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Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect the president, deputies to the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. In June 2019 voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote. The election marked the first democratic transition of power between two elected presidents since the country’s independence in 1960. United Nations and African Union observers considered the election to be relatively free and fair. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Union for the Republic, the political party founded by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly.

The National Police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas, reports to the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. The National Guard performs a limited police function in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, to include prisons. The National Guard reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization. Regional authorities may call upon the National Guard to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s General Group for Road Safety maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: an unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; allegations of sexual abuse by the country’s peacekeepers; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; blasphemy laws; restrictions on freedom of association; widespread corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons including continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and the existence of some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, and punish officials who committed abuses and prosecuted some abusers, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by authorities.

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

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

There was one report that government agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. The regional prosecutor is in charge of investigating whether security force killings are justifiable and pursuing prosecution. Each security service also maintains internal investigative bodies to determine whether security force killings were justifiable and can pursue administrative action.

On May 30, a military patrol shot and killed Abass Diallo, a 34-year-old Mauritanian citizen, while he was transporting goods near the country’s southern border. The regional prosecutor opened an investigation into the incident; there was no prosecution by the end of the year.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture. The law considers torture, acts of torture, and inhuman or degrading punishments as crimes against humanity not subject to a statute of limitations. The law specifically covers activities in prisons, rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law, places of custody, psychiatric institutions, detention centers, areas of transit, and border crossing points.

On May 23, three officers with the Traffic Safety Police arrested and harassed a group of young persons. Video of the arrest was widely shared on social media and showed the officers kicking and harassing the group. The officers involved were arrested and immediately removed from the Traffic Safety Police Force.

During the year, according to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted of sexual exploitation and abuse by Mauritanian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Both cases involved transactional sex with an adult.

The National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) is an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The government appointed new members of the MNP in September. The MNP has not launched any investigations since its inception in 2016.

Complaints filed with the courts for allegations of torture were submitted to police for investigation. The government continued to deny the existence of “unofficial” detention centers, even though NGOs and the United Nations pointed out their continuing usage. Neither the MNP nor the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) directly addressed the existence of these places.

Impunity was a serious problem in the security forces, and it was identified in police forces and the National Guard. Politicization, corruption, and ethnic tensions between the Beydane-majority security forces and Haratine (“Black Moor” Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan communities were primary factors contributing to impunity. The government took some steps to conduct information sessions on human rights with security forces. On September 25, the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization circulated directives to the security services that emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions and that no one is above or outside of the law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained life threatening due to persistent food shortages, violence, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, and indefinite pretrial detention.

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded. In 2018 the UN Committee Against Torture reported that authorities held 2,321 detainees in facilities designed for 2,280 persons. Authorities frequently grouped pretrial detainees with convicts who represented a danger to other prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates, a practice criticized by the CNDH.

There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital Nouakchott and the other in the country’s second-largest city, Nouadhibou. Almost all supervisors of female inmates were male because the all-male National Guard was assigned the task of supervising prisons nationwide. The few female supervisors in prisons were not members of the National Guard, but rather were members of civil protection teams (firefighters). Detention conditions for women were generally better than those for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded than those for men.

Prison authorities held a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities, regardless of their specific sentences. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security procedures surrounding visitors. Prisoners often rebelled and disobeyed authorities, in some cases to protest violence and inhuman treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and the indiscriminate grouping of inmates meant that prisoners often lived with the threat of violence, while some had to bribe other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Salafist prisoners complained of mistreatment at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGO) reported that in Dar Naim, the largest prison in the country, inmates partially managed one wing of the prison while staff secured the other half. Narcotics, weapons, and cash reportedly circulated freely because staff could not effectively screen goods that entered the prison and could not safely enter some areas.

Human rights groups continued to deplore the lack of adequate sanitation and medical facilities in prisons nationwide, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. The government allocated a budget of 50 ouguiyas ($1.35) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies, an amount observers deemed inadequate. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

In 2018 the Directorate of Penal Affairs and Prison Administration within the Ministry of Justice established a youth detention center in Nouakchott, which held 58 minors during the year. The regular prison in Nouadhibou held nine minors. An Italian NGO continued to operate a separate detention center for minors, the only prison facility that came close to meeting international standards. These facilities operated in addition to youth detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH and the MNP. Government regulations also allowed inmates to elect one representative in dealings with the prison administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity. The government acknowledged allegations of inhuman conditions but rarely took corrective action. Periodically prisoners were transferred to prisons in the interior of the country to alleviate the overflow of prisoners held in Nouakchott; however, these transfers often meant that prisoners were separated from their families and legal representatives, and it increased the average length of time prisoners were held in pretrial detention.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The CNDH carried out unannounced visits to these detention centers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to prisoners suspected of terrorist activities.

Improvements: International and local partners, including the ICRC, the Noura Foundation, and Caritas-Mauritania, contributed to the improvement of general hygiene and living conditions in the detention centers and prisons with the support of the government. In particular the ICRC helped to improve infrastructure, hygiene, and health conditions in detention centers and rehabilitated the sanitation network of Dar Naim Prison. The ICRC also implemented a program to combat malnutrition in prisons, including the main prisons in Aleg and Dar Naim, by rehabilitating kitchen facilities and periodically providing medicines and other hygiene products.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities did not always observe these prohibitions. A detainee has the legal right to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention under two circumstances: first, if a person remains arrested after the end of his or her legal period of detention; and second, if the detainee disagrees with his or her sentence, in which case he or she has the right to file an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of police investigation. With few exceptions, individuals could not be detained for more than 48 hours without evidence, and prosecutors may extend the period for an additional 48 hours in some cases. Because nonbusiness days are not counted within this 48-hour maximum period, police officers often arrested individuals on a Wednesday or Thursday to keep them in custody for a full week. If a person is detained on terrorism charges, that individual can be held in custody for as long as 45 days. The law requires that a suspect be brought before a judicial officer and charged with a crime within 48 hours; however, authorities did not generally respect this right.

The 126th UN Human Rights Committee conducted its periodic country review in 2019 and noted police records of detainees in police stations were poorly maintained. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but legal representation was frequently either unavailable or attorneys did not speak the defendant’s language (and were not always provided translation services). Judges often arbitrarily refused requests for bail or set inordinately high bail amounts.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.). Between February 13 and 15, police arrested 15 persons, most of whom had taken part in a meeting organized in a private residence by the Alliance for the Refoundation of the Mauritanian State (AREM), a group that advocates secularism in the country. Eight of the 15, including the five men who were held in pretrial detention until the court heard their case on October 20, were ultimately convicted “of failure to observe the prohibitions prescribed by Allah.” All five men who were kept in pretrial detention were released by October 26 (see section 2.a.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem, although no statistics on the average length of detention were available. In 2018 the UN Committee Against Torture reported that 38 percent of detainees were pretrial detainees. As of September there were approximately 1,500 persons in pretrial detention throughout the country. Members of the security forces sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than the legal maximum time, often due to lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, and in some cases to obtain confessions. By law authorities may not hold a minor for more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports of many individuals, including minors, remaining in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most jurisdictions stopped processing cases, and both the rate and length of pretrial detention increased despite periodic releases of pretrial detainees by the Ministry of Justice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government took steps to increase judicial independence and impartiality. Nevertheless, the executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Authorities did not always respect or enforce court orders. Observers often perceived judges to be corrupt and unskilled.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for due process, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them within 48 hours, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants often did not learn of the charges against them until police investigation was complete. Authorities generally provided defendants with free interpretation as required; however, the quality of these services was generally poor. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial. They also have the right to be present during their trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities rarely respected this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases.

Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Court proceedings are by law conducted in Arabic, and interpreters are not always available for those defendants who do not speak the language. Some bilingual judges could communicate with defendants in French. Sharia is, in part, the basis for trial procedures. Courts did not always treat women equally with men during these proceedings.

A special court for minors hears cases involving persons younger than age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults, and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complaints of human rights abuses fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international and regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chambers in both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.

Property Restitution

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

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, although there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. For example, authorities often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased significantly compared with the previous year. Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news, but provided increased coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists during the year. On June 3, police arrested Eby Ould Zeidane based on a Facebook post in which he challenged the dates Mauritanians observe the annual fast in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Eby was released on June 8. Another blogger, Mommeu Ould Bouzouma, was arrested on May 5 and spent 10 days in detention for criticizing the governor of the Tiris Zenmour region. In January authorities arrested two reporters for Sahel TV, Mohamed Ali Ould Abdel Aziz and Abdou O. Tajeddine. The reporters were arrested for videos and articles deemed insulting to the president. They were released after two days.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported that a government official met with journalists for four international media outlets to warn them regarding one-sided coverage of slavery or sensitive topics that could harm national unity or the country’s reputation.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is a law against blasphemy, which is punishable by death, although the country has not carried out any executions since 1987. Between February 13 and 15, authorities arrested 15 persons and later charged eight of them with blasphemy and insulting Islam after they attended a meeting organized by AREM; three of the eight were also charged with disseminating content that “undermines the values of Islam” under cybersecurity and terrorism laws. Five of the eight men were held in pretrial detention until their hearing on October 20. The Nouakchott West Criminal Court decided not to convict the men of blasphemy and instead convicted them of lesser crimes. The five men held in pretrial detention since February were all released by October 26 (see section 1.d.).

Internet Freedom

During the year the government rarely restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content, and there was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Between September 21 and September 30, the government disrupted the country’s 3G network several times as part of a coordinated, annual effort to combat cheating on the national high school exams. The networks were immediately re-established upon conclusion of the exam period on each day.

On June 24, the National Assembly approved a new law aimed at prohibiting allegedly false news posts on social media. The law aims to fight against the manipulation of information during an election period or during periods of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Many opposition parliamentarians as well as human rights activists denounced the law, declaring that it risks undermining the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. A religious training center linked to the political opposition was shut down by the government in 2018 and remained closed.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that NGOs claimed were politically motivated.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right. During the year authorities continued to prevent several NGOs, including prominent antislavery organizations, from registering and legally operating. The law requires that the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization grant authorization prior to an association operating in the country. On February 18, the government held workshops with NGOs and members of civil society to get feedback on a proposed law that would alter the registration process for associations and allow NGOs that have been denied registration a chance to operate more freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. From March through early September, the government maintained a number of restrictions on freedom of movement in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. These included a halt on all international and most interregional travel, as well as a nighttime curfew.

In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, government security and safety measures included frequent use of mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations. On July 7, the parliament approved new legislation on human trafficking and migration that focus on the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and protection of victims.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition.

In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the law, children born to Mauritanian fathers and foreign mothers are automatically Mauritanian, whether born inside or outside the country. The law allows children born outside the country to Mauritanian mothers and foreign men to obtain Mauritanian nationality at age 17. If the father is stateless, children born outside the country are subject to statelessness until age 17, at which point the child is eligible for nationality. The unwillingness of local authorities to process thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who returned from Senegal following their mass expulsion between 1989 and 1991 rendered the returnees stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote in the June 2019 presidential election. Prominent antislavery activist and politician Biram Dah Abeid placed second with 19 percent of the vote, while Mohamed Ould Boubacar, a former prime minister backed by the Islamist party, placed third with 17 percent. Observers from the United Nations and African Union judged the election to be relatively free and fair, with no evidence of large-scale fraud that could have materially influenced the outcome of the vote. The presidential elections represented the first transition of power from one democratically elected leader to another since the country’s independence in 1960.

In 2018 the party founded by the former president, the Union for the Republic, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly in legislative elections, which the African Union judged to be relatively free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are some restrictions on the ability for political parties to register. By decree all political parties must be able to gain at least one percent of votes in two consecutive elections, and this decree continues to limit the overall number of political parties that can participate. The government continued to deny the registration for some activist parties, including the Forces of Progressive Change. The government took some steps to address the ethnic disparity in political leadership. Under the previous regime, the Beydane elite (“White Moor” Arabs) accounted for at most 30 percent of the population but occupied approximately 80 percent of government leadership positions; Haratines constituted at least 45 percent of the population but held fewer than 10 percent of the positions; and the various sub-Saharan ethnic groups (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) constituted an estimated 25 percent of the population and accounted for fewer than 10 percent of leadership positions. Of the 26 ministers in the cabinet, five come from a Haratine ethnic background, and five from a sub-Saharan ethnic background. Unlike in previous governments, the existing cabinet is largely made up of technocrats.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural factors restricted women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. Despite laws promoting women’s access to elective positions (including a quota of 20 percent of seats reserved for women on lists of candidates in legislative and local elections and a quota of 20 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly) the number of women in electoral politics remained low. Following the 2018 legislative elections, women held 19.6 percent of seats in the 157-member National Assembly, which was slightly lower compared to the 2014 election results in which women held 22 percent of seats. Five women were named to the new cabinet: one from the non-Arab sub-Saharan ethnic community, one from the Haratine ethnic community, and three from the Beydane (“White Moor”) ethnic community.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year. The law defines corruption as “all exploitation by a public agent of his position for personal purposes, whether this agent is elected, or in an administrative or judicial position.” During the year the country initiated its first-ever parliamentary investigation into corrupt practices under the previous regime.

