Germany

Executive Summary

Germany is a constitutional democracy. Citizens choose their representatives periodically in free and fair multiparty elections. The lower chamber of the federal parliament (Bundestag) elects the chancellor as head of the federal government. The second legislative chamber, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), represents the 16 states at the federal level and is composed of members of the state governments. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy, including over law enforcement and education. Observers considered the national elections for the Bundestag in 2017 to have been free and fair, as were state elections in 2018 and 2019.

Responsibility for internal and border security is shared by the police forces of the 16 states, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and the federal police. The states’ police forces report to their respective interior ministries; the federal police forces report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (FOPC) and the state offices for the protection of the constitution (OPCs) are responsible for gathering intelligence on threats to domestic order and other security functions. The FOPC reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and the state OPCs report to their respective ministries of the interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included refoulement of those with pending asylum applications; crimes involving violence motivated by anti-Semitism or other forms of extremism, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons or members of other minority groups.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Freedom of Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).

In May, Facebook announced it had removed 2.19 billion “fake profiles” between January and March, including some that promoted the AfD, after the NGO Avaaz identified them as sources of targeted misinformation. Saarland AfD politician Laleh Hadjimohamadvali claimed her posts had been deleted or blocked in the past, which deprived her of her freedom of expression.

Lower Saxony’s government approved a law in March that makes it illegal for judges and state prosecutors to wear religious symbols openly during public trials. This includes (Muslim) headscarves, (Christian) crosses, and (Jewish) kippas. Similar laws already existed in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, and Bremen, while Hesse and Thuringia imposed more vague limits on religious attire for judges and state prosecutors.

Georg Restle, the host of the left-leaning political TV program “Monitor” on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), received a death threat by mail after he made critical comments about the AfD on July 11. WDR has filed charges against the unknown perpetrator, and 44 WDR journalists expressed solidarity with Restle in an ad in the local newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger. After the threat, Restle requested stronger protection for freedom of speech and press. The threatening letter appeared to have the same author as similar letters sent to Cologne Mayor Reker and to Altena Mayor Hollstein. The Federal Prosecutor assumed that an individual with a right-wing extremist background was responsible. Cologne police were investigating.

Press and Media, including Online Media: 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. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: On May 1, during a demonstration of the far-right Pro Chemnitz movement in the city of Chemnitz, a journalist from the local daily Freie Presse was threatened by protesters. Instead of defending the journalist’s right to cover the demonstration, police forced him to delete his pictures and afterwards expelled him from the demonstration site. Later, police released a statement saying it was a “misunderstanding.” Pro Chemnitz is a right-wing organization which the Saxony Office for the Protection of the Constitution monitors to evaluate whether it should be banned.

In August 2018 representatives of the anti-Islam Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident movement and the AfD party protested Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Dresden. A demonstrator (an off-duty police employee) claimed privacy laws prohibited a ZDF camera team from filming him, and he filed a complaint with police on the spot. Police held the camera team for 45 minutes, reportedly to verify their identities. Chancellor Merkel issued a statement in support of press freedom and noted that demonstrators should expect they may be filmed. The Dresden Police Commissioner apologized to the journalists, and the police employee was transferred to the state directorate in September 2018. In June the employee sued ZDF for violating media law and his personal rights. The case was ongoing as of November.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one notable exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. As of July authorities monitored several hundred websites and social media accounts associated with right-wing extremists.

In July the NRW Justice Minister announced the creation of a central office for severe cases of politically motivated hate speech on the Internet, such as death threats against politicians on social media.

In February 2018, NRW launched the statewide project “Prosecution Rather Than Deletion–Law Enforcement on the Internet.” Through November it received 378 offense reports, leading to 182 investigation procedures and the identification of 73 defendants. Other contributors to the initiative include NRW Justice and Interior Ministries, the Cologne police headquarters, and media outlets Rheinische Post and RTL.

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.

The government restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.

It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators.

Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.

In February the Duesseldorf administrative court ruled that the police ban of the planned Kurdish demonstration “Against the war in Afrin” in February 2018 was unlawful. The court found the police assumption that the protest group was a suborganization of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party was false and the ban disproportionate. It ordered the police to compensate the protest group 5,000 euros ($5,500).

The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.

The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.

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

In 2016 the federal government issued a law requiring refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On August 21, the law addressing deportation, known as “better implementing the obligation to leave the country,” entered into force. In an open letter, 22 NGOs, including lawyers’ and judges’ associations and child rights, welfare, and human rights organizations, called on the Bundestag to reject the law, which they criticized for its focus on ostracizing migrants and for its alleged violation of human rights. Under the law, all asylum seekers will have to remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Until passage of the new law, this only applied to those from “safe countries of origin.” Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities are now able to arrest persons who are obliged to leave the country without a court order. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–will be held in regular prisons. NGOs such as Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, and the Jesuit Refugee Service criticized this as contradicting “the clear case law of the European Court of Justice,” which calls for a strict separation of deportation detention and imprisonment. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information about a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic, as both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states after two weeks. Of the 16 federal states, 11 announced they would not implement the law.

Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On April 14, a video appeared online showing four security guards beating an asylum seeker in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry suspended the four security guards and ordered an investigation of the incident. The investigation was ongoing as of November.

In May the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticized the country’s deportation practices for rejected asylum seekers, including the practice of not informing detainees of their exact deportation date. In its report the CPT also called on the country’s government to refrain when deporting migrants from “disproportionate and inappropriate” use of force, such as methods that cause suffocation or severe pain. On a deportation flight in August 2018 the CPT’s experts had witnessed a police officer pressing his arm against a deportee’s neck, which restricted his ability to breathe. Another police officer repeatedly squeezed the genitals of the same man, who was tied with tape. The CPT also specifically condemned methods in the Eichstaett, Bavaria, detention center, where security guards were not specially trained and detainees lived in prison-like conditions that included limited access to multipurpose rooms, lack of access to their own clothing, and no ability to speak directly to a doctor. In response, the Federal Ministry of Justice rejected accusations that a direct visit to the doctor was not possible. It further asserted detainees usually did not have enough clothing to change regularly and needed to supplement this with clothing from the detention center when their own clothing was being washed.

Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and approximately 200 refugees were deported to that country during the first six months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017, as well as an additional 305,943 who requested asylum in 2018 and during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.

The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.

In April 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations that the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. In April, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 50 Bremen asylum decisions (0.9 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent.

A Hamburg lawyer and former Green party state parliamentarian confirmed in February that he was representing four German families with seven children aged two to 14 who were calling on the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for repatriation from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined the Islamic State. In April the government allowed one of the mothers to return from Iraq to Germany with her three children; the mother was promptly arrested. In November an appeals court in Berlin ruled the German government must repatriate from Syria the German wife and three children of an Islamic State member. Their lawyer said he hoped the decision would set a precedent for the 20 other German mothers and 40 children he represented.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German language classes.

Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 200,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.

The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from safe countries of origin to work if they applied for asylum after 2015.

Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.

Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.

The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($330 to $550) to 6,786 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification.

The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($880 to $1,320) per person to asylum seekers whose applications were pending but who were unlikely to have their applications approved. Most of the applicants who received this bonus came from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Iraq.

Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 11,855 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,872 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.

UNHCR reported 14,779 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.

Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.

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.

Recent Elections: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and 45 parliamentarians from 25 countries observed the country’s federal elections in September 2017 and considered them well run, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated without restriction or outside interference unless authorities deemed them a threat to the federal constitution. When federal authorities perceive such a threat, they may petition the Federal Constitutional Court to ban the party.

In April the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that the removal of a police officer from his office was legal. From 2010 to 2015, the police officer was a member of Pro NRW, a regional right-wing party classified by the NRW OPC as anticonstitutional. He served as deputy party chairman in NRW and campaigned in the 2012 state elections. The court ruled the police officer violated his duty of allegiance through his active party engagement.

Under the law, each political party receives federal public funding commensurate with the party’s election results in state, national, and European elections. Under the constitution, however, extremist parties who seek to undermine the constitution are not eligible for public funding. In July the Bundesrat, Bundestag, and federal government filed a joint claim with the Federal Constitutional Court to exclude the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) from receiving state party financing, arguing that the NPD seeks to undermine the democratic order in the country. The case was pending as of November.

On January 15, the Lower Saxony State Constitutional Court rejected the AfD’s challenge of the constitutionality of a new law under which the AfD was excluded from the board of Lower Saxony’s Holocaust Memorial Site Foundation, which oversees the concentration camp memorial site Bergen-Belsen. The court concluded the lawsuit was unfounded and partly inadmissible, as the foundation is not a parliamentary body and thus does not require representation from all political parties in the parliament. (It is not possible to file an appeal at the Lower Saxony State Constitutional Court.)

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In a June report, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) assessed the country as “globally unsatisfactory” and accused the Bundestag of not implementing its recommendations on the prevention of bribery of members of parliament. Of the eight recommendations GRECO made in 2014, the government had only implemented three of them satisfactorily. Among other things, GRECO faulted the Bundestag for its unclear rules with regard to dealings with lobbyists and for overly lax reporting obligations of parliamentarians, including existing or potential conflicts of interest.

Research by multiple media outlets in April examined Russia’s attempts to influence German politics, in particular through the AfD. They uncovered Russian documents from 2017 recommending that Russia provide concrete assistance to AfD candidate Markus Frohnmaier, as his victory would provide Russia with “its own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Frohnmaier entered the Bundestag in 2017 and has taken consistently pro-Russia positions.

In March, Transparency Germany, Transparency International’s national chapter, filed a criminal complaint against Bundestag member Karin Strenz and former Bundestag member Eduard Lintner over an alleged bribery case orchestrated by the Azerbaijani government. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Azerbaijanis operated a money laundering scheme to, among other things, bribe politicians at the Council of Europe to soften human rights resolutions and election observation reports. Following an investigation, the Council of Europe banned both Strenz and Lintner for life from the Council of Europe in June 2018. In January the Bundestag presidium announced Strenz had violated the Bundestag’s rules of conduct.

Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal. In the corruption case involving Strenz, the Bundestag fined her more than 19,000 euros ($20,900) in March for the late disclosure of her payments from a company that passed along the money from Azerbaijan.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A number of government bodies worked independently and effectively to protect human rights. The Bundestag has a Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid and one for Petitions. The Petitions Committee fields complaints from the public, including human rights concerns. The German Institute for Human Rights has responsibility for monitoring the country’s implementation of its international human rights commitments, including treaties and conventions. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) is a semi-independent body that studies discrimination and assists victims of discrimination. The Office of the Federal Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Justice Ministry’s commissioner for human rights oversees implementation of court rulings related to human rights protections.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.

In 2018, 9,234 cases of sexual violence against men and women were reported to police. This is a substantial reduction from the previous year, but the federal police indicated this is due in part to a change in statistical methodology by which certain offenses previously classified as “sexual violence” have been reclassified as “sexual harassment.”

In July a Wiesbaden court sentenced an Iraqi asylum seeker to life imprisonment for murder. The court also determined an “exceptional severity of guilt,” meaning an early release after 15 years is highly unlikely. In June 2018 he raped and killed a 14-year-old in Wiesbaden. The suspect was also accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl in a refugee shelter in March 2018. The suspect initially fled to Iraq, but he was subsequently returned to Germany, where he was tried.

In December 2018 an off-duty police officer in Berlin raped a 24-year-old woman. Following consensual sex, the police officer asked for additional services, which she declined. The officer then hit her and raped her until the victim’s partner intervened. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office emphasized that the officer was off-duty and his status had no bearing on the alleged crime. The case was pending as of November.

The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 340 women’s shelters offering a total of 6,700 beds operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women are particularly vulnerable, as they are required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many live in districts in which there are no women’s shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals who they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. FGM/C affected segments of the immigrant population, in particular those from Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Egypt, and their Germany-born children. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth worked with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C. While official statistics indicated just four cases of FGM/C in 2018, a March study by the ministry indicated that between 1,558 and 5,684 daughters of immigrants are at risk of FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and provides penalties that include life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively and financed programs aimed at ending “honor killings.”

