France

Executive Summary

France is a multiparty constitutional democracy. Voters directly elect the president of the republic to a five-year term. They elected Emmanuel Macron to that position in 2017. An electoral college elects members of the bicameral parliament’s upper house (Senate), and voters directly elect members of the lower house (National Assembly). Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate parliamentary (Senate and National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

Under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, a civilian national police force and gendarmerie units maintain internal security. In conjunction with specific gendarmerie units used for military operations, the army is responsible for external security under the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: criminal defamation laws and societal acts of violence and threats of violence against Jews, migrants and members of ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity was not widespread.

Note: The country includes 11 overseas administrative divisions covered in this report. Five overseas territories, in French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and La Reunion, have the same political status as the 13 regions and 96 departments on the mainland. Five divisions are overseas collectivities: French Polynesia, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. New Caledonia is a special overseas collectivity with a unique, semiautonomous status between that of an independent country and an overseas department. Citizens of these territories periodically elect deputies and senators to represent them in parliament, like the mainland regions and departments.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the same antidefamation and hate speech laws that limited freedom of expression.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment: In April the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) released its annual report that noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during Yellow Vest protests. RSF reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters.

Secretary general of RSF Christophe Deloire met with President Macron on May 3 to discuss the issue, and with Interior Minister Castaner on June 18. According to Deloire, President Macron committed to following the issue closely. Following the Castaner meeting, RSF described the exchange as frank and constructive and said Castaner promised to consider RSF’s proposals to limit police violence against journalists. Nonetheless, on December 20, RSF filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office related to police violence during the Yellow Vest demonstrations between November 2018 and May 2019.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not.

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns about police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds. On May 23, police summoned a senior correspondent for Le Monde newspaper who had been reporting extensively on a corruption scandal within the Macron government centered on the misconduct of a former security aide, Alexandre Benalla. The reporter, Ariane Chemin, was brought for questioning for having published the name of a former member of the special forces, a charge which stemmed from the antiterrorism law.

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

Under the law intelligence services have the power to monitor suspected threats to public order and detect future terrorists. The law also provides a legal framework for the intelligence services’ activities. Laws against hate speech apply to the internet.

The annual report of the National Commission on Informatics and Liberties (CNIL), the government’s data protection authority, showed a significant decrease in the number of requests made to authorities to remove online terrorist- and child-pornography-related content. The report, which was released April 15, stated the Central Office for the Fight against Crime Related to Information and Communication Technology issued 25,474 withdrawal requests between March 2018 and February 2019, a decrease of 27 percent from the previous year. Of these, 9 percent concerned terrorist content and 91 percent child pornography. CNIL attributed the decrease in withdrawal requests related to terrorism to a decline in production of propaganda content by the ISIS terrorist group. The Platform for Harmonization, Analysis, Cross-referencing and Signal Orientation, the online watchdog that helped monitor online hate content, also reported a decrease in reports.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government enacted security legislation on April 10 that gave security forces greater powers at demonstrations, including the power to search bags and cars in and around demonstrations. It also approved making it a criminal offense for protesters to conceal their faces at demonstrations, punishable by a year in prison and 15,000 euros ($16,500) in fines.

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.

In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local authorities of Grande-Synthe, in the north of France, and eight local associations approached the Council of State with concerns about the migrants’ living conditions, the “inaction” of the state, and the “violation of fundamental rights” at a gymnasium in the commune of Grande-Synthe housing hundreds of migrants in conditions NGOs described as a violation of fundamental rights. On June 21, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ordered authorities to install water points, showers, and toilets in the gymnasium. The Council of State gave regional authorities eight days to install “sufficient” resources and to provide some 700 migrants with information, in their own languages, about their rights. The Council ruled that the state had been deficient in executing its responsibility to ensure “the right not to be submitted to inhuman or degrading treatment.” Regional authorities cooperated with the ruling. In September police moved approximately 1,000 persons from the gymnasium and the surrounding tent settlement to emergency shelters elsewhere in northern France. NGOs, including Doctors of the World and Care4Calais, criticized the lack of transparency on where migrants were being taken and described the evictions as a “show of institutional violence.”