Corruption: Corruption and impunity were serious problems in public administration, and the government rarely held officials accountable or prosecuted them for abuses. There were reports government officials frequently used their power to obtain personal favors, such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, special grants of land, and preferential treatment during bidding on government projects. Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement but was also common in the distribution of official documents, fishing and mining licenses, land distribution, as well as in bank loans and tax payments. On January 30, the parliament established a commission of inquiry empowered to investigate allegations of serious irregularities in awarding public contracts and the embezzlement of revenues from oil, fishing, and public land sales by the previous president and other senior government officials. The commission issued its report in July and offered specific recommendations for judiciary action. In August specialized police investigators began interrogations of the former president and hundreds of others named in the commission’s report. In August the president removed several members of his government from office, including the former prime minister, because they were implicated in the report. Members of civil society and the international community widely praised the quality and scope of the commission’s report.

Financial Disclosure: The government enforced the requirement that senior officials, including the president, file a declaration of their personal assets at the beginning and end of their government service. This information is not available to the public. There were no penalties for failing to comply.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Several domestic and international groups also reported evidence of a continued change in attitude under the new government, citing statements by government human rights bodies calling attention to international laws and conventions protecting human rights as well as an increased willingness to work with human rights groups.

Nevertheless, there were restrictions on some human rights groups, particularly those investigating cases of slavery and slavery-related practices. For example, authorities sometimes denied NGOs access to the prosecutor’s office or the victim when they were investigating a possible slavery or slavery-related case.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commissariat for Human Rights and Humanitarian Action designs, promotes, and implements national human rights policies. The commissariat managed government and internationally funded human rights and humanitarian assistance programs. The CNDH, an independent ombudsman organization, includes government and civil society representatives. It actively monitored human rights conditions and advocated for government action to correct abuses. The CNDH produced an annual report on human rights topics, conducted regular investigations, including prison and police detention center facility visits, and made recommendations to the government. From November 2019 to January, the CNDH conducted an information “caravan” of public meetings throughout the country to sensitize marginalized, largely illiterate communities to their rights, including protections against slavery and other forms of forced labor. The CNDH launched another information caravan on October 1.

The government also sponsored the Civil Society Platform, a coordinating body which brings together more than 6,000 local NGOs, to help communicate and implement government policies.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal. The law does not address rape of men. Rapists who are single men face penalties of imprisonment, forced labor, and whipping; married rapists are subject to the death penalty, although this penalty has not been enforced since 1987. The government increasingly enforced prison sentences for convicted rapists, but prosecution remained provisional. Nevertheless, as in years past, wealthy rape suspects reportedly avoided prosecution or, if prosecuted, avoided prison. It was common for the families of the rape survivor to reach an agreement with the perpetrator in the form of monetary compensation.

Rape survivors were discouraged from reporting the crime because they themselves could be jailed for having intercourse outside of marriage. Reliable data on gender-based violence remained sparse, and the situation of children and women who were victims of abuse was poorly documented. The subject continued to remain taboo due to social mores and traditional norms, which often call for survivors to be rejected by their family and society. On March 25, Khadijetou Oumar Sow, a 26-year-old woman, went missing. On April 12, her body was found, and an investigation concluded that she was raped twice before being strangled with a turban. Her killer is serving a life sentence in prison. On November 19, the Nouakchott North Criminal Court sentenced five men to death after they were convicted of the rape and murder of 27-year-old Oumeima Mohaamed Ahmed on September 3.

Spousal abuse and domestic violence are illegal, but there are no specific penalties for domestic violence. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and convictions were rare.

Police and the judiciary occasionally intervened in domestic abuse cases, but women rarely sought legal redress, relying instead on family, NGOs, and community leaders to resolve their domestic disputes. NGOs reported that, in certain cases, they sought police assistance to protect victims of domestic violence, but police declined to investigate.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law states that any act or attempt to damage a girl’s sexual organs is punishable by imprisonment and a monetary fine. Authorities seldom applied the law, largely due to the lack of awareness by local authorities about the ordinance in the law that bans the practice. According to a 2015 UNICEF study, 67 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM/C. In certain regions in the southeastern part of the country, the prevalence is higher than 90 percent.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and Family continued to track the more than 2,000 traditional health providers who publicly abandoned the practice of FGM/C in an effort to ensure that the providers do not start the practice again.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continued to decline. One of these was the forced feeding of adolescent girls prior to marriage, practiced by some Beydane families and known as “gavage.”

Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment. Women’s NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a common problem in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: According to the law, every couple has the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Nevertheless, many couples did not have access to the information or the means to enjoy these rights. The law does not extend the same rights to unmarried individuals since the law criminalizes sexual relations outside of marriage.

Although no legal or governmental policies adversely affected access to contraception, social, and cultural barriers significantly limited access to contraception. Barriers included rumors that contraception causes cancerous diseases, death, or infertility. Contraceptives were not widely available in health centers, and some religious fatwas forbid the use of contraception without the husband’s permission. For unmarried women, a large stigma was associated with seeking contraception.

According to the law, every woman has the right to a childbirth assisted by qualified health personnel, but many women lacked access to those services. Social stigmas and conservative sociocultural factors limited access to information and health services, particularly by adolescents. There were no legal barriers to accessing skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, but social and cultural factors, such as the prevalent use of traditional midwives, limited the use of these services.

The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. A unit in the Maternity and Child Center in Nouakchott treated female victims of sexual violence. This unit also gave women pills to prevent pregnancy after cases of rape. Access to these services was uncommon outside of Nouakchott, and, even when services were available, women were often discouraged from seeking assistance after incidents of sexual violence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 766 per 100,000 live births. The high maternal mortality rate was due to lack of medical equipment, low participation by mothers in programs promoting prenatal care, births without the assistance of health professionals, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and high rates of adolescent pregnancy. FGM/C was a significant problem and contributed to maternal morbidity. The WHO estimated the adolescent (females aged 15-19) birth rate to be 84 per 1,000.

The proportion of women of reproductive age whose need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods was 35 percent, and the contraceptive prevalence rate for women aged 15-49, with any method, was 12 percent.

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

Discrimination: Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and the more educated and urbanized members of the female population were more likely to enjoy these rights. Nevertheless, women in general had fewer legal rights than men.

Additionally, women faced other forms of legal discrimination. According to sharia as applied in the country, the testimony of two women was required to equal that of one man. The courts granted only one-half as large an indemnity to the family of a female victim as that accorded to the family of a male victim. The personal status code provides a framework for the consistent application of secular law and sharia-based family law, but judicial officials did not always respect it. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous and certain industries including mining and construction (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: By law a person derives citizenship from one’s father. One can derive citizenship from one’s mother under either of the following conditions: if the mother is a citizen and the father’s nationality is unknown or he is stateless, or if the child was born in the country to a citizen mother and the child repudiates the father’s nationality a year before reaching majority. Children born abroad to citizen mothers and foreign men can acquire citizenship one year before reaching the majority age of 18. Minor children of parents who are naturalized citizens are also eligible for citizenship.

The process of registering a child and subsequently receiving a birth certificate was reportedly difficult. Failure to register could result in denial of some public services, such as education.