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of as many as five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials receive birth registration applications, they generally process them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable by five months to 10 years in prison. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored a number of programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.

Legislation passed in 2017 nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was under age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals aged 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics are unavailable on such cases.

Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality. The government reported that as of March 31, there were 179 married minors in the country, a substantial decrease from 1,475 in 2016. The majority of married minor registrants were from Syria.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution and practices related to child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is under 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.” The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues offered a sexual abuse help online portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.

In January police informed the public about a child abuse case on a campground in Luegde, NRW, involving more than 40 sexually abused children aged between three and 14 years. The abuse took place over more than a decade. Three suspects were detained and confessed to the crimes. In July, one man was ordered to attend therapy and was sentenced to two years of probation for taking part in the crime via webcam and for owning child pornography. The public prosecutor appealed the sentence as overly lenient. The other two men were sentenced in September to 13 and 12 years in prison, followed by preventive detention.

On July 12, a parliamentary investigating committee opened an investigation into possible failures, omissions, misjudgments, and misconduct of the NRW state government in the child abuse case. Problems with the investigation included the disappearance from the local police station of 155 USB drives containing child pornography, the placement of a foster child with one of the main perpetrators, and concerns that authorities did not follow up on an earlier suspicion of child abuse. As of November the investigation was ongoing.

The case led to the creation of new resources for abuse victims and prosecutors. In March, Cologne opened a new office to serve as a point of contact for children and youth, and in May the first countrywide center for child protection went into operation in Cologne. The office combines the expertise of forensic medical specialists and child protection experts to examine suspected cases of child abuse.

Displaced Children: According to the NGO Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF), 4,087 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2018, over half of whom came from four countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Guinea, and Eritrea. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in just 61.5 percent of cases, a sharp drop from 94.5 percent in 2016. BumF observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

According to estimates by the NGO Off Road Kids, as many as 2,500 children between the ages of 12 and 18 become at least temporarily homeless every year. Off Road Kids reported most runaways stayed with friends and were not living on the streets. These minors were generally school dropouts who did not receive assistance from the youth welfare office or their parents, and instead used digital networks to find temporary housing with friends and online acquaintances.

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.

Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons. Jewish organizations also noted an increase of anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing.

In 2018 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes, an increase from the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes in 2017. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism noted the reported number of anti-Semitic attacks was likely too low, and a significant number of cases were unreported due to fear.

The FOPC’s annual report stated that the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents rose more than 70 percent, from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. The FOPC also identified three violent left-wing anti-Semitic incidents, plus four with a religious ideological motivation, and 10 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.

Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Several states also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs.

On October 9, a gunman attacked the synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, where approximately 50 individuals were attending a prayer service. When the gunman was unable to enter the building, he shot and killed two German nationals outside the synagogue in a snack bar. He was arrested shortly after the attack. The federal public prosecutor’s investigation into the suspect’s background and motives was ongoing, but according to media reports he admitted to the investigating authorities that he harbored far-right extremist political sympathies. Several Jewish community leaders called for police protection at all synagogues during services. Leading officials promised a more determined fight against anti-Semitism and far-right violent extremism, and the Federal Ministry of Interior introduced a package of measures to improve security and deter anti-Semitic crime that is expected to be taken up by the Bundestag in early 2020.

In March local media reported criminal proceedings against four police detectives were suspended in relation to an incident in July 2018 in Bonn that involved a visiting professor who was allegedly assaulted by a 20-year-old German with Palestinian roots. When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene, but the police mistakenly believed the victim was the attacker and allegedly used excessive force to detain him. Police later apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm. Cologne police opened an internal investigation and assigned the police officers involved in the incident to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results. Prosecutors, however, denied the professor’s request to provide testimony for the internal investigation. The police officers returned to regular duty. The attacker was indicted for charges of sedition and bodily harm. His trial took place on October 14 and resulted in conviction for incitement of hate. He was sentenced to youth custody for four years and six months, including a pre-existing juvenile sentence of three years and nine months for robbery, insult, coercion, bodily harm, and fare evasion.

In December 2018 media reported that Frankfurt prosecutors were investigating five police officers who had exchanged right-wing extremist messages, including racist slogans, swastikas, and pictures of Hitler, via text message. Investigators began their work after a lawyer who defended victims’ families in the 2013-18 trials related to the right-wing terrorist organization National Socialist Underground (NSU) received a threatening letter in August signed “NSU 2.0” at her private address, which was not publicly known. When she reported the threat, investigators found that an officer in Frankfurt had conducted an unauthorized search for her address and uncovered the right-wing extremist messages. In June the lawyer received additional death threats, once again signed “NSU 2.0.” Also in June, another Frankfurt police officer was briefly arrested in connection with the scandal that by March had expanded to 38 investigations into police officers from Hesse.

In July, two men speaking Arabic insulted and spat on Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal and his son as they were leaving a Berlin synagogue. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier later visited Teichtal in his home to offer his support, saying, “There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany.” Rabbi Teichtal called for “tolerance, dialogue, and training” to counter rising levels of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic incidents also occurred in Hamburg and Munich, involving spitting and anti-Semitic slurs.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.

The Bundestag approved a measure on March 15 to extend suffrage to the approximately 80,000 adults with disabilities in Germany who are the subjects of court orders declaring that they are incapable of independently managing their administrative and financial matters. The Constitutional Court ruled in April this law must go into effect in time for the European Parliament elections in late May, which it did.

A workshop in Leverkusen, NRW, that employs persons with disabilities separately from others dismissed two caregivers after a February 2017 TV report disclosed secret recordings taken in 2015 showing them humiliating a young woman with mental disabilities. The workshop management criticized the TV station for not sharing its insights earlier. In June the local court in Opladen, NRW, sentenced one of the dismissed caregivers to pay a fine of 2,400 euros ($2,640). The Cologne prosecutor indicted two more defendants, but these cases were not pursued due to insufficient evidence.

Persons with disabilities faced particular difficulties in finding housing.

State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or special needs schools. In 2017-18, 544,630 children with special education needs attended school; of these, 317,480 attended special needs schools. In some instances, parents or teachers in mainstream schools protested against the inclusion of students with special needs, primarily because the schools had insufficient resources and capabilities to address their needs.