Beginning November 6, the government began a push to evacuate migrant camps before the end of the year and resettle or relocate inhabitants “in line with government regulations.” From November 6 to December 4, police evacuated at least four migrant camps housing an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 migrants around the country. On November 28, a group of 20 NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and the human rights organization La Cimade, issued a statement criticizing the “infernal cycle of camps, evacuations, and police harassment” and the continuation of evacuations without providing viable long-term housing solutions. Within 48 hours of one evacuation, the group noted “the return to the street of dozens of people” who did not “meet the required administrative criteria” for more permanent housing.

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

Refoulement: Amnesty International France and La Cimade criticized the country for its deportation of migrants to Afghanistan, stating on October 25 that the level of attacks on civilians in Afghanistan meant “forced deportations of Afghans are illegal and violate the principle of nonrefoulement.” On September 9, InfoMigrants news organization reported the Ministry of Interior confirmed 11 deportations to Afghanistan in 2018, the same number as in the previous year. Deportations to Afghanistan continued during the year.

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including English, Albanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Tamil, and Arabic. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers may request from a French embassy or consulate a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum in France. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in France; however, the visa holder is authorized to work while his or her asylum application is processed and evaluated, unlike other applicants. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of the OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.

In 2018 parliament adopted an asylum and immigration bill intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten from 120 to 90 days the period asylum seekers have to make an application. It also includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention, extend from 45 to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention, and from 16 to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The new law extends the duration of residence permits for subsidiary and stateless refugees from one year to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to strengthen the protection of girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting LGBTI persons cannot be considered “safe,” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.

OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.

In a report published June 5, Amnesty International accused authorities of harassing, intimidating, and assaulting people offering aid to migrants in the north of France in a deliberate attempt to discourage their work. The report, Targeting Solidarity, noted that security forces engaged in a deliberate attempt “to curtail acts of solidarity” offered by activists to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Authorities harassed, intimidated, and even violently assaulted people offering humanitarian aid and other support.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 16 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary residence status that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners who could not be deported immediately. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 24 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories with a total capacity of 1,970 persons.

On June 4, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, Cimade, Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 45,000 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2018, representing a slight decrease from 47,000 in 2017.

According to the associations’ annual report, the government detained 1,429 children. The report noted, however, that in 86 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that doubled the maximum detention time for foreigners subject to deportation to up to 90 days.

On September 17, authorities cleared more than 800 migrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds, from a makeshift camp near the northern port of Dunkirk, after the Lille administrative court ruled on September 4 it had become a health and security hazard. A total of 811 persons, including 506 young men and 58 unaccompanied minors, were cleared from the gym and makeshift camp. They were resettled in public facilities elsewhere in the country while they waited for the government to register and review their eligibility for asylum.

Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2018 the government voluntarily repatriated 10,678 undocumented migrants, including 2,709 minors, to their countries of origin. On September 6, the Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary increase of financial return aid to foreigners (except those from the EU or visa-exempt countries) from 650 euros ($715) to 1,850 euros ($2,035).

Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and can extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2018, the most recent year for which information was available.

OFPRA reported there were 1,370 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2016, the most recent period for which statistics are available. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it granted stateless status to 71 persons in 2018. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.

The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person marries a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2017 presidential and separate parliamentary (Senate and National Assembly) elections to have been free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: On October 18, Patrick Balkany, mayor of the Parisian suburb Levallois-Perret, and his wife Isabelle, deputy mayor, received prison sentences for money laundering of five and four years, respectively. The couple, both 71, were also barred from holding public office for 10 years. The court dropped corruption charges for lack of evidence. The sentence came a month after their conviction on tax fraud charges, for which Patrick Balkany received a four-year sentence and Isabelle a three-year sentence, in addition to a 10-year bar on holding elected office. The pair were charged with hiding two luxury villas and other assets from the tax authorities and evading around four million euros ($4.4 million) in taxes.

