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Belize

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 allegations that government agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. In June police officers shot and killed a man in the Corozal District after he allegedly approached the officers with a machete during a routine eviction. The officers involved were not placed on interdiction (a modified suspension with lesser penalties if the case is still under investigation) despite the continuing investigation.

Three police officers in San Pedro Town were initially charged with murder after they allegedly beat a 30-year-old man to death in March while he was detained in police custody on disorderly conduct charges. In October the director of public prosecution downgraded the charges against the three officers from murder to manslaughter, and they were released on bail while awaiting trial.

In August a customs officer shot a man when he refused to hand over contraband. The suspected smuggler died days later. The customs officer was arrested, charged with manslaughter, and transferred to another police branch.

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 or other inhuman punishment, and there were no reports that government officials employed these practices. There were, however, reports that police, especially the Gang Suppression Unit, used excessive force, and there were other allegations of abuse by security force personnel.

The Ombudsman’s Office received 32 new complaints of police overreach in the first six months of the year. The most common complaint was police abuse. The Office of the Ombudsman also noted an increase in complaints against the Immigration and Nationality Department.

In April, two women and two men claimed police brutality while being detained in San Pedro Town. According to reports, police detained two women on the street using excessive force. Civilians gathered and demanded the police minimize the use of force; police physically attacked a bystander recording the event as well as his brother. One of the men was shot in the legs when police fired warning shots into the air and the ground. The Belize Police Department (BPD) investigated the matter, and the two officers were criminally charged for “wounding.”

In November, two women, a Belizean and a Salvadoran, accused three police officers of raping them in a Belize City police station after they were removed from a transit bus to be searched for drugs. The police officers remained on active duty as the investigation proceeded.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: There were no reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised major human rights concerns, although prisoners in pretrial detention are not separated from convicted prisoners. Officials used isolation in a small, unlit, unventilated punishment cell, called a “reflection room,” to discipline inmates. Conditions in the women’s area were significantly better than in the men’s compound.

There were no reported cases of prison officers abusing their power. Between January and September, prison authorities investigated four cases of inmate-on-inmate assault involving “gross violence.” Because inmates were generally not willing to press criminal charges against their attackers, the prison’s internal tribunal system handled all cases. Penalties included temporary segregation or temporary suspension of privileges, depending on the severity of the assault.

Administration: The Kolbe Foundation, a local Christian nonprofit organization, administered the country’s only central prison, which houses men, women, and juveniles. The government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility.

The law authorizes inmates to complain to the Ombudsman’s Office through prison authorities, but inmates (and sometimes their family members) continued to make complaints directly to the ombudsman, who could not fully investigate complaints because of lack of resources and access to the prisoners. The prison administrator’s chief of security initially investigates allegations of mistreatment. If the investigation discovers incriminating evidence, the accused officer is disciplined. If there is evidence of officer corruption, the investigation is passed to the administrator’s intelligence officer, who further investigates the matter.

Independent Monitoring: The prison administrator permitted visits from independent human rights observers. While the prison generally operated free from government interference, the Ministry of Home Affairs monitored it on site through the Office of Controller of Prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, there were several allegations made through the media and to the police Professional Standards Branch (PSB) that the government failed to observe these requirements. In addition, due to substantial delays and a backlog of cases in the justice system, the courts did not bring some minors to trial until they reached 18 years. In such cases the defendants were tried as minors.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for oversight of police and prisons, and the Ministry of Defense is responsible for the military. Although primarily charged with external security, the Ministry of Defense also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest that are executed by its Belize Defense Force (BDF) for land and littoral areas and the Belize Coast Guard for coastal and maritime areas.

There were reports of impunity involving the security forces, including reports of police brutality and corruption (primarily extortion cases). The government often ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within their department.

The PSB investigates complaints against police. The law authorizes the police commissioner to place police personnel on suspension or interdiction. As of October the PSB received 59 formal complaints of police brutality. The PSB reported 44 officers were on interdiction or on suspension. Additionally, authorities use police investigations, coroner inquests, and the Public Prosecutions Office to evaluate allegations against police. While police officers are under investigation, they remain on active duty.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must obtain search or arrest warrants issued by a magistrate, except in cases of hot pursuit, when there is probable cause, or when the presence of a firearm is suspected. Police must inform detainees of their rights at the time of arrest and of the cause of their detention within 48 hours of arrest. Police must also bring a detainee before a magistrate to be charged officially within 48 hours. The BPD faced allegations that its members arbitrarily detained persons beyond 48 hours without charge, did not take detainees directly to a police station, and used detention as a means of intimidation.

The law requires police to follow the Judges’ Rules, a code of conduct governing police interaction with arrested persons. Although judges sometimes dismissed cases that involved violations of these rules, they more commonly deemed confessions obtained through violation of the rules to be invalid. Police usually granted detainees timely access to family members and lawyers, although there were reports of persons held in police detention without the right to contact family or seek legal advice.

By law a police officer in charge of a station or a magistrate’s court may grant bail to persons charged with minor offenses. The Supreme Court can grant bail to those charged with more serious crimes, including murder, gang activity, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and specific drug trafficking or sexual offenses. The Supreme Court reviews the bail application within 10 working days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy trial backlogs remained, particularly for serious crimes such as murder. As of September 27, there were 491 prisoners on remand at the Belize Central Prison. Problems included police delays in completing investigations, lack of evidence collection, court delays in preparing depositions, and adjournments in the courts.

Judges occasionally were slow to issue rulings, in some cases taking a year or longer. The time lag between arrest, trial, and conviction generally ranged from six months to four years and in some cases up to seven years. Pretrial detention for persons accused of murder averaged three to four years.

The Bar Association of Belize publicly insisted that the chief justice deliver judgments on 30 outstanding civil cases from 2012 to 2015 by the end of the year or tender his resignation. In response, the chief justice began delivering judgments on the pending cases on a strict timeline (at least two each for 15 weeks). In addition the Supreme Court temporarily hired an additional judge for five years to assist with the backlog of cases. In September the Supreme Court swore-in 39 new court arbitrators to assist in judgment for the backlog of cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred.

The law stipulates that nonjury trials are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated that this law protects jurors from retribution. A single Supreme Court judge hears these cases. A magistrate generally issues decisions and judgments for lesser crimes after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and standard procedure is for the defendant to be informed promptly of the charges and to be present at the trial. If the defendant is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or there are language barriers, he/she is informed of the reason of arrest at the earliest possible opportunity. Defendants have the right to defense by counsel and appeal, but the prosecution can apply for the trial to proceed if a defendant skips bail or does not appear in court.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar is responsible for appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide defendants an attorney, and defendants sometimes represented themselves. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including domestic violence and other criminal cases up to attempted murder. These legal aid services are overstretched and cannot reach rural areas or districts. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or request an adjournment, a common delay tactic. The court provides Spanish interpreters for defendants upon request. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses may submit written statements into evidence in place of court appearances. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to the failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety, as well as a lack of basic forensic capability in the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including the Supreme Court. Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s highest appellate court. Individuals can also present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In 2015 and 2016, the government agreed to compensation packages with Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) and Belize Electricity Limited related to the nationalization of both companies in 2009 and 2011, respectively. The government continued to make payments to the former owner of BTL. In November the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the final payment of US $78 million should be made to the previous owners of the company by November 10. The government paid by the deadline.

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

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

Costa Rica

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The Ombudsman’s Office received 132 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatment during the first six months of the year. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 30 percent, according to official statistics dated June. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons and drug abuse was common. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 61 complaints of deficient conditions in prisons, including the migrant detention centers, during the first six months of the year. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

The San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Limon, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most of these prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 705 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 556.

The detention center for undocumented migrants in Hatillo, a suburb of San Jose, was poorly ventilated, at times overcrowded, and it had no recreation area. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 21 deaths in closed regime centers from January to August. Three of these deaths were homicides and four were suicides; the remainder were from natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. If complaints were not processed, prisoners could submit them to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level. The Ombudsman’s Office, through the national prevention mechanism against torture, periodically inspected all detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers, including representatives from the Ombudsman’s Office. Human rights observers could speak to prisoners and prison employees in confidence and without the presence of prison staff or other third parties.

Improvements: In February prison authorities began providing some convicted prisoners with electronic ankle-monitoring devices. In June the Ministry of Justice inaugurated two new prison modules in San Rafael and Perez Zeledon, adding capacity for 640 and 256 inmates, respectively, which allow inmates to take part in activities including studying, working, and social rehabilitation. During the year the Ministry of Justice implemented some remodeling and other measures to reduce overcrowding at the San Sebastian prison, after a judge issued a resolution in 2016 ordering authorities to close the prison over a period of 18 months unless improvements were made.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office of the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. The number of licensed private security services was significantly greater than the number of police (28,321 agents compared to 14,035 uniformed police officers). There were no reports of impunity involving the private security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for up to one year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to two years in especially complex cases. The law requires a court review every three months of cases of suspects in pretrial detention to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. If a judge declares a case is related to organized crime, special procedural rules require that the period of pretrial detention not exceed 24 months (although the court of appeals may grant one extension not to exceed an additional 12 months). Authorities frequently used pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of June 30, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 16 percent of the prison population. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The legal system faced many challenges, including significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner, or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal. Fast-track courts, which prosecute cases when suspects are arrested on the spot for alleged transgressions, provide the same protections and rights as other courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

El Salvador

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

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

During the year there were no verified reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in unlawful killings. As of August 31, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) announced that it was investigating 13 complaints against police and four against the armed forces for unlawful killings. As of September 7, the PDDH announced it had received at least 20 complaints of alleged unlawful killings committed by 40 security or military officials. According to the National Civil Police (PNC), as of October 6, state security forces killed 337 gang members during armed confrontations, compared with 603 in 2016. As of September 30, gang members had killed two police officers and one soldier during armed confrontations and another 37 police and 25 members of the military in targeted assassinations. As of August, the Internal Affairs Unit of the PNC reported that 38 PNC officers faced charges of homicide: 17 for aggravated homicide, one for femicide, 17 for homicide, and three for attempted homicide.

On August 29, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed it was investigating four Special Reaction Force (FES) police officers who were arrested on August 24 following the August 22 publication by Factum magazine of allegations that FES officers were involved in the unlawful killing of three persons, two sexual assaults, and at least one act of extortion. On August 25, the officers were released because the 72-hour holding period had expired. They were put on administrative leave but returned to active duty on September 12.