Education: The law mandates six years of school attendance for all children, but the law was not effectively enforced. Many children, particularly girls, did not attend school for the mandatory six years. Children of lower castes from both Haratine and sub-Saharan families often did not receive any formal education.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18, but authorities rarely enforced the law, and child marriage was widespread. Since consensual sex outside of marriage is illegal, a legal guardian can ask local authorities to permit a girl younger than 18 to marry. Local authorities frequently granted permission. The government continued to work with UNICEF to implement a program to combat child marriage through a series of judicial and political reforms.

In 2017 according to UNICEF, 37 percent of girls were married before the age of 18, and 18 percent were married before the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual relations with a child younger than 18, with penalties of six months to two years in prison and a fine. Possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a fine. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal, and conviction carries penalties of five to 10 years in prison and a substantial fine. NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced.

Displaced Children: According to the minister of social affairs, childhood, and family, there were more than 16,000 children who need protection, including children without civil documentation, uneducated children, and victims of child labor.

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

Anti-Semitism

A very small number of foreign residents practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law provides for access to information and communication, and to existing public buildings through retrofitting and future buildings through amendments to the building code. Authorities did not enforce the law, and persons with disabilities generally did not have access to buildings, information, and communications. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Haratine and sub-Saharan ethnic groups faced governmental discrimination while the Beydane ethnic group received governmental preference. For example individuals living in Western Sahara (who are of Beydane ethnicity) easily obtained national identity cards required to vote, although they were not legally qualified to do so because they were not citizens. Meanwhile, Haratine (Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan (non-Arab) citizens often had great difficulty obtaining national identity documents.

Racial and cultural tension and discrimination also arose from the geographic, linguistic, and cultural divides between Moors (Beydane and Haratine) who–while historically representing a mix of Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan Africans–today largely identify culturally and linguistically as Arab, and the sub-Saharan non-Arab minorities. Historically, the Beydane (“White Moors”) enslaved the Haratine population (“Black Moors”); some hereditary slavery continued, and Haratines continued to suffer from the legacy of centuries of slavery (see section 7.b.). Beydane tribes and clans dominated positions in government and business far beyond their proportion of the population. As a group the Haratines remained politically and economically weaker than the Beydane, although they represented the largest ethnocultural group in the country. The various sub-Saharan ethnic groups, along with the Haratines, remained underrepresented in leadership positions in government, industry, and the military (see section 3). In August, President Ghazouani increased the number of Haratines and sub-Saharans in leadership positions, most notably by appointing a Haratine as prime minister. In November the Union for the Republic, the ruling political party, held a series of workshops and debates designed to identify ways to bolster national unity. The workshops marked the first time that the ruling party began to debate openly ways to overcome some of the country’s racial and cultural tensions, and included proposals to change some of the religious jurisprudence books that form the basis of religious teachings and are used to justify the practice of slavery.

According to human rights activists and press reports, local authorities continued to allow influential Beydane to appropriate land formerly occupied by Haratines and sub-Saharans, to occupy property unlawfully taken from sub-Saharans by former governments, and to obstruct access to water and pasturage.

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

No laws protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons from discrimination. Under sharia as applied in the country, consensual same-sex sexual activity between men is punishable by death if witnessed by four individuals, and such activity between women is punishable by three months to two years in prison and a token fine. The government did not actively enforce these measures. The LGBTI community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and the legal penalties attached to such labels.

According to the latest report by the LGBTI Nouakchott Group of Solidarity Association (issued in 2017), the rights of LGBTI persons are not recognized and therefore not protected. LGBTI persons lived in perpetual fear of being driven out by their families and rejected by society in general. As a result, they did not attend or participate in public activities due to fears of retribution and violence. On January 30, eight men were convicted and sentenced to two years for disturbing public morals after video circulated of a celebration at a private Nouakchott party involving mostly LGBTI men. In March the Nouakchott Appeals Court dropped the initial charges and ordered the release of seven of the eight men. The remaining man was sentenced to two months in prison for disturbing the peace.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons infected with HIV/AIDS were often isolated due to societal taboos and prejudice associated with the disease but were gradually becoming more accepted within society and by the government. These individuals were often involved in the implementation of state programs to combat infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, except members of police, armed forces, and foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice at local and national levels and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and to bargain collectively. Other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not commensurate with penalties for similar violations of laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

Prior authorization or approval by authorities is required before a union may be recognized. The public prosecutor must authorize all trade unions before they enjoy legal status. The public prosecutor may provisionally suspend a trade union at the request of the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization if ministry officials believe the union has not complied with the law. The law also provides that authorities may initiate legal proceedings against union leaders who undermine public order or make false statements. This law in effect authorizes administrative authorities to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations by unilateral decision.

Noncitizens do not have the right to become trade union officials unless they have worked in the country and in the profession represented by the trade union for at least five years. Labor unions must obtain government authorization in order to hold labor elections. Despite previous promises, the government has not authorized union elections since 2014.

Bargaining collectively at the national level requires previous authorization or approval by the president, who decides how collective bargaining is organized. No such authorization is required for collective bargaining at the company level. The minister of labor, public service, and modernization of the administration may call for bargaining among employers, employees, labor unions, and the government. In addition the ministry is entitled to take part in the preparation of collective agreements. The law provides that the meeting must occur 15 days following a statement of nonagreement between parties.

The law provides for the right to strike, except for those working in services deemed essential. Aggrieved parties must follow complex procedures before conducting a strike action. If negotiations between workers and employers fail to produce an agreement, the case is referred to the Court of Arbitration. If the court fails to broker a mutually satisfactory agreement, workers may have to wait up to four additional months from the time of the decision before they can legally strike. The government may also dissolve a union for what it considers an illegal or politically motivated strike. The law prohibits workers from holding sit-ins or blocking nonstriking workers from entering work premises. Workers must provide advance notice of at least 10 working days to the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration for any strike.

The government did not enforce the law effectively and did not provide adequate resources for inspections. While authorities seldom punished violators, on several occasions the government ordered the reinstatement of workers who were wrongfully terminated or directed companies to improve employee benefits and services. While antiunion discrimination is illegal, national human rights groups and unions reported authorities did not actively investigate alleged antiunion practices in some private firms.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not fully respected, although unions exercised their right to organize workers during the year. Collective bargaining at the company level, however, was rare. On February 5, longshoremen of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott went on strike to demand the full implementation of agreements reached during a previous strike in 2018. According to the Mauritanian Workers’ Free Confederation, authorities dismissed thousands of longshoremen in 2018 without giving them their rights, adding that the walkout came in response to the “arbitrary policies and decisions” taken against the carriers.