Financial Disclosure: The president, members of parliament and the European Parliament, ministers, regional and departmental council heads, mayors of larger communities, and directors of government-owned companies (post office, railway, and telephone) are required to declare their personal assets to the Commission for the Financial Transparency of Political Life at the beginning and end of their terms. The commission issued and made available to the public periodic reports on officials’ financial holdings on a discretionary basis at least once every three years. Officials who fail to comply are subject to sanctions.

The Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Tax Crimes investigated offenses including tax fraud, influence peddling, and failure of elected officials to make financial disclosures or report their own violations of the law.

On September 15, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet admitted that she “forgot to mention” her ownership shares, totaling 336,000 euros ($370,000), of three properties in a 2017 financial disclosure. She corrected the document after being questioned by political opponent Jean-Luc Melenchon. The properties did not appear in a first statement filed in 2017, but they were included in a later 2017 disclosure. Belloubet stated the omission was in error and added that she had declared these properties in previous asset declarations. She stated that the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life had recognized she had “no intention of fraud.”

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated, investigated, and published their findings on human rights cases without government restrictions. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised the government on human rights and produced an annual report on racism and xenophobia. Domestic and international human rights organizations considered the CNCDH independent and effective. Observers considered the Defender of Rights independent and effective, with access to all necessary resources.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for rape is 15 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased. The government and NGOs provided shelters, counseling, and hotlines for rape survivors.

The law prohibits domestic violence against women and men, including spousal abuse, and the government generally enforced the law effectively. The penalty for domestic violence against either gender varies from three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros ($49,500) to 20 years in prison.

On November 19, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) released its baseline evaluation report for the country. The report noted significant shortcomings in the legal framework on violence against women, including that the definition of sexual assault and rape is not based on the absence of consent but rather on the use of violence, coercion, threat, or surprise. The report also pointed out the inadequacy and unbalanced geographical distribution of housing facilities and emergency assistance centers for victims of rape and domestic violence.

In November the government’s Interministerial Agency for the Protection of Women against Violence and Combatting Human Trafficking (MIPROF) published data showing that in 2018 approximately 213,000 women older than age 18 declared they had been victims of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or former partner. MIPROF reported that, over the same period, 94,000 women declared they had been victims of rape or attempted rape.

In December the National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice, an independent public body, and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) published a joint study showing that the number of persons who consider themselves victims of sexual violence committed by a person who does not live with them declined from 265,000 in 2017 to 185,000 in 2018. In 2017 there was a sharp increase in the number of estimated victims, so despite this decline the 2018 estimate reflected the second-highest level since the organizations began collecting data in 2008.

The government sponsored and funded programs for women victims of violence, including shelters, counseling, hotlines, free mobile phones, and a media campaign. The government also supported the work of 25 associations and NGOs dedicated to addressing domestic violence.

The government implemented its 2017-19 interministerial plan to address violence against women. The program’s three main objectives are ensuring women’s access to rights; strengthening public action to protect the most vulnerable groups, such as children, young women, and women living in rural regions; and uprooting the culture of sexism.

On July 1, the High Council for Equality, an independent, consultative body, issued a statement expressing alarm over the number of femicides in the country. It highlighted “the pathways and possible failures [in the judiciary, gendarmerie or police] that have led to the killing of 70 women since the beginning of the year.” According to NGOs such as NousToutes and Fondation des Femmes, as of December, 148 women were.killed in such crimes during the year.

On September 3, the government launched a national forum on domestic violence and brought together dozens of ministers, judges, police officers, victims’ relatives and feminist groups. Approximately 100 conferences took place across the country from September 3 to November 25. At the closure of the series of consultations on November 25, the international day for the prevention of violence against women, Prime Minister Philippe announced 40 measures aimed at preventing domestic violence against women, focusing on three areas: education (educating children on gender equality); protection (ensuring the immediate safety of victims and their children); and restriction (preventing further violence from the perpetrators). Among concrete measures announced were the creation of 1,000 new places in shelters for victims and improved training for those who work with victims of domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was practiced in the country, particularly within diaspora communities. Various laws prohibit FGM/C and include extraterritorial jurisdiction, allowing authorities to prosecute FGM/C, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, even if it is committed outside the country, and up to 30 years if the FGM/C leads to the death of the victim. The government provided reconstructive surgery and counseling for FGM/C victims.