The annual FOPC report for 2018 recorded 1,088 violent, politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds. Of these, 821 were categorized as xenophobic.

In July a 55-year-old right-wing extremist shot and gravely wounded a 26-year-old Eritrean man in the town of Waechtersbach, Hesse. Before the attack the perpetrator had announced his intention to kill a refugee. A search of the perpetrator’s home confirmed suspicions of a racist motive, a police spokesperson said. Police found the perpetrator’s body in a car in a neighboring town, where he had shot himself in the head.

On March 20, the press reported legal authorities had initiated 239 criminal proceedings in connection with demonstrations in Chemnitz in August 2018, when approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counter protestors took to the streets in response to the fatal stabbing of a German man, reportedly by two immigrants. Newscasts showed right-wing extremists giving the Hitler salute, which is illegal, and chanting anti-immigrant slogans. On August 22, the district court of Chemnitz sentenced a 23-year-old Syrian asylum seeker to nine years and six months in prison for the fatal stabbing that led to the demonstrations. Authorities believe the other suspect, a 22-year-old Iraqi, fled the country.

Hostility focused on asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from the Middle East and Africa. On March 17, two men threw explosives at a home for asylum seekers in Nussdorf, Bavaria; two weeks later they perpetrated a similar attack on the same home. Police arrested two offenders, 20 and 23 years old, who were tried and convicted and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

Persons of foreign origin faced particular difficulties with finding housing. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic-German origin–particularly of Turkish and African origin.

Harassment of members of racial minorities such as Roma remained a problem throughout the country. In March statistics from the Federal Ministry of the Interior reported a 54 percent rise in attacks on Sinti and Roma in 2018. The ministry considers all but five of the crimes as right-wing, and of 36 suspects identified, 32 belonged to the extreme right spectrum. The Federal Interior Ministry stated “even if the number of cases increased compared to 2017, they are still at a very low level.” The head of the Sinti and Roma Council, Romani Rose, suggested, however, that many crimes against Sinti and Roma go unreported.

In May in the town of Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg, a burning torch was thrown at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their nine-month-old baby. No one was injured, as the torch missed the caravan. The Stuttgart public prosecutor suspected a politically motivated offense, and in July, police arrested five Germans aged 17 to 20 in connection with the crime.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI activists criticized the requirement that transgender persons be diagnosed as “mentally ill” in order to obtain legal gender recognition.

In March the then federal justice minister Katrina Barley announced that gay men placed under investigation or taken into investigative custody between 1949 and 1969 under the law criminalizing male homosexuality would receive compensation from the government. The government began paying compensation immediately to those who filed for it. Barley said the anti-homosexuality law known as Paragraph 175 “destroyed lives, led to sham marriages, harassment, blackmail, and suicide.” In 2017 the country approved compensation to gay men who were convicted under the antihomosexuality law; however, Barley’s announcement extended this to men who were placed under investigation but not convicted. West Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, but approximately 50,000 men were convicted between 1949 and 1969.

In June the Regional Court in Chemnitz declared it could not identify a homophobic or right-wing motive for beating a 27-year-old gay man to death in April 2018. The court found the three men guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. The three were known members of the right-wing scene, and one of them had a swastika tattoo. Police classified the crime as a “right-wing motivated homicide.”

The NGO German AIDS Foundation reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work. A domestic AIDS service NGO continued to criticize authorities in Bavaria for ongoing mandatory HIV testing of asylum seekers.

In March 2018 unknown perpetrators wrote anti-Muslim graffiti on the Fatih Mosque in Bremen-Groepelingen. The Bremen Police State Protection unit investigated. The chair of the Fatih Mosque, Zekai Gumus, called on the Bremen senate and authorities to solve the crime, noting police had not identified suspects responsible for a 2017 attack on the mosque. As of July police had yet to identify any suspects for the March 2018 attack.

On June 8 in Bremen, unknown perpetrators desecrated 50 copies of the Quran by throwing them into toilets when the mosque was open to the public. As of November local police were investigating.

Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution, federal legislation, and government regulations provide for the right of employees to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Wildcat strikes are not allowed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and offers legal remedies to claim damages, including the reinstatement of unlawfully dismissed workers.

Some laws and regulations limit these labor rights. While civil servants are free to form or join unions, their wages and working conditions are determined by legislation, not by collective bargaining. All civil servants (including some teachers, postal workers, railroad employees, and police) and members of the armed forces are prohibited from striking.

Employers are generally free to decide whether to be a party to a collective bargaining agreement. Even if they decide not to be a party, companies must apply the provisions of a collective agreement if the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs declares a collective bargaining agreement generally binding for the whole sector. Employers not legally bound by collective bargaining agreements often used them to determine part or all of their employees’ employment conditions. Employers may contest in court a strike’s proportionality and a trade union’s right to take strike actions. The law does not establish clear criteria on strikes, and courts often rely on case law and precedent.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively. Actions and measures by employers to limit or violate freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are considered unlawful and lead to fines. Penalties were adequate and remediation efforts were sufficient.

Laws regulate cooperation between management and work councils (companies’ elected employee representation), including the right of the workers to be involved in management decisions that could affect them. Work councils are independent from labor unions but often have close ties to the sector’s labor movement. The penalty for employers who interfere in work councils’ elections and operations is up to one year in prison or a fine. Findings from 2018 showed that a significant number of employers interfered with the election of work council members or tried to deter employees from organizing new work councils. This practice has been criticized by labor unions for a long time; they call for stronger legislation that shields employees seeking to exercise their rights under the law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and federal law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor range from six months to 10 years in prison and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The government effectively enforced the law when they found violations, but NGOs questioned the adequacy of resources to investigate and prosecute the crime. Some traffickers received light or suspended sentences, consistent with the country’s sentencing practices for most types of crime.

There were reports of forced labor involving adults, mainly in the construction and food service industries. There were also reported cases in domestic households and industrial plants. In 2018 police completed 21 labor-trafficking investigations that identified 63 victims, mostly from Ukraine (27), Vietnam (9), and Hungary (8).