On September 11, the PNC confirmed the arrest of nine police officers charged with aggravated homicide and concealment stemming from the alleged cover-up of the killing of five persons in Villas de Zaragoza in February 2016. Three of the accused were members of the Police Reaction Group (GRP), and police claimed at the time of the events that the deaths were justified homicides. As of October 13, five of the accused remained in custody, and one sub inspector was released on bail and was awaiting trial. On July 14, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it conducted a re-enactment of the shooting in conjunction with the PNC’s Internal Affairs Unit. Laboratory results were pending.

On September 22, five police officers were acquitted of aggravated homicide charges in the 2015 killing of a man at a farm in San Blas, San Jose Villanueva. The judge ruled that the prosecutors failed to prove which of the five officers was specifically responsible for firing the fatal shot and likewise failed to prove conspiracy. The presiding judge redacted the names of the accused, but on August 30, the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that all were members of the elite GRP. The acquittal took place a day after the son-in-law of the primary witness in the case was killed, which led the attorney general to offer to relocate the family, but the Witness Protection Program could provide the services only to four of the 12 family members. As of October, a police investigation by the PNC Internal Affairs Unit continued.

On August 15, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it was awaiting laboratory results on ballistics from weapons used by soldiers in the 2015 Los Pajales case, which involved the close-range killing of four unarmed gang members.

On July 14, the Attorney General’s Office reported that the Internal Affairs Unit was investigating the 2015 killing of four alleged gang members at the La Paz Farm in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan. On October 11, the PNC submitted their findings to the Attorney General’s Office for evaluation.

On June 20, as a result of a two-year criminal investigation, four police officers, 10 soldiers, and two former members of the military were arrested for their participation in at least eight homicides as part of an alleged extermination group operating in San Miguel. The group was purportedly responsible for murder-for-hire and targeted killings of alleged gang members in San Miguel and was composed of civilians, some of whom were alleged rival gang members, and retired and active members of the military and police. The June detentions followed the arrest of five police officers and five civilians for their participation in the San Miguel extermination group in 2016. Funding for the extermination group reportedly came from citizens living abroad. As of October 13, a preliminary evidentiary hearing was pending.

As of October the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice had received five complaints of extrajudicial killings against police. On July 26, the Public Opinion Institute of the University of Central America (IUDOP) reported that, while six of 10 citizens believed that authorities should respect rule of law, 40 percent approved of the use of torture for dealing with gang members, 35 percent approved of extrajudicial executions, and 17 percent approved of social cleansing.

b. Disappearance

There were reports alleging that members of the armed forces have been involved in unlawful disappearances. In July 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and the criminal court in the municipality of Armenia, in the department of Sonsonate, ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed with the case in which three men went missing after six soldiers arrested them in 2014 in Armenia. In November 2016, the trial chamber acquitted the defendants due to a lack of evidence that the accused forced or restrained the victims. Immediately after the acquittal, the PDDH began an investigation into the acquittal. On January 16, following an appeal by the NGOs Legal Studies Foundation and the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court held that the Armenia case amounted to forced disappearance, and the PNC’s Central Investigations Division took ownership of the case. On April 20, following pressure from civil society, the Attorney General’s Office reopened the case against the six soldiers. On May 15, the Sonsonate trial court convicted five soldiers of forced disappearance and sentenced them to eight years’ imprisonment. Defense attorneys for the convicted soldiers filed an appeal with the Appellate Court for the Western District. On August 15, the Supreme Court ordered the military to provide its report on the civilian deaths to the Attorney General’s Office, but as of October 30, it had not been sent.

On September 27, President Sanchez Ceren launched the National Commission for the Search of Adults Disappeared in the Context of the Armed Conflict to find persons who were disappeared during the civil war and reunite them with their families or return their remains. The commission is to be headed by three commissioners and housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Two of the commissioners are to be appointed by civil society and one by the president. The commission’s budget will not fall under the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it has not been earmarked from another part of the national budget. The ministry estimated that for its first year, the commission requires a budget of $250,000, which the commissioners will be responsible for raising.

As of August 30, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Association for the Search for Missing Children (Pro-Busqueda) received 10 new complaints regarding children who disappeared during the 1980-92 civil war. Pro-Busqueda also reported that it was investigating 979 open cases, had solved 435 cases, and determined that, in 17 percent of solved cases, the child had died. According to Pro-Busqueda, between 20,000 to 30,000 children were adopted during the civil war, many of whom were forcibly disappeared.

As of August, according to the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice, one complaint of forced disappearance was filed against the PNC. As of September 7, the attorney general had opened investigations into 12 instances of forced disappearance during the 1980-92 civil war.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were multiple reports of violations. The PDDH received 29 complaints of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the PNC, the armed forces, and other public officials. The PNC reported that, as of August, some 20 complaints had been filed against police officials for torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As of October the Ministry of Public Security and Justice’s Office of the Inspector General reported 29 complaints against police officers for alleged cruel treatment.

NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Persons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community stated that the agencies in charge of processing identification documents, the PNC, and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they applied for identification cards or reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons. The LGBTI community reported authorities harassed LGBTI persons by conducting strip searches and questioning their gender in a degrading manner. The government responded to these claims primarily through a PDDH report on hate crimes against the LGBTI community that publicized cases of violence and discrimination against sexual minorities and specifically mentioned three killings of transgender women in February, although their murders were tied to gang activity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a serious threat to prisoners’ health and lives. As of June 30, the think tank Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) reported 38,386 inmates were being held in facilities designed for 11,478 inmates. This is an increase in capacity from 9,732 inmates in 2016.

As of September 21, the prison population included 25,849 convicted inmates and 12,851 inmates in pretrial detention. Convicted inmates and pretrial detainees were sometimes held in the same prisons and cells. The Salvadoran Institute for Child Development (ISNA) also reported that, as of July, there were 1,155 convicted juveniles incarcerated in its facilities, 211 of whom were awaiting trial. Among those in ISNA facilities, 320 were incarcerated on homicide charges, 254 on extortion charges, 156 on drug-related charges, and 143 were incarcerated for belonging to a criminal association or gang. The ISNA reported that 4 percent of minors spent more than 72 hours in initial detention. As of July the ISNA reported that two adolescents had been killed in juvenile detention facilities, allegedly by fellow gang members.

In many facilities, provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting were inadequate. On July 3, the PDDH published a report on the so-called extraordinary measures implemented in prisons since April 2016, some of which allegedly led to abuse of the right to life and the right to health of inmates. The extraordinary measures affected 14,213 inmates housed in seven prisons: Izalco, Izalcon III, Quezaltepeque, Chalatenango, Ciudad Barrios, Gotera, and Zacatecoluca penitentiaries. These measures included preventing communication between inmate gang leaders and members outside of prison, suspending all private communication and contact with inmates’ families, limiting inmates’ access to lawyers, and detaining and isolating known gang leaders in higher security prisons. Inmates were also potentially restricted to their overcrowded prison cells for most hours of the day, allowing diseases to spread more easily. The PDDH report highlighted that tuberculosis cases increased by 400 percent in the prisons system after the implementation of the extraordinary measures. The Prisons Directorate reported that, as of August, there were 892 prisoners infected with tuberculosis, and 19 had died of the disease. The PDDH mediated 2,000 cases related to prison conditions and noted that in 2016 a total of 47 inmates died, some of them due to unspecified reasons.

On August 22, Vice Minister of Health Julio Robles Ticas announced the creation of an interinstitutional committee for combating infectious and contagious diseases inside prisons and police detention cells. This followed an August 18 statement by Security Minister Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde that there were tuberculosis outbreaks at the Izalco, La Esperanza (known as Mariona), Sonsonate, and San Vicente prisons, mostly due to overcrowding. In September the PNC reported that due to prison overcrowding, there were 5,527 detainees in small detention centers at police stations, which had a combined capacity of 2,102 persons. In pretrial detention, there was no separation of sick and healthy detainees. In May 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the systematic violation of basic human rights by prison overcrowding, citing the government for violating prisoners’ right to health, and ordered periodic visits by the Ministry of Health. The court ordered prison authorities to build new prisons and to remodel others to shelter inmates humanely and the judicial system to review the inmate rosters with the aim of reducing the number of prisoners.

Gang presence in prisons remained high. As of September 21, detention center facilities held 17,614 inmates who were current or former gang members, approximately 46 percent of the total prison population. Despite the extraordinary measures, prisoners conducted criminal activities from their cells, at times with the complicity of prison guards and officials. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband such as cell phones and cell phone SIM cards was a major problem in the prisons.

On May 29, Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez was arrested for the alleged mismanagement of two million dollars during the 2012-13 gang truce. Hernandez allegedly used funds from prison commissary shops to fund bonuses, overtime, and vacations; give loans to prison employees; and pay the salary of gang-truce mediator Raul Mijango, which was supposed to come from the Ministry of Defense. On August 29, Hernandez, among others, was acquitted on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove individual responsibility for the alleged crimes. On October 5, the attorney general appealed.

As of September 21, prison authorities removed 11 guards from duty for carrying illegal objects. The Prisons Directorate reported that no data was collected on the exact number of guards sanctioned over the year for misconduct or complaints regarding human rights violations. As of August, the PDDH had received three complaints of human rights violations by prison personnel.

There was no information available regarding abuse of persons with disabilities in prisons, although the government’s National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disabilities (CONAIPD) previously reported isolated incidents, including sexual abuse.

Administration: The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has authority over the protection of constitutional rights. Under the extraordinary measures implemented in April 2016 and renewed in February until April 2018, inmates in the affected prisons were under restrictive conditions and could not receive visitors, including religious observance visitors such as priests.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, NGOs, and the media, except to those prisons covered by the extraordinary measures. The PDDH continued to monitor all prisons. Church groups, the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America, LGBTI activists, and other groups visited prisons during the year. After the implementation of the extraordinary measures, which restricted monitoring of the prisons subject to the measures, the International Committee for the Red Cross suspended all prison visits until visitation was restored in the prisons subject to the extraordinary measures.