According to the latest statistics available from the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, between 40,000 to 60,000 FGM/C victims resided in the country. The majority were recent immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries where FGM/C was prevalent and where the procedure was performed. According to the Group against Sexual Mutilation, 350 excisions were performed in the country each year. On June 21, the junior minister of gender equality and the fight against discrimination, Marlene Schiappa, launched a national action plan to combat FGM/C, focusing on identifying risks, preventing FGM/C, and supporting female victims.

On July 23, the National Public Health Agency released a report that estimated the number of victims of FGM/C rose from 62,000 in the early 2000s to 124,355 in the middle 2010s.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits gender-based harassment of both men and women in the workplace. Sexual harassment is defined as “subjecting an individual to repeated acts, comments, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that are detrimental to a person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating character, thereby creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” The government enforced the law.

On July 16, the University Toulouse Jean-Jaures announced that two professors would be barred from positions in all public higher-education institutions due to “sexual and moral harassment” of several students.

In August 2018 parliament passed a law against “sexual and sexist violence” that provides for on-the-spot fines of 90 to 750 euros ($99 to $825) for persons who sexually harass others on the street (including wolf whistling), and up to 3,000 euros ($3,300) if there are aggravating circumstances. The law covers sexual or sexist comments and behavior that is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, hostile, or offensive. The bill also increases sanctions for cyberstalking and prohibits taking pictures or videos under someone’s clothes without consent, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros ($16,500).

In August the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination reported that authorities fined 713 men for harassing women in public since the introduction of the new law in 2018.

On June 17, a Paris court sentenced a man to an eight-month suspended sentence after he masturbated on the Paris metro in front of a woman and told her she was “beautiful.” The man, 48, was ordered to pay 500 euros ($550) in damages to the woman who filmed the offense, as well as to another woman who reported the same behavior. The perpetrator was also ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.

According to the latest statistics released by the Interior Ministry in January, reported cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence surged in 2018, with 28,900 complaints registered by police, up 20 percent over the previous year.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based job discrimination and harassment of subordinates by superiors, but this prohibition does not apply to relationships between peers. The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The Ministry of Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination is responsible for protecting the legal rights of women. The constitution and law provide for equal access to professional and social positions, and the government generally enforced the laws.

There was discrimination against women with respect to employment and occupation, and women were underrepresented in most levels of government leadership.

Birth Registration: The law confers nationality to a child born to at least one parent with citizenship or to a child born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child. Parents must register births of children regardless of citizenship within three days at the local city hall. Parents who do not register within this period are subject to legal action.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, including against rape, sexual assault, corruption of a minor, trafficking, kidnapping, child prostitution, and child pornography. The government actively worked to combat child abuse. Penalties are generally severe.

The GREVIO report found courts rarely applied legislative mechanisms to prioritize children’s safety in custody disputes and thus did not sufficiently incorporate children’s risk of exposure to violence in custody and visitation decisions. The report also found a lack of support and assistance for children who have witnessed violence.

On November 20, the government presented a three-year plan to end violence against children. The junior secretary for children, Adrien Taquet, presented 22 measures “to end once and for all violence against children.” New measures include 400,000 euros ($440,000) in additional funding for responses to the “child in danger” emergency hotline and strengthened implementation of background checks for those working in contact with children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Early marriage was a problem mainly for communities from the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. The law provides for the prosecution of forced marriage cases, even when the marriage occurred abroad. Penalties for violations are up to three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($49,500) fine. Women and girls could seek refuge at shelters if their parents or guardians threatened them with forced marriage. The government offered educational programs to inform young women of their rights.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children. The minimum age of consent is 15, and sexual relations with a minor aged 15 to 18 are illegal when the adult is in a position of authority over the minor. For rape of a minor younger than 15 the penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment, which can be increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. Other sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 15 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros ($165,000). The law provides that underage rape victims may file complaints up to 30 years after they turn 18.