In August the Federal Customs Office and federal police conducted a raid on more than 100 sites against a construction company in Berlin on suspicion of illegal employment and human trafficking for labor exploitation. Law enforcement officers cooperated closely with a labor protection NGO to provide immediate support and counseling to the victims (approximately 160 Serbian nationals who worked as construction workers).

In August, 800 federal police officers conducted raids in the states of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt on the suspicion of human trafficking and labor exploitation of workers from Eastern Europe. Police arrested two Ukrainian nationals who allegedly paid very low wages to the mostly illegal workers from Ukraine, Moldova, and North Macedonia working in cattle breeding and meat-processing plants.

In September police officers in Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, and North Rhine-Westphalia raided 33 sites in connection with human trafficking. They detained nine Vietnamese citizens who allegedly arranged fake marriages and false acknowledgements of paternity to obtain residence or working rights for Vietnamese citizens in Germany.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 with a few exceptions: Children who are 13 or 14 may perform work on a family-run farm for up to three hours per day or perform services such as delivering magazines and leaflets, babysitting, and dog walking for up to two hours per day, if authorized by their custodial parent. Children under 15 may not work during school hours, before 8 a.m., or after 6 p.m.; or on Saturdays, Sundays, or public holidays. The type of work must not pose any risk to the security, health, or development of the child and must not prevent the child from obtaining schooling and training. Children are not allowed to work with hazardous materials, carry or handle items weighing more than 22 pounds, perform work requiring an unsuitable posture, or engage in work that exposes them to the risk of an accident. Children between the ages of three and 14 may take part in cultural performances, but there are strict limits on the kind of activity, number of hours, and time of day.

The government effectively enforced the applicable laws, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Isolated cases of child labor occurred in small, family-owned businesses, such as cafes, restaurants, family farms, and grocery stores. Inspections by the regional inspection agencies and the resources and remediation available to them were adequate to ensure broad compliance.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in all areas of occupation and employment, from recruitment, self-employment, and promotion to career advancement. Although origin and citizenship are not explicitly listed as grounds of discrimination in the law, victims of such discrimination have other means to assert legal claims. The law obliges employers to protect employees from discrimination at work.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations during the year. Employees who believe they are victims of discrimination have a right to file an official complaint and to have the complaint heard. If an employer fails to protect the employee effectively, employees may remove themselves from places and situations of discrimination without losing employment or pay. In cases of violations of the law, victims of discrimination are entitled to injunctions, removal, and material or nonmaterial damages set by court decision. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

FADA highlighted that applicants of foreign descent and with foreign names faced discrimination even when they had similar or better qualifications than others. FADA stated the majority of complaints concerned the private sector, where barriers for persons with disabilities also persisted.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. In March the Federal Statistical Office found the gross hourly wages of women in 2017 were on average 21 percent lower than those of men. It blamed pay differences in the sectors and occupations in which women and men were employed, as well as unequal requirements for leadership experience and other qualifications as the principal reasons for the pay gap. Women were underrepresented in highly paid managerial positions and overrepresented in some lower-wage occupations (see section 7.d.). FADA reported women were also at a disadvantage regarding promotions, often due to career interruptions for child rearing.

In December 2018, two teachers filed an action with the Essen administrative court to achieve equal pay for all teachers with civil service status. Under current law, elementary school teachers earn 500 euros ($550) gross less each month than secondary school teachers, even though the educational requirements for the positions have been identical since 2009. The case was pending as of November.

The law imposes a gender quota of 30 percent for supervisory boards of certain publicly traded corporations. It also requires approximately 3,500 companies to set and publish self-determined targets for increasing the share of women in leading positions (executive boards and management) and to report on their performance. Consequently, the share of women on the supervisory boards of those companies bound by the law increased from approximately 20 percent in 2015 to more than 30 percent in 2018. The representation of women on management boards in the top 200 companies stood at 9 percent.

There were reports of employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate among persons with disabilities decreased to 11.4 percent in 2017, remaining considerably higher than that of the general population (on average 5.7 percent for 2017). Employers with 20 or more employees must hire persons with more significant disabilities to fill at least 5 percent of all positions; companies with 20 to 40 employees must fill one position with a person with disabilities, and companies with 40 to 60 employees must fill two positions. Each year companies file a mandatory form with the employment office verifying whether they meet the quota for employing persons with disabilities. Companies that fail to meet these quotas pay a monthly fine for each required position not filled by a person with disabilities. In 2017 more than 123,000 employers did not employ enough persons with disabilities and paid fines.

The law provides for equal treatment of foreign workers, although foreign workers faced some wage discrimination. For example, employers, particularly in the construction sector, sometimes paid lower wages to seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The nationwide statutory minimum wage is below the internationally defined “at-risk-of poverty threshold,” which is two-thirds of the national median wage. The minimum wage does not apply to persons under 18, long-term unemployed persons during their first six months in a new job, or apprentices undergoing vocational training, regardless of age. A number of sectors set their own higher minimum wages through collective bargaining.

The government effectively enforced the laws and monitored compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work through the Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit, which conducted checks on 53,000 companies in 2018. The number of investigations for noncompliance with the statutory minimum wage under the Minimum Wage Act rose 10 percent to 2,744. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act, and courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a substantial fine.

Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. For the 78 percent of employees who are directly or indirectly affected by collective bargaining agreements, the average agreed working week under current agreements is 37.7 hours. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the actual average workweek of full-time employees was 41 hours in 2018. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.

Extensive laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its state-level counterparts monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. At the local level, professional and trade associations–self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions–as well as work councils oversaw worker safety. The number of inspectors was sufficient to ensure compliance.

The number of work accidents continued to decline among full-time employees, and workplace fatalities decreased to 420 in 2018, down from 451 in 2017. Most accidents occurred in the construction, transportation, postal logistics, wood, and metalworking industries.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election in July 2018 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office in December 2018. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

The National Guard and federal, state, and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, created in March, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. The Federal Police are scheduled to be subsumed into the National Guard by 2020, but in the interim remain under the Public Security Secretariat and National Security Commission. The bulk of National Guard personnel consist of seconded army and navy elements that have an option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which elements of security forces acted independently of civilian control.