Improvements: In February prison Izalco II opened with the aim of relieving overcrowding in the prisons covered under the extraordinary measures. As of August a total of 2,017 inmates were housed in the new facility after being transferred from other prisons. On October 4, a new detention facility in Zacatecoluca was inaugurated with a capacity of 1,008 minimum-security general population inmates. On November 27, the new La Esperanza Detention Center opened in Ayutuxtepeque, in the department of San Salvador, housing 275 inmates with short prison terms transferred from other prisons. According to the Prisons Directorate, the facility was built to house 3,000 minimum security prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were numerous complaints that the PNC and military forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. As of August the PDDH had received 86 complaints of arbitrary detention by police, the military, or other government officials. NGOs reported that the PNC arbitrarily arrested and detained groups of persons on suspicion of gang affiliation. According to these NGOs, the accused were ostracized by their communities upon their return.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed this provision.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security, and the Ministry of Defense is responsible for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” In 2016 President Sanchez Ceren renewed the decree authorizing military involvement in police duties through the end of the 2017, a presidential order that has been in place since 1996.

The three quick-reaction military battalions created in 2015 to support PNC operations, and whose troops have arrest and detention authority, continued to operate. The military is responsible for securing international borders and conducting joint patrols with the PNC. On September 18, the government launched the Volcano Task Force, intended to temporarily expand the military’s presence in San Salvador by transferring 320 members of the armed forces already assigned to support police functions to the capital city’s police precinct and installing military lookouts in multiple points throughout the city. Military vehicles, including tanks, were deployed throughout residential areas around San Salvador. There was an increase in security checkpoints and random searches of public buses.

There were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Inadequate training, failure to implement the administrative police career law, arbitrary promotions, insufficient government funding, failure to enforce evidentiary rules effectively, and instances of corruption and other crimes limited the PNC’s effectiveness. The PDDH is authorized to investigate (but not prosecute) human rights abuses and refers all cases involving human rights abuses to the Attorney General’s Office.

On July 3, a PDDH report stated that the number of complaints against police and soldiers increased during the months of April and May 2016, immediately following the implementation of the extraordinary measures. Most of these allegations were for extralegal executions, threats, mistreatment, torture, illegal detention, and intimidation. According to the NGO Passionist Social Service Observatory (SSPAS), a Catholic organization that operates primarily as a human rights observer, the number of police and military personnel accused of homicide increased from 49 police officers and 10 soldiers in 2014 to 357 police officers and 72 military personnel in 2016. The IUDOP characterized the homicide events as police negligence. On July 26, the IUDOP reported that 88 percent of citizens did not report direct abuse by police officers. Reports of abuse and police misconduct were more often from residents of the metropolitan area of San Salvador and mostly from men and young persons. The attorney general reported that the number of police officers accused of homicide had increased over the previous three years. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 500 police officers were charged with homicide.

As of October, the Office of the Inspector General received 29 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment–199 for physical abuse, 100 for illegal searches, 11 for violence against women (including rape and sexual abuse), and five for extrajudicial killing. The Inspector General’s Office referred 18 of the cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal charges and nine to the Internal Affairs Unit of the PNC.

On August 31, the PDDH released its annual findings on the status of human rights, which stated that it received 363 complaints of human rights violations by public officials, 331 of which were reportedly committed by the PNC and the military.

In response to an alleged rise in extrajudicial killings, in 2016 the PNC launched a newly organized internal investigative office, the Secretariat for Professional Responsibility. The body was composed of an Internal Affairs Unit to investigate criminal complaints against police officers, a Disciplinary Unit to investigate administrative violations, and a Control Unit to enforce internal affairs procedures and support investigations as required.

As of September 11, according to PNC director Howard Cotto, 559 members of the PNC had been arrested for crimes including membership in extermination groups. As of October, the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice reported that the disciplinary board had sanctioned 753 police officers, 136 of whom were dismissed. On May 5, the Minister of Defense reported that between 2010 and 2017, the army removed 660 soldiers from its ranks due to alleged ties to gang members.

The Inspector General and the Ministry of Defense Human Rights Office reported that most PNC officers, police academy cadets, and all military personnel had received human rights awareness training, including training by the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women, the Human Rights Institute of the University of Central America, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.

Police officers, soldiers, and their families faced security threats as targets of gang homicides and kidnappings. As of October 30, a total of 39 police officers, 37 of whom were off duty, and 26 soldiers had been killed. Prisons Director Marco Tulio Lima announced that, as of October 12, three prison guards had been killed. An increased perception of danger to the police coincided with increased public support for police officers. According to a September Prensa Grafica poll, 56 percent of citizens had a positive opinion of the PNC. In February the IUDOP reported that support for the police had increased over the previous year, with 63 percent of the public agreeing that police were more effective compared with the previous year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime. Authorities apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. Detainees normally had access to counsel of their choice or to an attorney provided by the state. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court, after which the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case. In exceptionally complicated cases, the prosecutor may ask an appeals court to extend the deadline for three or six months, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August 31, the PDDH reported 86 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention during the year, compared with 62 in all of 2016.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of June 30, 33 percent of the general prison population was in pretrial detention. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages caused trial delays. Because it could take several years for a case to come to trial, some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances, detainees may request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

On January 9, two police officers detained Daniel Aleman for carrying one pound of marijuana. None of the 30 witnesses to the arrest saw the marijuana, and his defense attorney noted that the arrest was based solely on the accusations of the two police officers. On March 16, the PDDH determined that the police illegally detained Aleman by fraudulently placing illegal drugs on him in order to file charges against him. On May 16, the Ilopango Court of Instruction voided the drugs case against Aleman. He remained under investigation in a separate extortion case.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency and corruption. The Solicitor’s Office, responsible for public defenders, the Attorney General’s Office, and the PDDH suffered from insufficient resources.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies, such as the Ministry of Defense, repeatedly failed to cooperate with investigations by the Attorney General’s Office and judges. The Legislative Assembly also did not always comply with Supreme Court rulings. As of October 30, the Legislative Assembly had not complied with a 2015 ruling that it issue regulations to clarify certain sections of the Political Parties Law regarding campaign contributions.

Intimidation of judges, including Supreme Court members, continued to occur. Two legislators participated in demonstrations critical of judges, especially the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices increased their personal security as a result. On October 23, a member of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) political party threated to sue members of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court for perceived abuse of power. On August 17, the Council of Ministries, a part of the executive branch, issued a public statement against the Constitutional Chamber that declared the 2017 budget unconstitutional. On May 11, an estimated 300 persons marched to the Supreme Court to protest against the Constitutional Court following an injunction that ended the use of segregated lanes of the Metropolitan Area Integrated Transportation System of San Salvador (SITRAMSS). Unlike with most protests, police officers did not set up barricades to stop them from moving to the main gate of the court; demonstrators reached the main gate and damaged it. El Mundo newspaper noted that despite verbal threats against the justices during the protest and damage to public property, the PNC did not intervene.

Corruption in the judicial system contributed to a high level of impunity, undermining the rule of law and the public’s respect for the judiciary. As of July 31, the Supreme Court heard 148 cases against judges due to irregularities, 117 of which remained under review; removed six judges; suspended 19 others; and brought formal charges against 28 judges. Accusations against judges included collusion with criminal elements and sexual harassment.

In July 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court struck down the 1993 Amnesty Law on the grounds that it violated citizens’ constitutional right to justice and the right to compensation for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The law provided blanket protection against criminal prosecution and civil penalties for crimes committed during the country’s civil war (1980-92), and the court’s ruling held that the Legislative Assembly did not have authority to grant an absolute amnesty. On July 19, the Constitutional Chamber held a follow-up hearing on the progress made by different sectors of the government to comply with the recommendations made by the court, such as issuing a law to guarantee a democratic transition that respects human rights and interagency coordination between the executive and the attorney general to improve judicial accountability for gross violations of human rights committed during the civil war. As of October 30, the Legislative Assembly had not debated or passed legislation pertaining to reparations or reconciliation, and the executive had not granted sufficient funds to the attorney general to prosecute civil war cases.

On August 21, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court published its August 18 ruling against enforcing an arrest warrant for 13 former members of the military accused of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The court noted that it had denied multiple extradition requests from Spain on the Jesuit case, and therefore it would not issue additional arrest warrants based on Spain’s Interpol Red Notice, as the arrests would not lead to extraditions. On April 6, the First Appellate Criminal Court of San Salvador upheld the 30-year sentence against former colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno for his role in the 1989 murders, and he was the sole individual in prison for the crimes. Lieutenant Yusshy Rene Mendoza Vallecillos was sentenced to 30 years for the murder of the priests’ housekeeper’s daughter in the original 1991 trial. Mendoza was not arrested along with Benavides and his whereabouts were unknown, although he was believed to be out of the country.

On June 2, the attorney general issued arrest warrants for three ex-guerrilla members of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) allegedly responsible for the 1981 deaths of two foreign citizens–Lieutenant Colonel David H. Pickett and an aviation technician, Private First Class Earnest G. Dawson Jr.–killed in Lolotique, San Miguel, after their helicopter was shot down. The warrants followed the February 14 reopening by the Attorney General’s Office of the investigation into their killing after a petition from the right-leaning NGO Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador Alliance. Two of the guerrilla members, Ferman Hernandez Arevalo (alias Porfirio) and Ceveriano Fuentes (alias Aparicio), served time in prison but were released after the passage of the 1993 Amnesty Law. A third former guerilla member suspected of involvement in the killing, Santos Guevara Portillo (alias Dominguez), was never arrested. As of August 30, the three defendants had not been arrested.

In September 2016, in response to a petition by the victims, a judge issued an order to reopen the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which an estimated 800 persons were killed during the military’s Operation Rescue. On March 29-30, Judge Guzman held hearings to inform 20 accused former military officials of the charges against them. Two of the accused were deceased, and 12 of the remaining 18 attended the hearing. Eleven other defendants had died since the case was initiated in 1991 by Tutela Legal, a human rights defense organization formerly housed in the Institute for Human Rights at the University of Central America. The hearings marked the first time the defendants were summoned before a judicial body to face accusations for crimes committed during the massacre. On June 9, the prosecution called on 11 witnesses to provide testimony in the trial regarding events that occurred between December 11 and 13, 1981. Witness testimony continued into September and October. On October 19, former general Juan Rafael Bustillo, the accused intellectual author of the massacre, appeared before the court to hear the charges against him. The Ministry of Defense did not provide information requested by the presiding judge or prosecution and claimed that all records of Operation Rescue had been destroyed or never existed, including the names of the soldiers who participated in the operation and their commanding officers. David Morales, representative of the victims, asked the attorney general to investigate the steps taken by the Ministry of Defense that led to their conclusion that it had no information on Operation Rescue. On October 25, the Technical Secretariat stated that between 2013 and 2017, the state paid $1.8 million in restitution to survivors and the families of victims of the El Mozote massacre, of which 1,651 were identified.