The government enforced these laws effectively but faced criticism from NGOs such as Coup de Pouce, Acting against Child Prostitution, and the French Council of Associations for the Rights of the Child that argued children cannot provide legal consent regardless of circumstance.

The law also criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The minimum penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.5 million euros ($1.65 million). The law prohibits child pornography; the maximum penalty for its use and distribution is five years’ imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($82,500) fine.

As part of the 2020-22 plan to combat violence against children released November 20, the government released estimates that more than 130,000 girls and 35,000 boys annually suffer rape or attempted rape, and 140,000 children are exposed to domestic violence. According to an IPSOS poll released October 7 conducted with victims of childhood sexual abuse, the victims’ average age is 10 years and 83 percent of victims are girls. Victims file a lawsuit in only 25 percent of the cases.

Displaced Children: On February 28, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the state to pay 15,000 euros ($16,500) in reparations for the mistreatment of a 12-year-old Afghan in 2016 who spent six months at the Calais migrant camp. The court stated that authorities did not do everything within their power to protect the child from the uncertainty and poor conditions after the government demolished the camp.

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

NGO and government observers reported numerous anti-Semitic incidents, including physical and verbal assaults on individuals and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, and memorials, particularly in the Alsace-Lorraine region. The number of anti-Semitic acts increased by 74 percent in 2018, according to government statistics, while the number of violent attacks fell from 97 in 2017 to 81.

On May 22, a Jewish driver working for a ride-sharing company was mugged and beaten by perpetrators who targeted him because of his Jewish-sounding name. The victim reported that a man in his 20s was waiting for him at the appointed place and asked to sit in the front seat, following which a group of about 10 young men surrounded the car. One of the perpetrators told him, “you must have money; we’re going to need to frisk you.” The men then beat the driver, causing him to black out. He sustained injuries and a concussion. In July authorities charged four individuals for the attack and one, a teenager, was placed in pretrial detention because the anti-Semitic nature of the attack was considered an aggravating circumstance.

According to the latest statistics released by the Defense Ministry, the government deployed 10,000 security personnel throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.

On February 2, police arrested 19 persons in Strasbourg when a Yellow Vest protest turned violent, and approximately 50 protesters threw rocks at police and tried to damage local property, including the main synagogue. Some protesters shouted anti-Semitic insults and reportedly launched firecrackers toward the synagogue entrance. Several other Yellow Vest protests also included anti-Semitic acts. On February 16, a man participating in a Yellow Vest march in Paris shouted epithets, including “dirty Zionist” and “dirty race,” at renowned French Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut, an early supporter of the Yellow Vest movement who had recently turned against it. Despite being convicted for violating the country’s antiracism laws, which prohibit verbal attacks based on religion, ethnicity or race, the man was given a two-month suspended sentence by a Paris court.

Anti-Semitic vandalism targeted Jewish sites, including Holocaust memorials and cemeteries. In Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, vandals defaced more than 90 graves at a Jewish cemetery in February. On February 19, President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner visited the site to support the Jewish community in the region, and prefecture and local politicians also voiced their rejection of the anti-Semitic attack. On December 2, more than 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, also in eastern France, were desecrated. Spray-painted swastikas and the number “14,” associated with white supremacy, covered headstones. Both President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner condemned the acts, and Castaner visited the site with community leaders on December 4. On May 13, police opened an investigation of the vandalism of a commemorative plaque in Paris devoted to Jewish children arrested by the French Vichy government in 1942 and deported to Nazi death camps. The graffiti included the number 4,115, representing the number of children arrested by Vichy police, and the word “extermination.” Paris 15th District mayor Philippe Goujon denounced the defacement.

After news that an administrator at an Orthodox Jewish high school leaked national examination materials to students in an effort to boost the school’s results, users posted hundreds of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. The tweets included tropes that the students would avoid punishment because Jews “control everything” in France.

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

The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The government generally enforced these provisions effectively.