Registration and strike procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor ministry officials routinely issued notices calling on all parties to negotiate. Such notices legally restrict workers from striking for a period of four months. Workers and unions organized several strikes and, unlike in previous years, authorities only occasionally employed force to disperse them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. It also criminalizes the practice of slavery, which includes forced labor and forced child labor, and imposes penalties, both on government officials who do not take action in response to reported cases and on those who benefit from contracting forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The constitution and law make the offense “a crime against humanity.” The law grants civil society organizations the right to file complaints in court on behalf of victims as civil parties; however, many civil society organizations reported difficulty in filing complaints on behalf of victims. The law also provides free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to compensation. Although the government is taking more steps towards ending the practice of slavery, including increased engagement with civil society groups, efforts to enforce the antislavery law were considered inadequate.

The General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, was created in 2019 to intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that have left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. With a budget of 20 billion ouguiyas ($541.5 million) over the next five years, Taazour is implementing projects to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution has the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies in order to maximize their impact. Taazour has an agreement with the CNDH to facilitate efforts by beneficiaries of Taazour projects to seek redress for any violation of their civil rights.

Only registered human rights associations that have been legally operating for five years can file criminal cases on behalf of former slaves. During the year the government continued to prevent the registration of certain antislavery organizations and associations that work for the promotion and protection of the Haratine community; these include former slave groups that would have been able to submit complaints once their five-year probationary period had expired.

As of December, IRA, created in 2008 and one of the most active organizations fighting slavery in the country, continued to be prevented from registering. The government’s refusal to register IRA and other human rights NGOs who could help to file complaints on behalf of slavery victims was a contributing factor to the underutilization of the three Specialized Antislavery Courts.

On June 29, the Nema special court ruled on two slavery-related cases. The court ruled that the first case lacked evidence and determined that the case was not slavery related. The second case filed by SOS Esclaves involved a slavery-like practice; however, the court decided to postpone the hearing until the next scheduled court session in order to conduct a more thorough investigation. The Nema special court recommenced operations on November 12 but still did not rule on the second case. On December 3, the Nouadhibou Antislavery Court ruled on three cases, sentencing three persons in absentia to 20 years’ imprisonment and imposing a substantial fine as compensation for the victims. The Nouakchott special court briefly began hearings in December before quickly closing again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exception of the June 29 ruling in the Nema special court, the specialized anti-slavery courts stopped hearing cases from March to November along with the rest of the judicial system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions affected a substantial portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slavery-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.

In 2015 the government asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a program to assess the scope of forced labor in the country. Among other activities, the Bridge Project supports research in the country on recruitment mechanisms and employment conditions to help identify different types of employment that may involve slavery or slavery-like practices. Most of the Bridge Project’s activities were postponed starting in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September the project was extended to November 2021.

Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, including cultural traditions, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced the law.

Former slaves in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable and lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.

Some former slaves were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.

Slavery, including forced labor and de facto slavery, were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids some, but not all of, the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Nevertheless, it allows children as young as 12 to be employed in most forms of family enterprise with authorization from the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration, as long as the work does not affect the child’s health, exceed two hours per day, or occur during school hours or holidays. The law states employed children between ages 14 and 16 should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage and those who are 17 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage. Children should not work more than eight hours a day, should be given one or several one-hour breaks, and may not work at night. Children working in unpaid, temporary, or noncontractual work do not have the same protections under the child labor laws and regulations as do children working in contractual employment.

The Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration authorized children as young as 13 to do work in a variety of areas, resulting in children doing hazardous work by government authorization in the areas of agriculture, fishing, construction, and garbage removal. Additionally, the government does not legally prohibit all forms of hazardous work as defined by international law.

The law increases the penalties associated with violations of child labor laws and criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced begging. It also increases the prison term for trafficking children. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The penalties were generally insufficiently enforced to deter violations. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including domestic work and agriculture. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Mechanisms for exchanging information among agencies or assessing the effectiveness of child labor laws were not active during the year. There was no specific mechanism for submitting complaints, other than to labor inspectors or the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs were the only organizations that handled cases of child victims, referred them to the Special Police Brigade for Minors, and pressured the government to adjudicate the cases or integrate the victims in social centers or schools during the year.

The CNDH’s 2016 annual report, which had the most recent numbers available, stated that 26 percent of children between the ages of 15 and 17 worked. The report indicated the proportion of children between the ages of 12 and 14 who performed some work increased to 22 percent. The report also stressed that exploitation of girls was more frequent in domestic work.

An unknown number of talibes (religious students), nearly all from the Halpulaar community, begged in the streets and gave the proceeds to their religious teachers as payment for religious instruction. There were reliable reports that some marabouts (religious teachers) forced their talibes to beg for more than 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter. The government continued a program to reduce the number of talibes and cooperated with NGOs to provide talibes with basic medical and nutritional care.

Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly in poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and were very active in garbage collection. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.

The government continued to operate seven Centers for Protection and Social Integration of Children in Difficult Situations: one in each of the regions of Kiffa, Nouadhibou, Aleg, and Rosso, and three in Nouakchott.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, or language, but the government often did not enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race and language. For example in conformity with long-standing practice, the advancement of both Haratines and sub-Saharans in the armed services remained limited.

The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women faced widespread employment discrimination, because employers usually preferred to hire men, with women overrepresented in low-paying positions (see section 6). There were known legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous or morally inappropriate and certain industries including mining and construction.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is more than the most recent estimate for the poverty income level. The law provides that the standard legal nonagricultural workweek must not exceed either 40 hours or six days unless there is overtime compensation, which is to be paid at rates graduated according to the number of supplemental hours worked. Domestic workers and certain other categories could work 56 hours per week. The law provides that all employees must be given at least one 24-hour rest period per week. There are no legal provisions regarding compulsory overtime.

The government sets health and safety standards, and in principle workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment; however, this was rarely applied. The law applies to all workers in the formal economy, and the labor code applies to all formal workers regardless of nationality. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations.

The Labor Office of the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration is responsible for enforcing labor laws but did not do so effectively. The ILO reported that a significant pay gap between staff in the labor inspectorate and staff in other government inspection departments who receive better remuneration (such as tax inspectors or education inspectors) led to attrition of personnel. The number of labor inspectors, however, was sufficient for the labor force. The ILO also reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity.

The majority of the working population labored in the informal sector, primarily in subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers, only 25 percent of workers filled positions accorded regular pay.

Despite the law, labor unions pointed to conditions approaching forced labor in several sectors, including the food processing industry. In these sectors workers did not have contracts or receive pay stubs. Their salaries were below the official minimum wage, and they worked in unfavorable conditions. They occasionally did not receive pay for several months.

Working conditions in the fishing industry were similarly difficult. Commercial fishermen reportedly often exceeded 40 hours of work per week without receiving overtime pay. Additionally, some factory workers employed by fish-processing plants and boat manufacturers did not receive contracts guaranteeing the terms of their employment. Government inspections of fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories were rare.