Civil society advocates expressed concern that pregnant women were falsely accused and experienced wrongful incarceration in cases where the woman may have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth but was wrongfully charged with homicide under the law banning abortion in all cases. On December 15, San Salvador’s Second Court of Judgment denied the appeal of Teodora del Carmen Vasquez and upheld her 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide over what she claimed was a stillbirth.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political and economic influence. Although procedures call for juries to try certain crimes, including environmental pollution and certain misdemeanors, judges decided most cases. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints, to which the law does not assign judges. In these cases, after the jury determines innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence.

Defendants have the right to be present in court, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay, protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to confront adverse witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, the right to appeal, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent. The judiciary introduced trials by video conference and other technology-based solutions to courtrooms in an effort to combat trial backlogs and improve trial procedures.

In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter if the defendant does not understand Spanish. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case.

As of August 31, the PDDH had received 16 complaints of coercion and 68 complaints of intimidation by the PNC, the armed forces, and other public officials during criminal investigations or trial procedures.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s Executive Technical Unit provided witness protection services to victims and witnesses. Some judges denied anonymity to witnesses at trial, and gang intimidation and violence against witnesses contributed to a climate of impunity from criminal prosecution. According to PNC director Howard Cotto, as of August 30, there were 55 individuals under witness protection.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to the courts, enabling litigants to bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for, as well as cessation of, human rights violations. Domestic court orders generally were enforced. Most attorneys pursued criminal prosecution and later requested civil compensation.

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

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

On July 5, the president of FUSADES stated that according to experts, unknown persons had illegally wiretapped the foundation’s telephone lines.

In many neighborhoods, armed groups and gangs targeted certain persons, interfered with privacy, family, and home life, and created a climate of fear. Efforts by authorities to remedy these situations were generally ineffective.

Guatemala

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide.

On August 16, Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang members entered one of the largest public hospitals and killed five civilian bystanders and two prison guards. The assailants freed a fellow gang member who was being treated at the hospital. The PNC arrested five suspects and the Public Ministry linked four to the case, which was under investigation at year’s end.

The case regarding the 2015 killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez was in the intermediary pretrial phase at year’s end. In 2016 authorities arrested 13 members of the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing.

In January 2016 the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial killings during the 1960-96 internal armed conflict. The charges were based on the discovery of mass graves in Coban, Alta Verapa, at the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ), formerly the Military Zone 2 base during the conflict. Known as the CREOMPAZ case, it was assigned to a special high-risk court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. In 2016 the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial, but the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial was pending resolution of the various appeals by the Public Ministry, joint complainants in the case, and defense lawyers. In March the Supreme Court ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Edgar Ovalle, one of the suspects in the case. Ovalle disappeared before authorities were able to arrest him and remained a fugitive at year’s end.

On October 13, two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court later overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to be retried. In 2015 a high-risk court determined Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered the trial be held behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled any verdict could be used only to determine reparations to the victims and that Rios Montt could not be sentenced to prison. In May the Center for Human Rights Legal Action filed a complaint against former constitutional court magistrates for breach of legal duty after obtaining videos of their deliberations during the decision to annul Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. At year’s end the Public Ministry had not moved the case forward for an initial hearing.

In 2016 a high-risk court dismissed a motion in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre case by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case remained in the intermediary pretrial phase, and a date for the next hearing had not been set by year’s end.

As of August the government had paid approximately 23.9 million quetzales ($3.26 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The government also appropriated 121.3 million quetzales ($16.5 million) for collective reparations, which government authorities believed could be delayed until early 2018 due to the fact the proposed community projects were undergoing feasibility studies. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay 1.15 billion quetzales ($156 million) over 15 years in individual and community reparations.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports during the year of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. In 2016, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. The Attorney General’s Office presented additional charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. In July the final phase of the preliminary hearings concluded. The trial date for the case was set for March 2018.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

On September 18, trial proceedings began for PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of August 25, according to the prison system registry, there were 22,660 inmates, including 2,240 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through August 25, at least 13 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In 2016 prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain charged with the murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, was killed along with 13 others in the Pavon prison. On August 2, the PNC arrested six suspects. On November 23, a judge indicted 17 individuals arrested in the case. At year’s end the Public Ministry, with CICIG support, moved the case forward to preliminary hearings.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children under age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups stated that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. The Ministry of Government approved initial admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners in 2015. NGOs claimed, however, the protocols were not being implemented and noted particular concern regarding admittance procedures for transgender individuals. Frequent leadership turnover in the prison system exacerbated these problems. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to nonviolent juvenile offenders being held with violent adult offenders. On July 3 and July 24, riots occurred at the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility, resulting in injuries to dozens of prisoners. The riots were sparked by the killing of two inmates. The facility received citations in 2016 for housing 460 inmates in a facility designed for 250 and for dangerous and inhuman conditions.

Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of NOPT rapporteurs by more than six months, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

Improvements: During the year authorities implemented a correctional model to address corruption and overcrowding as well as the lack of personnel, equipment, and infrastructure in the penitentiary system. The model provided opportunities for the rehabilitation, education, and social reintegration of inmates and improved recruitment, selection, and training of staff. In March the first model correction center opened; it housed 63 female inmates by year’s end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. At times the PNC struggled to deploy its resources effectively across the country.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 210 police officials from January through September, compared with 376 in all of 2016. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. The commission’s infrastructure unit provided design support for the establishment of model police precincts throughout the country.

The ORP reported that from January through August, there were 17 complaints of police extortion and 290 for abuse of authority, compared with 747 and 206, respectively, in all of 2016, according to the Public Ministry’s Strategic Planning Office. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. For example, security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

In September, Guilber Josue Barrios, a soldier who allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense in March 2016, was captured in Mexico. On October 9, he was indicted.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,222 complaints alleging misconduct by police.

All new PNC and soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense increased its Human Rights Directorate personnel from eight to 13 staff members and incorporated a gender integration unit.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pre-trial detentions, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 25, prison system records indicated 50.6 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pre-trial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 129 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 192 through September 2016.

The CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to pursue the suspension of judges and conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. From January through October 6, the Judicial Disciplinary Board investigated 573 complaints against judges of wrongdoing, held hearings on 105 complaints, and applied sanctions in 20 cases. During the same period, the Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,167 complaints of wrongdoing against technicians and judiciary administrative staff, held hearings on 519 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In September 2016 President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case was under investigation by the Public Ministry. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry. Melgar was not charged, however, and continued to serve in congress.

Honduras

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 several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings. The Violence Observatory of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported 11 deaths involving security forces during the first six months of the year. These included nine deaths involving the Honduran National Police (HNP) and two involving the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP). Following the November 26 elections, protests, looting, and clashes between protesters and security forces occurred through the end of the year. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed security forces used excessive force to break up protests and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Additional deaths were reported not at the hands of security forces but possibly related to postelectoral violence. An improvised explosive device killed at least one police officer during the violence. Authorities publicly stated they would investigate alleged human rights abuses and hold accountable members of the security forces who committed such abuses. They were also investigating individuals not part of the security forces for acts of violence and other criminal activity.

On February 20, authorities arrested Lelis Wilfredo Aguilar Fernandez, an HNP officer assigned to the Police Intelligence Unit, for the February 20 killing of Josue Matias Deras. Witnesses claimed that Aguilar shot Matias in the back at close range during a search operation and then planted a weapon at the crime scene in an attempt to claim the killing occurred in self-defense. On February 24, a judge ordered Aguilar held in custody pending trial.

The government continued to investigate the March 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On January 12, a seventh suspect was arrested in Mexico in a joint operation between Honduran and Mexican officials and returned to Honduras. On February 8, Honduran authorities arrested an eighth suspect. On June 13, a judge found sufficient evidence against the first four suspects, arrested in May 2016, to retain them in custody and continue to criminal trial. This included a suspect who was an active-duty military officer at the time of the killing. On November 20, authorities arrested one current and one former Honduran National Police officer for tampering with evidence in the case.

On February 28, a court convicted military intelligence officers Elmer Eliazar Mejia Aguilar and Jose Luis Melgar Deras, members of the Office of the Director General for Military Intelligence (C-2), of the 2014 premediated killings of siblings Ramon Eduardo Diaz Rodriguez and Zenia Maritza Diaz Rodriguez. A judge ordered two other suspects on trial released.

On February 13, prosecutors and investigators from the Public Ministry and its Technical Criminal Investigation Agency arrested Wilmer Samuel Alvarez Pagoada as a suspect in the 2013 killing of chief money-laundering prosecutor Orlan Arturo Chavez. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant for former police commissioner Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas on suspicion of organizing the killing. In 2013 two men on motorcycles fatally shot Chavez. Alvarez, a lawyer and computer expert, and Luis Alejandro Castro Nunez, formerly chief of security monitoring for the Supreme Court and a member of the military, were the suspected shooters. Castro was already in prison on other charges. The Police Purge Commission removed Mejia from the police in 2016. He surrendered to foreign authorities in 2016 for drug trafficking and was on trial in a foreign country. A judge ordered Castro and Alvarez detained in a maximum-security prison pending trial.

On September 8, a court sentenced Marvin Noe Andino Mascareno to 17 years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder of Hilda Emperatriz Caldera, widow of murdered antidrug official Alfredo Landaverde. Andino was sentenced in January 2016 to 22 years in prison for Landaverde’s murder. Caldera was wounded in that attack, which occurred in 2011, but attempted murder charges against Andino were dismissed by the trial court. The Public Ministry appealed the dismissal, which the Supreme Court overturned, and the attempted murder case was returned to the lower court.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. Beginning on August 27, several agricultural worker groups occupied at least seven African palm plantations in the Bajo Aguan region. During the occupations one worker was reportedly shot and injured by a plantation security guard. Following the eviction on August 28 of a worker group from a plantation owned by the Dinant Corporation, two Dinant security guards were found dead. An agricultural worker was found killed on September 20. Two security guards were detained for possible involvement in the killing but were released following forensic tests. Authorities carried out several peaceful evictions of agricultural workers in August and September. As of September 25, authorities continued to investigate the new killings. Denis Ramon Mejia Castillo was arrested in September for the killings of Manuel Milla Ruiz and Allan Reynery Perez in 2016. No members of the security forces were reported to have been responsible for deaths related to the land conflict.