Significant human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence targeting persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.

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. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subject to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, as of August 31, 10 journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity. According to the NGO Article 19, as of February the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99 percent. In 2018 there were 544 attacks against journalists, according to Article 19. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit in the Attorney General’s Office, secured only 10 convictions for various related crimes, and only one for murder, in the 1,077 cases it investigated. Only 16 percent of the cases FEADLE investigated were taken to court. As of September, FEADLE had not opened any new cases, reportedly in an effort to focus on bringing existing investigations to trial.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of the attacks against journalists, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. According to Article 19, in 2018, 42 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind 7 percent of attacks against journalists.

There were no developments in the 2017 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In March, Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas stated the federal government was “aiding” the state prosecutor in the case, ultimately affirming it would remain with state prosecutors.

In January the UN Human Rights Committee declared the government responsible for violating journalist Lydia Cacho’s human rights, including subjecting her to acts of torture in 2005 after she exposed government corruption and a pedophile ring, and for shortcomings in the investigation. In response, on April 11, FEADLE issued arrest warrants against former Puebla governor Mario Marin Torres, Kamel Nacif, Juan Sanchez Moreno, and Hugo Adolfo Karam for their role as masterminds of the acts of torture against Cacho. As of September all four remained fugitives. In July, two assailants entered Cacho’s home, poisoned her dogs, and stole research material–including 10 hard drives containing information on pedophile rings, both the one she exposed in 2005 and a new case she was working on. Article 19 referred to the incident as “an act of reprisal for her work as a defender of free speech.”

In August, Cacho fled the country due to fear for her safety, declaring herself “in a situation of forced displacement.” Article 19 stated, “Lydia Cacho was forced to leave the country in the face of not receiving the minimal conditions of security to carry out her job and continue the process of seeking justice for her arbitrary detention and torture perpetrated in 2005.”

Between 2012 and September 2019, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 976 requests for protection for journalists and human rights defenders. Since 2018 five journalists with protective measures from the Mechanism were killed, including two during the year. In January, Rafael Murua, under Mechanism protection, was shot and killed in Baja California Sur. Police arrested three individuals in connection with the case. In May journalist Francisco Romero was beaten, shot, and killed in Quintana Roo. He had received threats–including from local police–after exposing corruption of local authorities. Both victims had government-issued panic buttons. After these killings, the OHCHR representative in Mexico, Jan Jarab, said the Mechanism merited a “deep reflection” and added, “These cases show that violence against human rights defenders and journalists is deeply rooted and structural changes are needed.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored the media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

In March 2018 Article 19 reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to 500 days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and monetary fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In May the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Nayarit penalizing slander. The court ruled the law violated freedom of expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted about the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2018 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns about illegal surveillance practices in the country and violence against online reporters.

According to Freedom House, the country remained very dangerous for journalists, and at least four digital reporters were killed in 2018. Digital media journalists covering sensitive stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical and technical violence.

NGOs alleged provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.

Article 19 noted that according to Google Transparency reports between 2012 and June 2018, the executive and judiciary branches filed 111 requests to remove content from the web, including two instances in which the reason cited was “criticism to government.”

According to Freedom House, “No significant advances were made to investigate” illegal surveillance that took place in 2017 via a sophisticated surveillance software program, Pegasus, presumably targeting human rights defenders, anticorruption activists, and prominent journalists.

In March the Guadalajara-based Jesuit university ITESO released a study detailing “attacks and smear campaigns aimed at journalists and media outlets who have a critical stance against the government.” The study suggested the creators of the attacks and campaigns employed a massive use of bots that created artificial trending topics on Twitter to invite users to defend President Lopez Obrador and attack his critics.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 12 incidents of forced internal displacement through June. These episodes took place in the states of Chiapas, Chihuahua, Durango, Guerrero, Michoacan, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. The commission attributed the displacement of 10,947 persons in 2018 to armed attacks against civilians in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. Of the 25 episodes in 2018, 20 were caused by violence generated by armed organized groups, such as drug cartels, affecting 6,156 persons. The remaining five episodes were caused by land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes, affecting 5,335 individuals. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of displaced persons.

The OHCHR reported that the approximately 3,500 Tzotziles indigenous individuals who returned to their homes in the state of Chiapas did so only because the conditions at the shelter where they were staying were worse than the danger they faced upon return. During a 2017 border dispute between two municipalities, more than 5,000 Tzotziles indigenous individuals were displaced.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. In September the Migrant Organizations Network (Redodem, a group of NGOs that shelter migrants) reported that in 2018, federal, state, and municipal police, as well as military forces, committed at least 865 crimes against migrants. Redodem registered 542 robberies committed by authorities, 131 cases of abuse of authority, 83 extortions, 46 injuries, 26 acts of intimidation, eight illegal detentions, and six acts of bribery, among others. According to the report, federal police agents committed 297 incidents, followed by municipal police (266), the state police (179), migration agents (102), the army (18), and the navy (four).

Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from their relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on the groups’ behalf.

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

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. From January to August 10, the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees received 42,788 petitions, a 230 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Recent Elections: International observers considered the July 2018 presidential, legislative, gubernatorial, and other local elections to be generally free and fair, with only minor reports of irregularities. Local commentators pointed to the electoral authorities’ quick and transparent publishing of results as increasing citizen trust in the electoral and democratic system as a whole.

During the electoral season (September 2017 to June 2018), 48 candidates were killed. In Guerrero, 14 candidates were killed, followed by five in Puebla. Of the victims, 12 were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, 10 belonged to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, seven to the National Regeneration Movement, six to the National Action Party, five to the Citizens’ Movement, two to the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, and one each to the Social Encounter Party and the Labor Party; the remainder did not have a party affiliation. As of July the killings resulted in just one arrest. In comparison with the 2012 elections, there were 10 times more killings of 2018 candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples) rather than federal and state electoral law.