Violations of minimum wage or overtime laws were frequent in many sectors but more common in the informal economy, which includes domestic service, street vending, artisanal fishing, garbage collection, bus fare collection, donkey-cart driving, apprenticeship, auto repair, and other similar types of employment. The National Agency of Social Security registered 204 workplace fatalities or injuries during the year, which was comparable with previous years.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. In the first round of the presidential elections on December 27, Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Mahamadou Issoufou, who won a second term in 2016, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office. International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election to be peaceful, free, and fair. In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; forced disappearances by government and armed groups; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

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

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. Wary of increasing attacks on its borders as well as spillover from insecurity in Libya, the government participated in campaigns against terrorist groups with the governments of Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

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

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

There were unconfirmed reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of executing persons believed to be fighting for extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received complaints regarding multiple arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces as well as killings by militias. The CNDH had limited ability to investigate the complaints. Human Rights Watch reported a video showed security forces in vehicles running over and killing apparently unarmed and wounded Boko Haram fighters during a May 11 action in Diffa.

Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).

In 2019 Malian militia groups such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, Self-Defense Group Imghad Tuareg and Allies were accused of committing human rights abuses in the country, including kidnapping and arbitrary killing of persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups. These abuses appeared to cease in May 2019.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both the Tillabery and Diffa Regions. According to Amnesty International, between March 27 and April 2, security forces allegedly arrested and forcibly disappeared 102 persons in the Tillabery Region as part of Operation Almahou.

There were also multiple instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g.). For example, in 2019 Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped dozens of local chiefs in the Diffa Region.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports by domestic civil society organizations that security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government stated it would investigate.

There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region harassed or detained citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.

In September the CNDH implicated security forces in human rights abuses in the Tillabery Region in March and April.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nigerien peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, with seven cases from 2018, 2016, and 2015. In five cases the United Nations substantiated the allegations and repatriated the perpetrators, and in the other two cases, the United Nations had completed the investigations and was waiting for additional information from the government. As of September the government had not explained what actions if any it had taken regarding the cases. These cases allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, an exploitative relationship with an adult, and rape of children.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among the army and police. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of police, national guard, and fire department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of civil protection personnel. The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the gendarmerie and military forces. The armed forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. The CNDH investigated some allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and attacks by violent extremist organizations.

Physical Conditions: Human rights observers stated overcrowding remained a widespread problem. The government reported in December 2019 there were 10,723 prisoners in 41 prisons designed to hold 10,555 persons, perhaps indicating significant underreporting by the government, according to observers. The prisons of Niamey and Diffa were respectively designed to hold 445 and 100 persons but towards year’s end held 1,451 and 432 inmates, respectively. Other observers found several prisons to be 300 percent above capacity. In Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards.

Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters, which were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes. Terrorist and high-threat offenders were separated from other criminal offenders. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis, and COVID-19, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Observers noted judicial slowness in assessing conditions, dilapidated prison premises (except at the Tillabery prison), an insufficiency of prison staff, poor food, health care, and maintenance, and inadequacy of post release reintegration systems.

The government operated a detention facility in Goudoumaria that holds defectors from violent extremist organizations while they undergo rehabilitation. Families were kept together and separated from single men. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided the majority of services to the facility, including potable water, food, and medical care. Children in the camp suffered from malaria, and pregnant women lacked adequate access to emergency care.

National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. The law creates a specialized cadre of prison guards, and the penitentiary administration reportedly launched a first round of training in 2019 but did not fully implement the law.

Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of mistreatment. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted monitoring visits during the year. The ICRC worked with the local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.

Improvements: As a response to the COVID-19 health crisis, authorities released 1,967 prisoners between March and April by presidential decree.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits arbitrary detention without charge for more than 48 hours and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention, with some exceptions. If the prosecutor receives a case in which an individual was not charged within 48 hours, the case must be dismissed. An investigator can request a waiver for an additional 48 hours before charging an individual. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for 15 days, which can be extended only once, for an additional 15 days.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. Reports indicated, however, that authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. The 15-day detention period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (SCLCT/CTO); terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region at times spent days or weeks in either regional civilian or military custody before officials transported them to Niamey.

Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours of being transferred to SCLCT/CTO. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and an insufficient number of lawyers prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members on occasion rounded up persons accused of being members of or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 48 months for terrorism offenses where the sentence could be 10 years or more in prison and 24 months for less serious offenses. The vast majority of prisoners were awaiting trial and, according to statistics provided by the government, approximately 80 percent of prisoners facing terrorism charges were in pretrial detention. The NGO World Prison brief, citing 2017 data, reported that 53.8 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Reports indicated judicial inefficiency, limited investigative capacity, and staff shortages contributed to lengthy pretrial detention periods for terrorism offenses. Regarding other offenses, civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to abuse of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast, some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Defectors who meet the government’s legal criteria for conditional amnesty are supposed to be released after receiving three to six months of deradicalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The chief prosecutor is responsible for reviewing defector case files and working with the Ministry of Interior to make decisions regarding the defectors’ eligibility for reintegration. Due to bureaucratic and logistical challenges associated with establishing and implementing this program, defectors and family members remained in the facility for prolonged periods–some up to three years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf either at the investigative judge or at the trial stage of proceedings. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of courts and staff shortages were common.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated; observers estimated their number to be three. They generally received the same protections as other prisoners. Saidou Bakari, a member of the leading opposition party, remained jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. According to the chief investigative judge of the Niamey court, the case remained under investigation by the office for financial crimes.

On September 29, following months of criticism from local human rights organizations, the Ministry of Justice released pending trial three civil society activists, Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi, held in detention without trial since March. The men were arrested for allegedly participating in an unauthorized public protest and other charges.

In November 2019 a judge released Sadat Illiya Dan Malam, the last of the 29 persons detained in connection with antitax demonstrations during 2018. Sadat believed his lengthy pretrial detention was political revenge for his activism against government corruption.

Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state of emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason. On May 29, the country adopted a law that allows the presidency to monitor telephone calls, ostensibly for fighting terrorism.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views with some restrictions. The government owned and operated television, radio, and major print publications, and provided funding to independent media publications through the Supreme Council of Communications, which ostensibly monitored content for factual accuracy and unbiased coverage.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally arrested journalists and civil society activists linked to factual inaccuracies in reporting on government corruption, specifically on allegations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of National Defense.

On March 5, police arrested journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni for publishing false statements after he posted a report online concerning a suspected case of COVID-19 at a Niamey hospital. On March 26, he received a three-month suspended sentence, and a court ordered him to pay a token fine to the hospital.

On March 18, police arrested journalist Moudi Moussa and two activists and released them in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

On June 10, authorities arrested and detained blogger-journalist Samira Sabou on charges of defamation filed by the son of the president after she alleged in a May 26 blogpost that he was involved in a major military procurement corruption scandal. A Niamey court acquitted Sabou and released her on July 28. On July 12, police detained Ali Soumana, the editor of the newspaper Le Courrier, a day after Soumana published an article regarding the same procurement scandal. On July 14, he was provisionally released pending trial.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists sometimes encountered pressure from authorities concerning reporting critical of the government. State-owned and -operated media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency in these regions on a rolling three-month basis through parliamentary approval.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, authorities arrested Ali Tera in 2019 based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention and under investigation.