Organized criminal elements, including drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported that as of September, 84 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed during the year, often for failing to make extortion payments. This represented a 52 percent reduction from 2016.

According to the UNAH Violence Observatory, as of September there was a significant reduction in the overall annual homicide rate compared with 2016, dropping from approximately 60 per 100,000 to an estimated 46.5 per 100,000. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

As of November the Public Ministry’s Bajo Aguan Task Force (created in 2014 to investigate cold homicide cases related to land conflicts), had obtained five convictions and four new arrest warrants, made five arrests, and referred six new cases for prosecution. The task force performed 20 exhumations. Since its inception, the task force obtained 44 arrest warrants, made 23 arrests for homicides related to the land conflict, and secured 11 homicide convictions.

b. Disappearance

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

The government continued to make significant advances in combatting kidnappings by criminals. On September 23, authorities rescued journalist and opposition Liberal Party political candidate Victor Manuel Pineda, whose family reported him kidnapped on September 4. The HNP reported 22 kidnappings in 2016, a 45-percent decrease from 2015 and 76-percent decrease from 2013. The HNP reported that in 2016 it rescued 18 victims of the 22 kidnapped. Three more were freed through negotiations, and one was killed while a hostage. The HNP estimated that it prevented more than 56 million lempiras ($2.37 million) in ransom payments to kidnappers in 2016.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. As of September the NGO Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) reported one complaint against security forces for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that, as of August 21, the total prison population was 18,950 in 27 prisons, a 10-percent increase over August 2016. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates. This included two prisons that were opened in late 2016 with capacity for 1,600 inmates. In October and November, the government closed the San Pedro Sula prison and the Santa Barbara prison, two of the most overcrowded facilities and both located in city centers, and transferred the inmates to other facilities. Family members and NGOs complained that transfer to prisons farther away increased cost of visits and made it more difficult for prisoners to maintain family relationships. Local authorities were concerned about additional overcrowding and limited rehabilitation resources.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 28, 23 male inmates had died in prison, 16 from natural causes, and seven from violence. The INP reported no deaths involving prison officials. In contrast, the quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness. In August and September, authorities discovered clandestine graveyards in the Tamara prison in areas controlled by MS-13 gang members following the transfer of gang leaders to a new high-security prison. Forensic authorities reported that some of the bodies had been buried more than four years.

As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 49 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located at the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases, but neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.

Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious abuse. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical well-being of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel.

There was pervasive gang-related violence, and the government failed to control criminal activity within the prisons. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

The government took steps to control violence by transferring the highest-security detainees–primarily gang members and violent convicts–to two newer maximum-security prisons. High-security detainees complained that authorities confined them to their cells for long periods and restricted their access to family members and legal representation.

The government held approximately one-half of its estimated 355 female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to age three could stay with their mothers in prison.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. On September 21, officials reported that 201 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis, including three inmates with drug-resistant tuberculosis under treatment at the national cardio-pulmonology institute. The officials also stated that tuberculosis-positive inmates received a monthly stipend to pay for special food. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

As of August the NGO Casa Alianza reported there were 574 minors (506 boys and 68 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. This represented a 16-percent increase from 2016. NGOs expressed their concern that 45 minors, all of whom were gang members, were housed in the HNP COBRAS pretrial detention center. Casa Alianza reported 259 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system (see section 6, Institutionalized Children). On June 1, one youth died due to injuries from a fire following a riot on May 23. On July 3, a 23-year-old prisoner was killed by fellow inmates after passing himself off as a minor. Civil society reported difficulty accessing some youth detention centers due to confrontations between inmates and authorities.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) also accepted complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. As of August the INP reported receiving no formal complaints for mistreatment of detainees. The Public Ministry reported receiving 22 complaints of excessive force, two for mistreatment, and four for torture by prison officials. The ministry conducted 36 investigations in 2016 and 16 as of September. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (see also section 1.c.).

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August. The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and guaranteeing the rights of prisoners.

Improvements: In January the congress passed legal reforms to the INP in an effort to professionalize the prison guard system. On September 27, the congress passed a law to allow some nonviolent pretrial detainees to use electronic monitoring systems to reduce the overcrowding of prisons. The government reported refurbishing six existing penal facilities, including maintenance and improvements to kitchens, libraries, workshops, and administrative facilities.

During the year the government improved health services for prisoners. As of August the government had 18 general practitioners, seven specialists, 49 nurses, and a budget of 54 million lempiras ($2.29 million) to provide health services in prisons. In addition CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers, available to assist prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively and used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest. CONADEH reported 12 cases of arbitrary arrest as of September. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras reported 23 illegal or arbitrary arrests: five by the PMOP, 13 by the HNP, and five by municipal police.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. The Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations at the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s Office) has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. Some larger cities have independent police forces that supplement the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of August the PMOP had approximately 4,000 personnel organized into eight of 10 planned battalions and was present in all 18 departments. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The government took steps to investigate and punish abuses, but corruption and inefficiency resulted in impunity in many cases. The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigated allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces reported that in 2016 more than 7,000 members of the armed forces, including army, navy, air force, PMOP, and others, received training on human rights and use of force. More than 3,000 received gender training. The armed forces and various NGOs provided the training. As of August the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Justice had trained more than 3,500 members of the armed forces on human rights.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of the HNP committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations. As of August the CPTRT reported 55 cases of corruption linked to members of the security forces, including 33 prison officials.

As of November 30, the Police Purge Commission reported that, since its creation in April 2016, it had reviewed the conduct of approximately 14,000 HNP officers and removed 4,445.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor then has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 35 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. According to the UNAH’s Violence Observatory, as of July, 55 percent of the prison population had not been convicted. For crimes with minimum sentences if convicted of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. Pretrial detainees were often held with convicted prisoners. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings. The Supreme Court approved a National Plan to Eradicate Judicial Delay, aimed at reducing wait times for court cases. As part of that plan, the court established three new mobile justices of the peace in July and inaugurated new courts: one in July, two in August, and two in October.

On June 30, Teodoro Bonilla, former vice president of the Judicial Council, was found guilty of influence peddling for using his position in the judiciary to obtain dismissal of charges against two relatives facing criminal prosecution for engaging in organized criminal activities. On September 11, Bonilla was sentenced to serve six years in prison and to pay a fine of 200,000 lempiras ($8,470), the first ever conviction for influence peddling by a government official. The Public Ministry had requested the maximum sentence of nine years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants can receive free assistance of an interpreter, and the Supreme Court created a new public registry of interpreters in November to ensure that defendants had access to free interpretation. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

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

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials. The CPTRT reported five cases of illegal entry into homes by members of the security forces as of August. There were also complaints that security forces entered private homes without the required authorization during a 10-day state of emergency and curfew imposed in December.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous peoples from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Mexico

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 reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 24 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and December 15.

In May the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) arrested and immediately transferred to civilian authorities a military police officer accused of the May 3 unlawful killing of a man during a confrontation in Puebla between soldiers and a gang of fuel thieves. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

The civilian trial that started in 2016 continued for the commander of the 97th Army Infantry Battalion and three other military officers who were charged in 2016 for the illegal detention and extrajudicial killing in 2015 of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas.

A federal investigation continued at year’s end in the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence. An August 2016 CNDH recommendation stated excessive use of force resulted in the execution of at least 22 individuals. The CNDH also reported that two persons had been tortured, police gave false reports regarding the event, and the crime scene had been altered. Security Commissioner Renato Sales claimed the use of force by police at Tanhuato was justified and proportional to the threat they faced and denied the killings were arbitrary executions. The CNDH called for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, expanded human rights training for police, and monetary compensation for the families of the 22 victims. No federal police agents were charged.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

On August 1, a judge ordered federal authorities to investigate whether army commanders played a role in the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State. In his ruling the judge noted that the federal Attorney General’s Office had failed to investigate a purported military order issued before the incident in which soldiers were urged to “take down criminals under cover of darkness.” In January a civilian court convicted four Mexico State attorney general’s office investigators on charges of torture, also pertaining to the Tlatlaya case. In 2016 a civilian federal court acquitted seven military members of murder charges, citing insufficient evidence. In 2015 the Sixth Military Court convicted one soldier and acquitted six others on charges of military disobedience pertaining to the same incident. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

On October 17, the Federal Police developed a use of force protocol. The protocol instructs federal police to use force in a “rational, proportional manner, with full respect for human rights.”

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.

As of November 20, according to media reports, families of disappeared persons and authorities had discovered more than 1,588 clandestine mass graves in 23 states. For example, in March, 252 human skulls were found in a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, Veracruz. From January 2006 through September 2016, the CNDH reported that more than 850 mass graves were identified throughout the country. Civil society groups noted that there were few forensic anthropology efforts underway to identify remains.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person–by security forces and of many forced disappearances related to organized criminal groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states, and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from kidnapping.

Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15.

There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting of kidnapping may have been even higher.

In January, five sailors were charged by civilian prosecutors for illegal detention of a man in Mexico State. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In July the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) arrested and transferred to civilian authorities seven sailors for their alleged involvement in a series of kidnappings.

On November 16, the president signed into law the General Law on Forced Disappearances after three years of congressional debate. The law establishes criminal penalties for persons convicted, stipulating 40 to 90 years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the crime of forced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National System for the Search of Missing Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, an Amber Alert System, and a National Search Commission.

The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32,236 registered cases of disappeared persons through September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83 percent of cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, Mexico State, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla, and Michoacan.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the most missing or disappeared persons at 5,657, followed by Mexico State at 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. Men represented 74 percent of those disappeared, according to the database.

As of August the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Search of Missing Persons had opened cases for 747 victims; the Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants had opened cases for 143 victims; the Iguala Case Investigation Office had opened cases for 43 victims; and the special prosecutor for violence against women and trafficking in persons had opened cases for 10 victims.

At the state level, in March, Jalisco state authorities announced the creation of the specialized attorney general’s office for disappeared persons. As of May 31, the Jalisco Amber Alert system for missing minors had been used 964 times (since its inception in 2013). As of May 31, a separate Jalisco Alba Alert system to report the disappearance of a woman or girl had been employed more than 1,200 times since its inception in April 2016.

In June the state government of Chihuahua announced the creation of a specialized attorney general’s office for grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. According to a local NGO, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM), Chihuahua was one of the states with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with more than 1,870 victims as of May 2016. During the year the state also signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of independent forensics experts from Argentina to analyze human remains found in the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc, Carichi, and Cusihuiriachi and to gather DNA.

