosecute, and the findings of its investigations are not admissible as evidence in court proceedings. The ombudsman referred cases deemed valid to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for action, but there were few prosecutions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape–regardless of the victim’s gender–is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a fine, or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence.

Police were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters. There is, however, a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which police are not supposed to drop reported domestic-violence cases. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. According to a 2017 report from Correctional Services, more than 60 percent of prison inmates were charged with sex-related offenses. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.

In November the Vanuatu Women’s Center reported that the number of domestic-violence cases surged after the March border closure imposed by COVID-19 travel restrictions, with triple the average number of reports for previous years, adding that there was also much violence between families and their landlords. The center provides telephone counseling, face-to-face counseling, and free legal services to ensure the safety of women and children, with support from the Australian government.

In November, Prime Minister Loughman launched a countrywide government information program to address domestic violence. Also in November the Vanuatu Women’s Center introduced a national toll-free help-line number for free counselling, referral, and support services to women and children survivors of domestic violence. The toll-free line can be accessed on the country’s two network providers.

The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Vanuatu Women’s Center played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Only a small proportion of women cited a lack of knowledge of contraceptive methods, a lack of access, or cost as the main reason they did not use family planning and contraceptive methods. The government made it a priority under the law to promote gender equality and reduce gender-based violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through provincial hospitals, health centers, dispensaries, and mobile reproductive health outreach clinics.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as equal to those of men.

Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance.

Women were slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, but women continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work. The Department of Women’s Affairs worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law, holding multiple open workshops throughout the year that coincided with public holidays to encourage participation at the local community level.

Children

Birth Registration: Children born in country to one citizen parent, through either birth or naturalization, are entitled to citizenship. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.

Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with access to education. Although the government stated its commitment to free and universal education, school fees and difficult geography were barriers to school attendance for some children.

School attendance is not compulsory. In general boys received more education than girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.

Child Abuse: The country does not have a legal definition of child abuse, but the law addresses sexual abuse of children and states that parents must protect children from violence within the family setting. The national child protection policy recognizes the government’s responsibility to protect all children from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and includes the need to introduce a child protection bill.

NGOs and law-enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of child abuse, incest, and rape of children in recent years. A 2017 UNICEF report stated that eight of 10 children from ages two to four experienced violent discipline at home. It also stated that one in three children experienced severe physical punishment at home and that sexual abuse before the age of 15 affected three of 10 children. The government did little to combat the problem.

In August a former school principal was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sexually abusing three underage children who attended his school. In June a man was sentenced to almost four years in prison for raping an underage girl in April 2019.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 and girls as young as 16 may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2018 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 13 but younger than 15, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography. There were no criminal cases dealing with pornography or child sexual exploitation during the year.

The maximum penalty for publishing child pornography is five years’ imprisonment, and for possession it is two years’ imprisonment.

Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 engaged in prostitution.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community consisted of a few foreign nationals, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

In 2018, four Bangladeshi nationals were arrested for trafficking 101 Bangladeshi nationals in Vanuatu. At their hearing, all four pleaded not guilty. The trial in the Supreme Court began in November 2019. At year’s end, the case was pending judgment and possible sentencing. Of the 101 victims, 26 remained in country as potential witnesses and 16 provided testimony against their alleged traffickers. The government withdrew its limited financial support for the remaining victims during the year. A small number of the remaining victims were reportedly attempting to return to Bangladesh but faced difficulty finding options due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At least one victim made a claim for asylum through UNHCR.

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

Persons with Disabilities

No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Although the building code mandates access for persons with disabilities to existing and new facilities, they could not access most buildings.

The government did not effectively implement national policy designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Access to services through the Ministry of Health’s mental-health policy was very limited. Schools were generally not accessible to children with disabilities.

The government generally relied upon the traditional extended family and NGOs to provide services and support to persons with disabilities. The high rate of unemployment in the general population, combined with social stigma attached to disabilities, meant few jobs were available to persons with disabilities.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct, but there were reports of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. LGBTI activist group V-Pride Foundation reported the perception within the LGBTI community that police would tolerate violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons; therefore, harassment, discrimination, and criminal acts go unreported. LGBTI groups operated freely, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect them.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Traditional beliefs in sorcery fueled violence against persons marginalized in their communities, although there were no documented cases during the year. Women were often targets of opportunity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. This right is not extended to the police force or prison service. While the law does not require union recognition by the employer, it prohibits antiunion discrimination once a union is recognized. Unions are required to register with the government and to submit audited statements of revenue and expenditure to the registrar annually. Unions require government permission to affiliate with international labor federations; the government has not denied any union such permission.