The law to counter cybercriminality also regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders face from six months to three years in prison and fines. Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom. The government planned to appoint university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff in previous years. After a months-long strike by academic personnel, the government accepted peer-elected chancellors but appointed the university president, who presides over the chancellors. The Ministry of Higher Education returned payroll deductions to the striking teachers and paid backlogged salaries for researchers.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice. At a protest against corruption in March, police made arrests and fired tear gas, and a resulting marketplace fire killed three persons.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices. The government continued its ban on motorcycles in Tillabery Region and parts of Dosso Region.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were approximately 257,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) nationally, including 103,000 in the Diffa Region, and approximately 34,000 returned citizens from Nigeria displaced by Boko and ISIS-WA-instigated violence. IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the Diffa Region. The government worked with foreign donors and the humanitarian community, including international aid organizations and NGOs, to supply displaced populations and hosting communities with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. The law provides for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.

Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. As of September UNHCR reported approximately 84,000 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and more than 55,000 in the Tahoua Region. Insecurity in the Maradi Region also caused a sharp increase in IDPs, rising to 17,000 newly displaced persons in September.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

UNHCR closed the three refugee camps it managed in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) as part of an urbanization strategy for the region. The refugees received shelter and plots of land near the villages of Ayerou, Ouallam, and Abala. UNHCR also managed one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane) and one refugee camp in the Diffa Region, and it assisted refugees in the urban centers of Niamey and Ayorou.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions were vulnerable to armed attacks. In the Diffa Region, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued unlawful recruitment of child soldiers among refugees. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they might harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.

Following a violent attack on Intikane in June by unidentified armed men on motorbikes, approximately 25 percent of the refugee population fled to Telemces.

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

Durable Solutions: A tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the government, and the Mali government provides a legal framework for voluntary refugee repatriation when conditions in Mali are conducive for sustainable returns. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive for large-scale returns in safety and dignity, and return was not promoted.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing the country to return to their countries of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law centralizes authority for organizing elections in a permanent independent national election commission (CENI) but defines its voting board in a way that leaves it dominated by the ruling coalition. Several parties from the opposition and some ruling coalition party members objected to limitations on the ability of smaller parties to participate in election planning, believing these limitations diminished the legitimacy of election planning and the inclusivity of the electoral process.

International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election on December 27 to be peaceful, free, and fair. Nearly 70 percent of registered voters participated. Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman of the Democratic and Republic Renewal party finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Issoufou, who won his second and constitutionally final mandate in the 2016 presidential election, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office.

In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided at year’s end. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media.

Authorities released opposition leader Hama Amadou early from his one-year prison sentence for adoption fraud due to a COVID-19 related effort to ease prison populations (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). His conviction prevented him from running for public office, and on November 13, the Constitutional Court declared him ineligible to run for the presidency. Critics alleged his conviction was politically motivated to prevent Hama Amadou from challenging President Issoufou or the ruling coalition.

The law requires the creation of biometric voter lists. Because only approximately 20 percent of citizens have birth documents, observers noted that creating a biometric voter list was problematic. CENI began organizing workshops in 2019 during which witnesses could declare birth information before a judge, resulting in identity documents that could be used to build the voter list. Also in 2019, CENI also began enrolling eligible voters within the new biometric voter system. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized these efforts, noting that ruling party control of the process might skew the selection of communities or regions for enrollment workshops.

Participation of Women and Members of Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 28 of 171 National Assembly seats (16 percent). Major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” including ethnic minorities and pastoral populations.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education. Data from a World Justice Project survey published in March showed that citizens in general viewed executive and legislative officials as using public office for private gain.

The High Authority for the Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HALCIA) actively investigated official corruption and made several official reports, some of which led to punitive action by the government, including arrests. HALCIA also stopped several public procurement tenders due to concerns of improprieties. Presidential control of its budget, however, limited HALCIA’s independence and ability to investigate allegations.

Government prosecutors began investigations into $137 million lost due to corruption in military procurement contracts from 2017 to 2019. A March release of Ministry of National Defense audits noted the involvement of suspected criminal conspirators.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and while the president complied, other senior office holders did not. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. Copies of the statements are to be forwarded to the government’s fiscal services with filers explaining discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights topics, including prison and detention center conditions and allegations of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as the government ombudsman, including on some human rights topics. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often failed to carry out their work effectively.

For the third consecutive year, the government increased funding for organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specify the gender of victims. The law was rarely enforced. Rape is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of victims continued.

The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support.

The law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was reportedly widespread. Husbands commonly beat their wives.

A woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a token fine to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints.

Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of the law and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization.

SOS Women and Children Victims of Violence (SOS-FEVVF) reported receiving several rape and sexual abuse declarations from girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. In February, UNICEF estimated the prevalence of the practice to be approximately 2 percent among girls and women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines. If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is doubled.

Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes limited women’s perception of what is harassment and encouraged acceptance. Cases were rarely reported, but when they were, courts enforced applicable laws. In previous years SOS-FEVVF estimated that eight of 10 young female workers in small shops faced sexual harassment, and only two in 10 reported it. Poverty made women especially vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so. Barriers to contraception included weak demand from the population and lack of education in contraceptive methods.

Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals, unequal distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas, and distance to health centers, many women used traditional midwives during childbirth and were referred to hospitals only when the mother or child suffered health complications. With limited antenatal care visits, women frequently did not understand the potential for complicated labor and so came late to clinics for assisted deliveries. Reports of deaths and serious complications from these clinic deliveries further dissuaded families from using clinics. It was unclear whether the government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The World Health Organization reported the maternal mortality ratio in 2017 was 509 per 100,000 live births. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included lack of prenatal care, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, diseases during pregnancy, hemorrhage and severe postpartum infections, malnutrition, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. The UN Population Division estimated 21 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

According to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey, 30 percent of births took place in health centers, and skilled personnel attended 29 percent of births. The United Nations reported in 2017 that the adolescent birth rate was 185 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.

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

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of sex, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law, legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household.

Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a daughter’s share of a deceased parent’s property is half the size of a son’s share.

Women had low access to education and high rates of early marriage. They were underrepresented in school and employment. According to the UN 2019 Human Development Index Report, only 4.3 percent of adult women had reached at least a secondary level of education, compared with 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market, compared with almost 10 out of 10 men. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, if one parent is a citizen. Birth registration, especially in remote rural areas and in nomadic communities, did not take place promptly due to parental poverty, lack of awareness, and distance from government services. The government’s failure to register births at times, although not done on a discriminatory basis, resulted in citizens’ reduced access to some services.