The Coahuila governor’s office and state attorney general’s office formed a joint working group early in the year to improve the state’s unit for disappearances, collaborating with the local NGO Fray Juan de Larios to build the first registry of disappeared persons in Coahuila. The governor met monthly with families of the disappeared. Coahuila state prosecutors continued to investigate forced disappearances between 2009 and 2012 by the Zetas transnational criminal organization. These disappearances, carried out in collusion with some state officials and municipal police, occurred in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. State prosecutors executed 18 arrest warrants in the Allende massacre, including 10 for former police officials. Separately, they issued 19 arrest warrants for officials from the Piedras Negras state prison accused of allowing a transnational criminal organization to use the prison as a base to kill and incinerate victims.

Local human rights NGOs criticized the state’s response, saying most of those arrested were set free by courts after the state erred by filing kidnapping charges against the accused rather than charges of forced disappearance. A coalition of Coahuila-based human rights NGOs, many of them backed by the Roman Catholic diocese of Saltillo, filed a communique with the International Criminal Court in the Hague stating that state-level government collusion with transnational criminal organizations had resulted in massive loss of civilian life between 2009 and 2012, during the administration of then governor Humberto Moreira. They further stated that between 2012 and 2016, during the administration of then governor Ruben Moreira (brother of Humberto), state security authorities committed crimes against humanity in their fight against the Zetas, including unjust detention and torture. In July the state government disputed these findings and produced evidence of its investigations into these matters.

In a study of forced disappearances in Nuevo Leon released in June, researchers from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science’s Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity, the University of Minnesota, and Oxford University found that the 548 documented forced disappearances in the state between 2005 and 2015 were almost equally divided between those ordered by state agents (47 percent) and those ordered by criminal organizations (46 percent). Of the state agents alleged to be behind these disappearances, 35 were federal or military officials, 30 were state-level officials, and 65 were municipal officials. The study relied primarily on interviews with incarcerated gang members and family members of disappeared persons.

In May the Veracruz state government established an online database of disappearances, documenting 2,500 victims, and began a campaign to gather samples for a DNA database to assist in identification.

In 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism to continue the work of the group of independent experts (GIEI) that supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims during their 2015-16 term. At the end of the GIEI mandate in April 2016, the experts released a final report critical of the government’s handling of the case. The federal government reported it had complied with 923 of the experts’ 973 recommendations. In December the government extended the GIEI mandate for an additional year.

According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office in August, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from the towns of Cocula and Iguala, and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos connected to the Iguala case. Authorities held many of those arrested on charges related to organized crime rather than on charges related to the disappearance of the students, according to the GIEI. In 2016 authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, Felipe Flores, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. A 2016 CNDH report implicated federal and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco in the killings. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry met regularly with the families of the victims to update them on progress being made in the case. Both federal and state authorities reported they continued to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

In April the Follow-Up Mechanism expressed its “concern about the slow pace in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the various lines of investigation indicated by the GIEI.” The commission also noted, “Not a single person has been prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015.” The commission noted progress in “the administrative steps taken to contract the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveying technology to be used in the search for the students, the progress made in the investigation of telephone communications, and the establishment of a timeline for taking statements from those arrested and other individuals. It also values the progress made in the investigations into possible involvement of police officers from Huitzuco.” In July the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern regarding alleged spying that targeted “at least one member of the GIEI” along with human rights defenders and journalists.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of torture and other illegal punishments.

As of November 30, the CNDH registered 85 complaints of torture. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Fewer than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The Attorney General’s Office conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. Congress approved and the president signed the General Law to Prevent, Investigate, and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that entered into force on June 26. Human rights groups and the OHCHR commended the law, which establishes an “absolute prohibition” on the use of torture “in any circumstance,” assigns command responsibility, sets a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted government officials and of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted nonofficials, stipulates measures to prevent obstruction of internal investigations, and envisions a national mechanism to prevent torture and a national registry maintained by the Office of the Attorney General.

The law also eliminates the requirement that formal criminal charges be filed before a complaint of torture may be entered in the national registry, adds higher penalties for conviction of torturing “vulnerable” classes of victims (women and persons with disabilities), permits federal investigation of state cases of torture when an international body has ruled on the case or if the victim so requests, and eliminates requirements that previously prevented judges from ordering investigations into torture.

In 2015 the Attorney General’s Office created the Detainee Consultation System website to allow the public to track the status of detainees in the federal penitentiary system, including their physical location, in real time. The office collaborated with all 32 states on implementation of the system at the state and federal level, and the site was visited on average 476 times a day. The states that were farthest along in implementing the system were Campeche, Mexico City, Coahuila, Mexico State, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Puebla, Queretaro, and Tlaxcala.

On March 30, the Quintana Roo attorney general’s office apologized to Hector Casique, who was tortured and wrongly convicted of multiple counts of homicide in 2013 during a previous state administration. In September 2016 Casique was released from prison. On June 9, he was killed by unknown assailants.

On August 22, a state judge acquitted and ordered the release of Maria del Sol Vazquez Reyes after nearly five years of imprisonment for conviction of crimes that the court found she was forced to confess under torture by the former investigation agency of the Veracruz state police. The officers who tortured her had not been charged by year’s end.

In May in Chihuahua, prosecutor Miguel Angel Luna Lopez was suspended after a video from 2012 became public that showed him interrogating two suspects with bandaged faces. Luna was reinstated as a police agent while the investigation continued. Also in Chihuahua, in January a former municipal police officer, Erick Hernandez Mendoza, was formally charged with torturing a housekeeper who was suspected of stealing from her employer. Two other police officers who allegedly took part in her torture were not charged.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be harsh and life threatening due to corruption; overcrowding; abuse; inmate violence; alcohol and drug addiction; inadequate health care, sanitation, and food; comingling of pretrial and convicted persons; and lack of security and control.

Physical Conditions: According to a CNDH report, state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” Some of the most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control inside prisons.

Health and sanitary conditions were often poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted the lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

A CNDH report in June noted many of the prisons, particularly state-run correctional facilities, were unsafe, overcrowded, and understaffed. It surveyed conditions at more than 190 state, local, and federal facilities and found inmates often controlled some areas of prisons or had contraband inside. The report cited insufficient staff, unsafe procedures, and poor medical care at many facilities. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prison. A report released in March by the National Security Commission stated that 150 federal and state prisons were overcrowded and exceeded capacity by 17,575 prisoners.

On July 31, INEGI released its first National Survey on Population Deprived of Freedom 2016, based on a survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries. The survey revealed that 87 percent of prison inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, making telephone calls, or obtaining a blanket or mattress. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Fifty percent of prisoners said they paid bribes to be allowed to have appliances in their cells, and 26 percent said they paid bribes to be allowed to have electronic communications devices, including cell phones, which were banned in many prisons.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the State of Mexico’s Nezahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.

The CNDH reported 86 homicides and 26 suicides in state and district prisons in 2016. Fourteen states did not report information regarding homicides and suicides to the CNDH. The CNDH noted in its 2016 report on prisons that in general prisons were not prepared to prevent or address violent situations such as suicides, homicides, fights, injuries, riots, and jailbreaks.

The state government in Tamaulipas struggled to regain control of its prisons after decades of ceding authority to prison gangs, according to media and NGO reports. Criminal organizations constantly battled for control of prisons, and numerous riots claimed more than a dozen prisoners’ lives, including three foreign prisoners in the past year (two in Nuevo Laredo, one in Ciudad Victoria). On April 18, an inspection at the prison in Ciudad Victoria uncovered four handguns, two AK-47s, one hand grenade, and 108 knives. On June 6, a riot at the same facility claimed the lives of three state police officers and four inmates. On July 31, the official in charge of the prisons in Tamaulipas, Felipe Javier Tellez Ramirez, was killed in Ciudad Victoria reportedly in retaliation for challenging the criminal gangs in the state’s prison system.

Prisoner outbreaks or escape attempts also plagued Tamaulipas’ prisons. On March 22, 29 prisoners escaped through a tunnel from a prison in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. On June 19, eight inmates escaped from the youth detention center in Guemez. On August 10, nine inmates were killed and 11 injured in an inmate fight at a prison in Reynosa where a tunnel had previously been discovered. Guards fired live ammunition to control the situation, which occurred during family visiting hours.

In June, 28 inmates were killed by their rivals at a prison in Acapulco. Three prison guards were arrested for having allowed the attackers to exit their cells to kill their rivals.

On October 9, a riot at Nuevo Leon’s Cadereyta state prison was initially contained but flared up again the next day as inmates set fires. Press reports indicated one prisoner died in the fires. After three prison guards were taken hostage, state police were sent into the prison to control the situation. Official sources reported that at least 16 inmates died during the riot, some because of police action to reclaim control of the prison. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some migrant detention centers. Human rights groups reported many times asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America held in detention and migrant transitory centers were subject to abuse when comingled with other migrants such as MS-13 gang members from the region. In addition migration officials reportedly discouraged persons potentially needing international assistance from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved. These conditions resulted in many potential asylum seekers and persons in need of international protection abandoning their claims (see also section 2.d.).

Administration: While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not release the results of investigations to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve conditions of confinement.

Improvements: State facilities continued to seek international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of August 20, an additional 12 correctional facilities achieved accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 70.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior secretary and the National Security Commission, state police are under the authority of the state governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. Article 89 of the constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.

On December 21, the president signed the Law on Internal Security, which provides a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorizes the president to deploy the military to the states at the request of civilian authorities to assist in policing. The law subordinates civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allows the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” Upon signing the law, President Pena Nieto publicly affirmed he would not seek to implement it until the Supreme Court had the opportunity the review any constitutional challenges to the new law. At years end, no challenges had been submitted to the Supreme Court. The law passed despite the objections of the CNDH, the Catholic archdiocese, some civil society organizations, the IACHR, and various UN bodies and officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who argued that it could further militarize citizen security and exacerbate human rights abuses. The government argued the law would in fact serve to limit the military’s role in law enforcement by establishing command structures and criteria for deployments. Military officials had long sought to strengthen the legal framework for the domestic operations they have been ordered by civilian authorities to undertake. Proponents of the law also argued that since many civilian police organizations were unable to cope with public security challenges unaided, the law merely clarified and strengthened the legal framework for what was a practical necessity. Many commentators on both sides of the argument regarding the law contended that the country still had not built civilian law enforcement institutions capable of ensuring citizen security.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. There are exceptions, as when both the victim and perpetrator are members of the military, in which case the matter is dealt with by the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the Attorney General’s Office have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

As of August the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. Military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The frequency of prosecution for human rights abuse was extremely low.