In May, Congress unanimously approved a constitutional reform on gender parity that establishes a requirement to observe parity in the designation of public officials at every level (federal, state, local) in all three branches of government. A majority of state legislatures approved the reform on June 4, and it came into force on June 7. The reform states the principle of gender parity should be observed in the designation of cabinet members, selection of candidates for public office by every political party, and designation of members of the judiciary. In accordance with the reform, the Senate elected Monica Fernandez president of the Senate for a year during the legislative session beginning September 1. She became the fourth woman to preside over the Senate and the first since 1999.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to enforce the law more effectively. In February, Congress approved a constitutional reform expanding the catalogue of crimes subject to pretrial detention to include acts of corruption (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention). In December 2018 Congress also approved a constitutional reform, which came into force in March, to increase the number of illicit activities for which the government can seize assets, including acts of corruption.

On August 7, the Public Administration Secretariat launched a platform within its own website where persons can report cases of corruption. The platform allows citizens to report acts of corruption, human rights violations, and harassment in cases where public officials are involved. The secretariat responds to these reports based on three principles: guarantee of confidentiality, continuous monitoring of the case, and effective sanctioning.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. Of the 32 states, 17 followed this legal procedure to strip officials of immunity.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Emilio Lozoya, former director of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), for receiving bribes in connection to the Odebrecht case. The Attorney General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother, accused of money laundering, and on July 24, Interpol arrested her in Germany. As of September, Lozoya remained at large and was presumably out of the country. In a separate case, a judge ordered the detention of former social development minister Rosario Robles. On August 13, she was taken into custody pending criminal proceedings for her participation in an embezzlement scandal known as “Estafa Maestra,” arguing she was a flight risk. She was detained for two months while an investigation took place. She faced allegations of involvement in the disappearance of billions of pesos allocated for welfare programs during her tenure as minister.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal- and state-level appointed or elected officials to disclose their income and assets, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Public Administration Secretariat monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petition for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. President Lopez Obrador ordered all cabinet members to make their declarations public as a show of transparency. On July 9, the Coordinating Committee of the National Anti-Corruption System approved new formats for these asset disclosure statements. High-ranking public officials must include information related to their spouses and dependents to prevent conflicts of interest, but this information is to remain private. The new platform was scheduled to be operational by the end of the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, with the president, cabinet officials, or both meeting with human rights organizations, such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials. As of April the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists protected 790 individuals, 292 journalists, and 498 human rights defenders.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly. It may exercise its power to call government authorities before the Senate who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All states have their own human rights commission. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. State commissions did not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 24 states.

The federal penal code prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the 32 states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although in practice sentences were often more lenient. Federal law criminalizes spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.

Killing a woman because of the victim’s gender (femicide) is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. According to Interior Secretariat statistics, in the first six months of the year, prosecutors and attorneys general opened 387 investigations into 402 cases of femicide throughout the country. (Statistics from state-level reports often conflated femicides with all killings of women.)

On November 7, anthropologist and human rights defender Raquel Padilla Ramos was killed by her domestic partner Juan Armando, in Ures, Sonora. On November 11, Armando pled guilty to femicide and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay restitution to her family and an additional sum for pain and suffering.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons in the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 30 prosecutors, of whom nine were exclusively dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.

In addition to shelters, women’s justice centers provided services including legal, psychological, and protective; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity.

Sexual Harassment: Federal labor law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage. Of the 32 states, 16 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

As of December 2018, Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Puebla, and Yucatan had criminalized the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.” Individuals may be prosecuted if they publish or distribute intimate images, audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. The sentence ranges from six months to four years in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women tended to earn substantially less than men did for the same work. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.

Birth Registration: Children derived citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from their parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states. In April, Congress unanimously approved reforms to the law prohibiting child marriage. Excluding Baja California, which retained exceptions in its civil code, all states now prohibit marriage of persons younger than the age of 18 in their civil codes. The reforms came into force on June 4. Previously, some civil codes allowed girls to marry at 14 and boys at 16 with parental consent. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.

Statutory rape is a federal crime. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor, the penalty is between three months and 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim. Conviction for selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor stipulates a prison term of six months to five years. For involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concerns about abuse of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.

International Child Abductions: The country is 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.

The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, but there were reports of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. Jewish community representatives reported good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

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

Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Secretariat of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Secretariat of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided special education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities.

Abuses in mental health institutions and care facilities, including those for children, were a problem. Abuses of persons with disabilities included the use of physical and chemical restraints, physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, forced labor, disappearance, and the illegal adoption of institutionalized children. Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation services, privacy, and clothing; they often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking. Access to justice was limited.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections in Mexico City, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

The constitution provides all indigenous peoples the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Conflicts arose from interpretation of the self-governing “normative systems” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported that the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding development projects intended to exploit energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were often victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health care and education services.

On February 20, gunmen shot and killed Samir Flores Soberanes, an indigenous and environmental rights activist with the Peoples in Defense of the Earth and Waterfront. State attorney general officials in Morelos opened an investigation into the killing in June, stating they believed it was related to his work fighting against the Integral Morelos Project, which would build two thermoelectric plants and a natural gas pipeline through indigenous communities. Soberanes was slain several days prior to a public referendum on the project. On May 3, unknown assailants killed activists Otilia Martinez Cruz and Gregorio Chaparro Cruz in the indigenous territory of Coloradas de la Virgen, Chihuahua.

On February 20, two years after the killing of indigenous activist Isidro Baldenegro, authorities sentenced his killer to 11 years in prison. In 2005 Baldenegro received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his nonviolent efforts against illegal logging in Chihuahua.

In 2018, 14 environmental activists were killed, compared with 15 in 2017, according to a Global Witness Report. A majority of the victims came from indigenous communities. Since 2013, 10 activists were killed in areas of conflict ostensibly due to their opposition to logging. One victim was Julian Carrillo Martinez, killed in October 2018 despite allegedly receiving law enforcement protection. A suspect was on trial for his murder. Mining was also a motivation of violence against activists.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public tolerance of LGBTI individuals, according to public opinion surveys. There were reports the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City. A CNDH poll conducted during the year found six of every 10 members of the LGBTI community reported experiencing discrimination in the past year, and more than half suffered hate speech and physical aggression.