Education: Although the law provides for education for all children from ages four to 18, compulsory education for children of specific ages was not enforced. Many parents kept young girls at home to work, and girls rarely attended school for more than a few years. Access to education for children nationwide was a problem, due to a shortage of teachers, classrooms, and supplies, especially in rural areas. The low quality of public education undermined parents’ estimation of the value of sending their children to school and contributed to low attendance rates. For those that were in school, boys’ completion rate for primary school was 87.4 percent, while the completion rate for girls was 69.5 percent.

Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were common. The law prescribes penalties for child abuse. For example, parents of minors who usually engage in begging, or any person who encourages children to beg or profits from their begging, may be sentenced to six months to one year of imprisonment. The abduction of a minor younger than 18 is punishable by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for abduction for ransom is life imprisonment. Authorities made efforts to enforce these laws and combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows a girl deemed to be “sufficiently mature” to marry at age 15. Some families entered into marriage agreements under which they sent rural girls who were age 12 or even younger to their “husband’s” families to be under the “supervision” of their mothers-in-law. According to UNICEF, 76 percent of girls married by age 18 and 28 percent of girls married by age 15.

Working with civil society organizations, in 2019 the government prohibited wahaya, a practice whereby some men were able to buy or to be gifted with a “fifth wife.” These unofficial wives (Islam allows a maximum of four wives) were the daughters of hereditary slaves, often sold at ages seven to 12 (see section 7.b.). They were intended to perform manual labor for the household and provide sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available.

The Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection cooperated with women’s associations to sensitize traditional chiefs and religious leaders in rural communities to the problem of early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The law criminalizes the procurement, sale, or offering of a minor for the purpose of prostitution, with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines. The minimum age for consensual sex is 13 for both boys and girls.

The law provides that “exploitation shall include, at minimum, slavery or practices similar to slavery” and adds that the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receiving of a minor younger than 18 for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered trafficking in persons. The penalty for violators is five to 10 years in prison and fines. If the victim is younger than 18, the penalty is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. If the victim dies, the penalty is life imprisonment.

The law prohibits “indecent” acts against victims younger than 18. It leaves to judges to determine what constitutes an indecent act. The law addresses practices related to pornography.

Girls reportedly were trafficked for forced prostitution along the main east-west highway, particularly between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder along the border with Nigeria.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide occurred, and a sizeable proportion of the female prison population was incarcerated for this crime, which was often committed to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.

Displaced Children: Many displaced boys from rural areas were indentured to Islamic schools, where they were forced to beg on the streets of larger cities. Displaced children had access to government services, but services were limited. Unaccompanied migrant children transited the country en route to Libya, Algeria, and Europe. Some unaccompanied migrant children travelled to the Djado gold fields of the country’s northeast to find work in unregulated gold mines.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law defined a person with disabilities as one “unable to meet all or part of his needs for a normal life due to a physical, sensory, or mental deficiency.” The government made efforts to enforce these provisions. For example, regulations require that 5 percent of civil servants be persons with disabilities; the government in 2017 employed slightly less than 1 percent. There were no specific regulations in place mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and education for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that new government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the law was not enforced. Authorities sometimes investigated or punished those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.

The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than five, gives life-long free medical care to persons with disabilities.

Social stigma regarding disabilities resulted in neglect and even infanticide, according to the Federation for Handicapped Persons. A high percentage of persons with disabilities were forced by their families to spend their lives begging.

Children with disabilities were legally able to attend school but faced difficulties, including a lack of adapted instruction and materials, a shortage of specialists for working with children with special needs, and a lack of flexibility in the evaluation system. For example, the lack of professional sign language interpreters prevented deaf children from continuing their education past high school.

The law does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillabery Region faced governmental and societal discrimination due to a widespread perception that the two groups supported or facilitated terrorist activities. Concerns regarding escalation of anti-Fulani prejudice continued. There were also some unconfirmed reports of security forces targeting Fulani in raids and intentionally avoiding Fulani areas during recruitment efforts.

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

There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual conduct, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law states an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex is punishable by six months to three years in prison and fines.

Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights associations reportedly conducted their activities secretly, in part because they were not officially registered. There were no reports of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no documented cases of discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation. Observers believed stigma or intimidation impeded individuals from reporting such abuse.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV or AIDS experienced societal discrimination, although strong government efforts discouraged such discrimination. In conjunction with several other organizations working on HIV/AIDS topics, the government continued its antidiscrimination campaign. The law provides for protection against discrimination for persons suffering from diseases such as HIV or AIDS and sickle cell anemia.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave. One NGO reported in 2019 that in Denkila village a court decision reportedly prevented a group of 274 families from farming their land for the previous six years. A person with a competing claim to the land had obtained a court injunction against the defendants’ use of the land based on an outdated law that forbids former slaves from owning or farming land, in contradiction with the 2003 law banning slavery. With the support of an antislavery NGO, the descendants appealed the decision to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and were awaiting a response at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14 to 15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions.

The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for penalties but does not require reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.

Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally commensurate with those for other laws involving violations of civil rights.

The law applies to the large informal sector, which accounted for most economic activity, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in informal workplaces, particularly in rural areas. The informal sector featured some unions. For example, Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, however. The law establishes penalties for forced labor that are commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, but the penalties were largely unenforced.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. In February the High Court reaffirmed the illegality of wahaya, the traditional practice of selling girls as young as seven into forced marriages, which also perpetuates hereditary slavery. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.

Forced labor remained a problem, especially in domestic work and agriculture. A 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.

The Tuareg, Zarma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.

Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as four and largely from poor, rural families were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Zarma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with their right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics.

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 use of child labor and the employment of children younger than 14. The law, however, does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment or in the informal sector. Children age 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but these were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial and informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.

Child labor was prevalent, with children as young as five engaged in labor. Most rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or beg. Children were also forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, artisanal mining, and forced criminality.

There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.

The practice of forced begging by talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.

Child labor occurred in hereditary slavery and largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide in these mines further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern regarding poisoning, but the practice remained widespread. Children also performed dangerous tasks in cattle herding. Children, especially boys and girls in the Arab, Zarma, Fulani, Tuareg, and Toubou ethnic minorities, continued to be exploited as slaves and endure conditions of bonded labor, particularly in distant western and northern regions and along the border with Nigeria.

Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and requires firms to provide hiring preferences to persons with disabilities under certain circumstances. The law restricts women from working in occupations deemed dangerous to their health, although these restrictions are not clearly defined.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted regulations to implement the law nor took actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate staff to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was above the official poverty income level.

The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate; employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such fraud.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law all workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect workers in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applies but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws and only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance and monetary sanctions were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions.

Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the artisanal gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector. The vast majority, however, were employed by large, international firms; labor advocates complained these firms were not transparent regarding work conditions.

Union workers in many cases did not receive information concerning the risks posed by their jobs. The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service responded to reports of work-related accidents and required affected employees be compensated as required by law, the government reported. The ministry does not release data on fatal accidents. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future