Military officials withheld evidence from civilian authorities in some cases. Parallel investigations by military and civilian officials of human rights violations complicated prosecutions due to loopholes in a 2014 law that granted civilian authorities jurisdiction to investigate violations committed by security forces. Of 505 criminal proceedings conducted between 2012 and 2016, the Attorney General’s Office won only 16 convictions, according to a November report by the Washington Office on Latin America citing official figures, which also indicated that human rights violations had increased in tandem with the militarization of internal security. The Ministry of Foreign Relations acknowledged the report, stated that the problems stemmed from the conflict with drug-trafficking organizations, as well as the proliferation of illegal weapons, and emphasized that the military’s role in internal security was only a temporary measure.

On November 16, women of the Atenco case testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and called for the court to conduct an investigation into the case. The 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State resulted in two individuals being killed and more than 47 women taken into custody, with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court reversed the sole conviction of a defendant in the case.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations of rights violations or to take independent judicial action.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. This arrest authority, however, is only applicable in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, but this requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects for up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.

The procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Under the new accusatory system, arraigo has largely been abandoned.

Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrest and investigation as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention to lead to other human rights abuses.

A July report by Amnesty International reported widespread use of arbitrary detention by security forces.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although NGOs such as the Institute for Economics and Peace credited the transition to the accusatory justice system (completed in 2016) with reducing its prevalence. A 2015 IACHR report showed that 42 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention. The law provides time limits on pretrial detention, but authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were also endemic in state judicial systems.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through a writ of habeas corpus. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process, suffered a human rights abuse, or had his or her basic constitutional rights violated. By law individuals should be promptly released and compensated if their detention is found to be unlawful, but authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained. In addition, under the criminal justice system, defendants apprehended during the commission of the crime may challenge the lawfulness of their detention during their court hearing.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and resources to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In some states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatory system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes. The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed and underfunded. Administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.

The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.

Nicaragua

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 several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including during confrontations with armed groups (both criminal organizations and possibly antigovernment groups), in the north-central and Caribbean regions of the country. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated, an allegation that was difficult to confirm in view of the absence of official investigations. In some cases the individuals killed by military or police personnel were members of groups, or relatives of members of groups, that have identified themselves on social media as politically motivated and taking up arms against the government. Organizations reported that common attributes in the killings of such group members included police accusations against the victims of possession of drugs in small quantities after the killings, lack of judicial proceedings, and unwillingness on behalf of police authorities to register investigation requests.

On September 18, the “Ecological Battalion,” a military unit created to guarantee citizen security in rural areas and protect agricultural producers, killed three individuals in Siuna, a community in the Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN). In its only statement on the case, the military reported the deceased individuals belonged to a group of “delinquents” found in possession of weapons and an unknown quantity of marijuana. A self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group reported that two of the three individuals killed belonged to their movement and called the incident an extrajudicial killing. There was no indication the government investigated those claims, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on the accusations. On November 12 an army unit shot and killed six individuals, including a known opposition figure, his brother, and two minors, after tracking them for nine days in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS).

Reports of killings were increasingly common in the north-central regions and the RACN. These killings were widely believed to be related to the army’s pursuit of what many referred to as armed antigovernment groups in the north-central region, although the army admitted only the presence of criminals and/or delinquents.

There were no investigations or other developments in the 2016 killing of Andres Cerrato or the 2015 killing of Modesto Duarte Altamirano (see also section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, numerous reports alleged police abused suspects during arrest, used excessive force, and engaged in degrading treatment. In the first six months of 2016, the period for which the most recent data were available, the NGO Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 610 complaints against the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. CENIDH was able to confirm abuse in 391 of those complaints.

There were numerous claims of torture by agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), a special police investigations unit, in its jail commonly referred to as “El Chipote,” especially during arrests related to organized crime.

There were allegations that the bodies of individuals or groups of individuals killed in clashes with the Nicaraguan army showed signs of torture, including two of three persons killed in Siuna on September 18 and six killed in La Cruz de Rio Grande, RACS, on November 22.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. In September the government reported holding 17,196 prisoners in facilities with a capacity of 9,008. Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners and juveniles shared cells with adults.

Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. Released prisoners and family members of prisoners reported poor ventilation and lighting in the DAJ jail located in Managua. In March spouses of prisoners held a protest at the entrance of La Modelo prison to complain about poor living conditions and lack of access to health care. They also claimed the prison had cut off service for the internet, cell phones, and landline telephones.

Conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men but were nevertheless unsafe and unhygienic.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water. The government estimated approximately 26 percent of detainees in preventive holding cells should be in formal prisons.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur. In certain instances the government restricted prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, and physicians. Staff members of human rights organizations were not allowed access to the prison system or to prisoners in custody.

Independent Monitoring: The government denied prison visits by local human rights groups as well as media. The government denied requests from human rights organizations to access all prison facilities when they attempted to investigate reports of hazardous conditions. NGOs generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner due to lack of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government and its agents did not always comply with or enforce the law. Human rights NGOs noted several cases of arbitrary arrests by the NNP and army. These cases included irregular arrests and detentions while the NNP and army investigated armed opposition groups or other violent crimes in the north-central regions of the country. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The constitution establishes the NNP as an apolitical, nonpartisan institution protecting all citizens equally under the law, but the government did not treat it as a nonpartisan institution. The NNP Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating complaints and abuses regarding police officers or internal police activities. The NNP responds directly to the president as commander in chief, as established by the constitutional changes in 2014. Human rights organizations alleged the NNP, and particularly the DAJ, served the interest of the Ortega family and its associates and thus operated under a chain of authority that did not follow the standard procedures of a police force. The Ministry of Interior and the NNP each have law enforcement and internal security responsibilities throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior oversees the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigner Services, which works together with police to oversee topics of migration and border security.

The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic responsibilities, including countering illicit trafficking in narcotics and human trafficking and providing for the transportation of election-related materials, including ballots. The army was also involved in detaining irregular migrants and supported efforts to hold and transport them to the last point of entry. Many informed observers in civil society and the independent press regarded the army as a functionally autonomous force responding directly to the president pursuant to constitutional and military code reforms enacted in 2014. The Office of the Inspectorate General is responsible for investigating abuses and corruption in the army, but limited public information was available on its activities.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the NNP and the military. There continued to be numerous reports of impunity involving the NNP, and there were instances in which the government failed to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government reported that between January 2016 and August 2017, it received 1,864 reports of police misconduct or of human rights violations by police officers. Although the government reported having investigated all of the reports and dishonorably discharging 587 officers, among other administrative disciplinary actions, as a result of the investigations, observers reported the government did not investigate all instances of abuse and corruption.

The NNP Office of Internal Affairs, and to a lesser extent the Office of the Inspector General, are responsible for investigating police abuse; however, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency of the justice system contributed to a public perception of police impunity. In June approximately 40 police officers were detained and investigated for petty corruption. According to independent observers, this investigation was undertaken not to exert the rule of law, but to give a public image of fighting internal corruption, to purge political opposition within the force, and to reduce the amount of severance pay provided to the officers by dishonorably discharging them. There was no official information on the outcome of the detentions or whether the officers under investigation were discharged. Due to limited information on the activities of the Office of Internal Affairs and a general lack of access to government information, human rights organizations and security experts found it difficult to assess how the NNP investigated allegations of abuses and human rights violations by its members.

Observers noted the politicization of the NNP, exemplified by the continued tenure of the national chief of police, making her the longest standing police chief since 1990. The last extension was legal under changes to the constitution in 2014, but the president had previously extended her term through a 2011 executive decree that allegedly violated term limits prescribed in law at the time. The NNP continued to use symbols associated with the FSLN party, including an emblem with party figurehead Sandino’s silhouette as part of the officer’s uniform, and the ubiquitous use of the FSLN party flag at police facilities and celebrations. NGOs and the press alleged the NNP continued to provide preferential treatment for progovernment and FSLN rallies.

Human rights organizations and civil society activists continued to express strong concern regarding the 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security and established a National Committee of Sovereign Security, an executive-level committee with the enforcement backing of the military. The law includes “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation” when it outlines potential risks and threats to the country’s sovereign security. Human rights NGOs argued that while the Sovereign Security Law was not cited in cases including the obstruction or prevention of political opposition or civil society rallies, this law was implicitly used.

Impunity remained a problem, and the government took no action nor provided training to increase respect for human rights by security forces. There was no indication the government investigated claims that three members of a self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group in Siuna, RACN, had been tortured and killed extrajudicially, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on these accusations. Likewise, as of December no investigation had begun of the army unit involved in the November 12 killing of six individuals in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the RACS.