According to the OHCHR, in the first eight months of the year, there were 16 hate crime homicides in Veracruz, committed against nine transgender women and seven gay men.

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. On August 22, Catholic priest Father Jose Martin Guzman was stabbed to death in his church in Matamoros. He was one of 26 priests killed in the past seven years, according to the center. On August 3, a Presbyterian minister was allegedly kidnapped from a migrant shelter he operated in Nuevo Laredo; as of October he had not been located. His disappearance was reportedly related to his refusal to allow cartels to recruit migrants from the shelter. No arrests were made in either case.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. On May 1, President Lopez Obrador signed a labor reform law aimed at ensuring workers may freely and independently elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements before they are implemented. Revisions to the constitution in 2017 envisioned independent labor courts to replace the system of conciliation and arbitration boards (CABs) and streamline the judicial process for labor disputes. The labor reforms passed during the year provide the implementing legislation for this new labor justice system and establish a four-year timeline for transfer. The government demonstrated its prioritization of labor reform through its commitment of budgetary resources and its regular issuance of implementing regulations to bring the new laws into force.

The government announced it would implement the labor reforms in a phased manner, beginning at the federal level and in 10 states in October 2020. In August unions began registering updated bylaws with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Protection and holding leadership elections under the terms of the labor reform. The registration process was scheduled to conclude in May 2020. The secretariat also began the process of having workers review and vote on the collective bargaining agreements under which they work following the procedures for free and fair elections under the new labor reform.

In September 2018 the Senate ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining. By ratifying the convention, the government subjects itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. According to the independent unions, ratification also contributes to ensuring the institutions established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions must file for registration with the appropriate CAB or the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to function legally, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the secretariat. CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part because worker representation on the CABs was based on majority representation, which is held by “protection” unions. Protection unions and “protection contracts” were common in all sectors.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections, registrations and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. For example, the government rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize.

Other intimidation and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, 57 workers at a Goodyear factory in San Luis Potosi alleged they were fired after striking in April 2018 to demand better working conditions, wages, and authentic union representation. The workers claimed that because of their independent strike, a corporatist union had blackballed them from working in other factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and the law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were sufficient to deter violations, very few cases reached the court system or were successfully prosecuted.

Forced labor persisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In July 2018 authorities identified 50 forced agricultural workers on three commercial tomato farms in Coahuila. Authorities in Coahuila freed an additional 25 forced agricultural workers–including nine children–from a chili pepper and tomato farm in August 2018. In both cases the victims reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions, worked excessive hours under the threat of dismissal, and received subminimum wage payments or no payment at all.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016 INEGI reported 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Only 3 percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border. In July authorities in Chihuahua rescued 21 men who had been kidnapped and forced to grow marijuana and poppies, allegedly by the Sinaloa Cartel. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The constitution and the law prohibit children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work, including all work in the agricultural sector, is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in agriculture and construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked. In January the newspaper El Universal reported as many as 400 children were working on tomato and chili pepper farms near Coahuayana, Michoacan, receiving little education and earning very low wages.

Underage children in urban areas throughout the country earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places for gratuities. In April authorities in Sinaloa announced they had identified 312 children who had been working in the streets of various cities. In the same month, two children from Chiapas were identified in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, while begging in the streets dressed as clowns. Authorities found the children had no relatives in the area and were possibly victims of human trafficking. In October 2018 authorities identified 63 persons, including 56 children, who had been forced to work in the streets of Oaxaca, and arrested 11 individuals on charges of human trafficking.

At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Attorney General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections. Penalties for violations were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 7.1 percent were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor laws, such as performing hazardous work. Child labor was most common in the agricultural sector; children worked in the harvest of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tobacco, and tomatoes, as well as in the production of illicit crops such as opium poppies. Other sectors with significant child labor included services, retail sales, manufacturing, and construction.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. The federal labor law specifically proscribes discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, handicap (or challenged capacity), social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of women had been illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common.

INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and 6 percent experienced sexual violence.

Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In December 2018 it unanimously approved the largest general minimum wage increase (16 percent) in 23 years and a doubling of the minimum wage in the economic zone along the border with the United States. Wages had stagnated since 1994, with the country’s minimum wage declining almost 20 percent in real terms. Despite the minimum wage increase, the real general minimum wage fell once again below the official poverty line. Nonetheless, most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The minimum wage increase set off major strikes by unionized workers in Matamoros, who demanded employers honor contractual employment clauses unique to the city requiring all wages to go up by a factor of any minimum wage increase. According to reports, manufacturing executives in the northern border region colluded with one another to keep wages artificially low. As a result of the strikes in Matamoros, most of the manufacturing plants agreed to worker demands, a general wage increase of 20 percent and a bonus of 32,000 pesos ($1,600).

The federal labor law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Secretariat of Labor and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. A chemical spill on July 9 by the mining company Grupo Mexico called widespread public attention to that company’s long record of safety and environmental violations, leading President Lopez Obrador to call for talks with union leaders and Grupo Mexico’s ownership to resolve the miners’ grievances. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the secretariat provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally, using subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year. Of the 30 million informal workers, approximately one-quarter (7.6 million) were employed by formal businesses or organizations, often paid in cash, off the books, to evade taxes and social security payments.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal labor law and restricted worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Citizens hoping to secure temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibited fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. Allegations of abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices rarely were investigated. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the Secretariat of Labor, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied. During the year the secretariat’s National Employment Service began reviewing ways to enforce the foreign recruitment registration law.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields. Due to alleged corruption and opacity, in January the federal government eliminated the Program of Care for Agricultural Day Labors, which was intended to reduce the vulnerability of agricultural migrant workers.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few benefits.

In April the Senate unanimously approved legislation intended to improve working conditions for the 2.4 million domestic workers, 90 percent of whom were women, by making it possible for them to enroll in social security, thereby gaining access to benefits such as medical services, child care, and maternity leave.

According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2018 there were 201,310 workplace accidents, resulting in 303 deaths. In June an accident involving an industrial press in Nuevo Leon caused the partial amputation of four workers’ arms. In August an accident at a silver and gold mine in Oaxaca killed a contractor who was operating heavy machinery.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future