The law prohibits retaliation for legal strikes but does not explicitly require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. Unions are independent of the government, but there were instances of government interference in union activities. The law requires unions to give 30 days’ notice of intent to strike and to provide a list of the names of potential strikers. A union must also show it has attempted negotiation with the employer and reported the matter to the industrial registrar for possible mediation. The minister of labor may prohibit persons employed in essential services from striking. Under the law a court may find any person who fails to comply with such a prohibition guilty of an offense; similarly, for strikes in nonessential services, courts may also find workers failing to comply with procedural requirements guilty of an offense. Convictions for such offenses may result in an obligation to perform compulsory labor in public prisons.

Complaints from private-sector workers about violations of freedom of association are referred to the Department of Labor for conciliation and arbitration. The Public Service Commission handles complaints of violations from public-sector workers. Complaints of antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Department of Labor. According to the commissioner for labor, the department has a dispute-resolution process to manage these grievances.

The government effectively enforced applicable law without lengthy delays or appeals. Resources were limited, and investigations were generally only carried out following complaints. Penalties for violating the law were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

The government and employers respected freedom of association, but the right to collective bargaining was not explicitly laid out in the law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the law prohibits slavery and human trafficking. The law excludes from the definition of forced labor any work or service that forms part of the national civic obligations of citizens, but the law does not define such work.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violating the law were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

NGOs and trade unions reported on physical violence, debt bondage, withholding of wages, and abusive conditions on foreign-owned, Vanuatu-flagged fishing vessels during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not explicitly prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 14. The law prohibits children younger than 12 from working outside family-owned agricultural production, where many children assisted their parents. Children ages 12 to 13 may perform light domestic or agricultural work if a family member works alongside the child, and agricultural work if the community does it collectively. Children younger than 18 generally may not work on ships; however, with the permission of a labor officer, a child age 15 may work on a ship. Although parliament established a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work, the law does not comply with international standards, because it does not prohibit children ages 15 to 17 from engaging in hazardous work, such as industrial labor and work on ships.

The government did not release enough information related to its enforcement of child-labor law to determine whether the law was effectively enforced. The Department of Labor confirmed there were no reported cases of illegal child labor during the year, and department action to address child labor was limited to informal presentations on the topic. There were no reports of government stopping child-labor activities or imposing administrative barriers. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

According to the National Child Protection Policy, the country has no data to determine the nature and prevalence of child labor. The Department of Labor stated, however, that most child workers were involved in logging, which exposed children to hazardous activities including having no proper protective equipment to operate machines, no proper training, and no regular medical checkups. Children were also involved in handling or lifting heavy loads. There were reports of a lack of regular inspection from forestry and other appropriate government agencies to provide appropriate guidance to workers.

There were no credible reports of children employed in agriculture illegally, although legal employment of children in hazardous work could constitute a worst form of child labor. There were reports children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination with respect to race, religion, political opinion, traditional beliefs, place of origin or citizenship, language, or sex.

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on employment discrimination against women, which was widespread. The penalties for violation of this prohibition are not commensurate with those for other laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination against women was especially common in promotions to management positions. Women are legally prohibited from working night hours in the same way as men. Persons with disabilities also faced discrimination with respect to employment and occupations. The International Labor Organization noted that legislation allowing for the removal of persons with disabilities from some senior positions appeared to reflect an assumption that persons are incapable of holding such a position if they have any form of disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is above the national poverty income level.

The law provides for a 44-hour maximum workweek, and the total number of hours worked, including overtime, should not exceed 56 hours per week. Workers must receive more than three days’ paid annual holidays. The law provides for a premium of 50 to 75 percent more than the normal rate of pay for overtime work. Penalties for wage and hour violations are not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The law includes provisions for occupational safety standards, which are up to date and appropriate for the main sectors. Legal provisions on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens in the formal sector. Inspectors have the right to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Application of safety and health provisions was inadequate to protect workers engaged in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, the government did not protect workers in this situation.

The government did not effectively enforce the wage, overtime, or occupational safety and health law, especially in the informal sector. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The labor commissioner stated that most companies complied with the wage rate and inspectors conducted routine inspections to determine that minimum wages were paid. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not receive any formal complaints of violations regarding minimum wage, hours of work, or safety standards during the year.

Many companies in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing did not provide personal safety equipment and standard scaffolding for workers.