There were also no developments in the 2012 death of former Contra Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (“Pablo Negro”) or in the 2012 case of community leaders Pedro Ramon Castro and Miguel Angel Oliva, allegedly killed by four NNP members in the municipality of Pantasma.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours. While the law also stipulates a prosecutor accompany police making an arrest, human rights organizations claimed irregularities in arrest procedures led to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. The suspect is permitted family member visits after the initial 48 hours. The detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. A change to the criminal code during the year expanded a list of crimes that may be tried by a judge without a jury and that would not qualify for bail or house arrest during the duration of the trial. In most instances detainees were informed of charges against them, although there were instances when this did not occur, and at other times there were delays. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender. There were numerous reports detainees did not have immediate access to an attorney or legal counsel and were not afforded one during their 48-hour detention. In several instances authorities denied having detainees under custody in a specific jail, even to their family members or legal counsel. This occurred particularly in the DAJ jail.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly. Numerous reports claimed authorities used DAJ jail cells for arbitrary arrests beyond the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Additionally, the number of detainees from other localities brought to the DAJ jail for periods longer than the prescribed 48 hours of detention increased. Many arrests were allegedly made without warrants and without informing family members or legal counsel. Human rights organizations indicated delays in the release of prisoners after finishing prison terms led to many cases of arbitrary continuation of a state of arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, especially in the RACN and the RACS. Observers attributed delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, procedural information for doing so was not publicly available. There were reports on the obstacles legal counsels faced when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system did not function independently. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the CSJ, a process unduly affected by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political pressure and economic inducements for themselves or family members that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of delayed justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. In many cases trial start times were changed with no information provided to one or both sides of the trial, according to human rights organizations. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, observers claimed changes to the criminal and procedural codes enacted in June potentially restrict this right. Under the changes to the law, jury trials would be denied in a wider range of cases, judges could deny bail or house arrest based on unclear rules, and judges could arbitrarily move a case from other judicial districts to Managua, to the disadvantage of defendants, their families, or their counsel. Defendants have the right to be fully and promptly informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not always granted court interpreters or translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Women’s rights organizations perceived that the court system continued to operate under unofficial orders to forego jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. This order reportedly applied only to domestic violence cases considered mild.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Human rights NGOs characterized Marvin Vargas as a political prisoner. Vargas is a former Sandinista fighter from the 1980’s civil war who in 2011 led protests against the Sandinista administration for allegedly not fulfilling promises established in post-civil war peace accords to aid former Sandinista fighters. Shortly after these protests, Vargas was convicted of fraud, allegedly without due process. Vargas claimed he was beaten, kept under maximum security, and held in solitary confinement during most of his prison term. Vargas was not afforded alternatives to incarceration or early release on account of good behavior, both established in law for the type of crime for which he was convicted. He finished his full term in 2016 but remained imprisoned, reportedly under solitary confinement and maximum security. In June he was convicted of smuggling drugs into the prison and sentenced to an additional 12-year term. Human rights NGOs claimed that again due process was not followed and that there was no further investigation into prison authorities or of the methods Vargas could have used to smuggle drugs into and within the prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court orders.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases because criminal cases were often resolved more quickly. In a number of instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government resolved some property claims during the year, it regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. Enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. The government failed to evict those who illegally took possession of private property.

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

While the law prohibits such actions, several domestic NGOs, Roman Catholic Church representatives, journalists, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their email and telephone conversations. In April, shortly after presidential adviser Eden Pastora made a public appeal to identify specific political opposition and civil society members as traitors, a government-affiliated internet site published personal profiles of more than 20 opposition party members, human rights defenders, and civil society members containing car license plate numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers, names of known family members and associates, and pictures of their houses. Civil society members alleged the personally identifiable information was provided by government offices.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACS and the RACN, alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership in order to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

Panama

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. In July media reported the government was investigating the possible use of excessive force after 14 civilian correctional officers used batons and tear gas to control inmates who refused to be transported. The Ombudsman’s Office described the event as torture and said it was an uncommon use of force from correctional officers.

In August, four members of the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited for the first time after the country’s 2011 ratification of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. After the visit SPT members publicly exhorted the government to implement the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture according to international standards. In response the government opened the application process to hire the first National Mechanism director, who was to be embedded in the Ombudsman’s Office with an independent budget and staff.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh, due primarily to overcrowding, a shortage of prison guards, a lack of adequate medical services, and inadequate sanitary conditions. There were no private detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of August the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,167 inmates, held 16,114 prisoners, down from approximately 17,000 prisoners in 2016. Pretrial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints. Prison conditions for women were generally better than for men, but conditions for both populations remained poor, with overcrowded facilities, poor inmate security, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Older facilities located in the provinces of Cocle and Veraguas lacked potable water and adequate ventilation and lighting. Women inmates had access to more rehabilitation programs than male inmates.

In adult prisons inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that staff shortages limited exercise time for inmates on certain days. Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials.

One prison, Punta Coco, falls under the control of the Ministry of Public Security rather than the Ministry of Government’s National Directorate of the Penitentiary System (DGSP). In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterated its request to close Punta Coco due to the lack of appropriate medical attention for inmates. Lawyers and relatives of the inmates had to travel 66 miles by boat to reach the island. In August authorities transferred 12 inmates temporarily from the Punta Coco facility to a Panama City prison while they upgraded it to international prison standards. The government did not have plans to close down the facility permanently.

During the year the Ministry of Health conducted vaccination campaigns in most prisons. Inmates received vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, influenza, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses continued to be the most common diseases among the prison population.

Prison medical care overall was inadequate due to the lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August there were only 55 medical staff (including physicians, dentists, nurses, and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Sixty percent of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office from January through August related to the lack of access to medical attention and medications. Officials complained that juvenile detention centers lacked medicines even after the Ministry of Government disbursed large sums to the Ministry of Health for their procurement. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including Panama National Police (PNP) members, to bypass the required clearances. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging inmate transportation. Because the DGSP did not have ambulances, inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available.

As of August, 10 male inmates had died in custody: four of heart attacks, two of HIV, one from cancer, one from tuberculosis, and one from a stroke. One inmate died in prison because of inmate-on-inmate violence. No information about medical care in these cases was available.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but authorities did not make the results of such investigations public. The Ombudsman’s Office negotiated and petitioned on behalf of prisoners and received complaints about prison conditions. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to conduct weekly prison visits to prisons in Panama City and Colon and twice a year to prisons elsewhere in the country. The government generally did not monitor its meetings with prisoners.

There were 1,264 prison guards nationwide, including 207 new guards hired during the year. DGSP officials estimated, however, the system required 1,400 guards to staff the prisons adequately. In April all monthly salaries for correctional officers increased from $460 and $690 to $800 (one Panamanian balboa is equal in value to one U.S. dollar).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) Justice and Peace visited a prison once between January and July. The NGO reported overcrowding and corrupt behavior by prison officials, which included smuggled weapons, cigarettes, and cell phones for the inmates. Human rights NGOs wanting access to prisons during visiting hours must send a written request to the DGSP 15 days in advance.

Improvements: After the September 2016 implementation of the new accusatorial penal system and sentencing reduction arrangements, the adult penitentiary population decreased during the year from 17,000 to approximately 16,000 prisoners. As of August, 247 inmates were granted reduced sentences and 41 were granted conditional releases. For largely similar reasons, the juvenile prison population decreased by almost 50 percent, compared with the previous year.

In September the DGSP began implementing Law 42, which provides a career path for civilian prison officials, technicians, and administrative personnel. The DGSP also opened a new Administrative Career Directorate and inaugurated new facilities for its academy for correctional officers in the central province of Cocle. The La Joyita prison’s 60-bed clinic was remodeled and better equipped, but it operated with limited hours.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Panama has no military forces. The PNP is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order. Civilian authorities in the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency maintained effective control over all police, investigative, border, air, maritime, and migration services in the country. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but information on the process and results of investigations were rarely made public. Due to the lack of prison guards, the PNP was sometimes responsible for security both outside and inside of the prisons. Its leadership expressed concern over insufficient training and equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arresting officers to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for arrest or detention and of the right to immediate legal counsel. Detainees gained prompt access to legal counsel and family members, and the government provided indigent defendants with a lawyer.

The country completed its transition to an accusatory justice system in 2016, but cases opened prior to September 2, 2016, continued to be processed under the previous inquisitorial system, known for its inefficiencies and bureaucratic hurdles.

Under the accusatorial system, bail exists but is rarely granted. Under the inquisitorial system, a functioning bail procedure existed for a limited number of crimes but was largely unused. Most bail proceedings were at the discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office and could not be independently initiated by detainees or their legal counsel.

The law prohibits police from detaining adult suspects for more than 48 hours but allows authorities to detain minor suspects for 72 hours. In the accusatorial system, arrests and detention decisions were made on a probable cause basis.

Pretrial Detention: Under the inquisitorial system, the government regularly imprisoned inmates for more than a year before a pretrial hearing, and in some cases pretrial detention exceeded the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. According to the director of the DGSP, 54 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees as of September, compared with 66 percent in 2016. Some criticized the judiciary for applying unequal pretrial restrictive measures for individuals facing substantially similar charges. Prosecutors also reported internal pressure from the Public Ministry to prevent release of those accused of crimes pending trial. In an attempt to clear the backlog of thousands of inquisitorial system cases, in June the Supreme Court announced a decision allowing active inquisitorial system cases that had not started investigation by January 1, 2018, to be processed under the accusatory system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption as well as internal and outside influence, and it faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch.

Courts proceedings for cases in process under the inquisitorial system were not publicly available, while accusatory system cases were. As a result nonparties to the inquisitorial case proceedings did not have access to these proceedings until a verdict was reached. Under the inquisitorial system, judges could decide to hold private hearings and did so in high-profile cases. Consequently the judiciary sometimes faced accusations, particularly in high-profile cases, of procedural irregularities. Since most of these cases had not reached conclusion, however, the records remained under seal. Interested parties generally did not face gag orders, but because of this mechanism, it was difficult to verify facts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides that all citizens charged with crimes enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary for non-Spanish speaking inmates), to a trial without undue delay, to have counsel of their choice, to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to refrain from incriminating themselves or close relatives, and to be tried only once for a given offense. The accused may be present with counsel during the investigative phase of proceedings.

During the year all new criminal cases were tried under the accusatory system. Under the accusatory system, trials were open to the public. Judges may order the presence of pretrial detainees for providing or expanding upon statements or for confronting witnesses. Trials are conducted based on evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal. The judiciary generally enforced these rights.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear, especially those involving inmates processed under the old inquisitorial system. This was usually for administrative shortcomings, such as a dearth of PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. Authorities were also aware that available correctional officers and PNP agents focused more on inmates tried under the new accusatory system because the law fines police and correctional officers 100 balboas for failing to deliver an inmate to a hearing.

The judiciary continued to promote videoconference hearings. Judges were increasingly receptive to using this tool, and during the year the government continued to add video conference and hearing rooms to prison facilities.

Judicial response times generally decreased under the new accusatory system. As of June, 104,626 cases were tried under the accusatorial system. During the same period, judicial response time nationwide decreased from an average of 296 days under the inquisitorial system to 42 days under the accusatory system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees. Some individuals detained under corruption charges claimed their charges were politically motivated because they had served in former president Ricardo Martinelli’s administration.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, although most do not pursue such lawsuits due to the length of the process. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities often granted them to citizens who followed through with the process. The court can order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured. Individuals or organizations may initiate cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights by submitting petitions to the IACHR.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The law also sets forth requirements for conducting wiretap surveillance. It denies prosecutors authority to order wiretaps on their own and requires judicial oversight.

The investigation of the 2015 illegal wiretapping case against former president Martinelli, as well as against Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Perez, two former intelligence directors in his administration, continued during the year.

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