An estimated 350,000 persons with intellectual or mental disabilities were deprived of the right to vote. The law allows a judge to deny the right to vote to individuals who are assigned guardians to make decisions on their behalf, which mainly affected persons with disabilities.

While the law requires companies with more than 20 workers to hire persons with disabilities, many such companies failed to do so.

The law requires that buildings, education, and employment be accessible to persons with disabilities. According to the latest government estimates available, 40 percent of establishments in the country were accessible. In 2015 parliament extended the deadline for owners to make their buildings and facilities accessible by three to nine years. In 2016 then president Hollande announced that 500,000 public buildings across the country were undergoing major renovation to improve accessibility. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (now called the Ministry for Solidarity and Health) reported in 2016 that only 300,000 of one million establishments open to the public were fully accessible. Public transport is not accessible, or is only partially accessible, in Paris and Marseille, the two largest cities in the country.

In its most recent report on the country in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that autistic children in the country “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights.” The committee found the majority of children with autism did not have access to mainstream education and that many “are still offered inefficient psychoanalytical therapies, overmedication, and placement in psychiatric hospitals and institutions.” Parents who opposed the institutionalization of their children were intimidated and threatened and, in some cases, lost custody of their children, according to the report. The law provides every child the right to education in a mainstream school, but the Council of Europe criticized authorities for not implementing it. Pressure groups such as Autism France estimated that only 20 percent of autistic children were in school. In April 2018 the government began implementing a 340 million euro ($374 million) strategy to give autistic children access to education. The plan includes increasing diagnosis and early years support for children with autism, increasing scientific research, and training doctors, teachers, and staff.

Societal violence and discrimination against immigrants of North African origin, Roma, and other ethnic minorities remained a problem. Many observers, including the Defender of Rights and the CNCDH, expressed concern that discriminatory hiring practices in both the public and private sectors deprived minorities from sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, the Middle East, and Asia of equal access to employment.

On February 12, the Ministry of Interior announced the government registered 1,137 hate crimes involving threats or violence in 2018, a 20 percent increase from the number recorded in 2017. This overall increase stemmed entirely from the surge in anti-Semitic acts, which numbered 541, up 74 percent from 2017. Anti-Muslim acts and other acts of racism actually decreased during the same period. The Ministry registered 100 anti-Muslim acts, down 17 percent from 2017, and 496 other acts of racism, down 4 percent from 2017.

Government observers and NGOs, including the French Council for the Muslim Religion and the Collective against Islamophobia, reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, including slurs against Muslims, attacks on mosques, and physical assaults. The number of registered violent acts of racism against Muslims decreased from 73 in 2017 to eight in 2018. Over the same period, threats against the Muslim community increased by 12 percent, while total anti-Muslim acts declined 17 percent, from 121 to 100, the lowest level since 2010.

On October 28, a man shot and seriously injured two elderly men who spotted him trying to set fire to the door of the mosque in Bayonne in southwestern France. President Macron, Interior Minister Castaner, and National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, among others, all condemned the attack. As of October 31, the suspect, 84-year-old Claude Sinke, had been placed in custody for attempted murder, and judicial police had opened an investigation.

Under the counterterrorism law, prefects have authority to close places of worship “in which statements are made, ideas or theories are disseminated, or activities take place that lead to violence, hatred or discrimination, provoke the commission of acts of terrorism, or make apologies for such acts.” On May 16, the minister of the interior stated that since 2018, the Ministry of Interior had closed 27 places of worship on this basis, of which 20 were still closed as of October. In June the Muslim Rights Action group published a report calling the closures “collective punishment” and a violation of religious liberty.

Beginning on February 7, the prefect of Isere closed the al-Kawthar Mosque in Grenoble for a period of six months. According to the Ministry of Interior, the mosque’s YouTube channel posted videos that incited hatred and violence towards Christians and Jews, the imam’s sermons justified armed jihad, and the mosque was frequented by known extremists.

On July 18, Le Point magazine reported the Interior Ministry had during the year expelled 44 radicalized foreigners as of that month. While the article did not provide deportation figures for 2018, it reported the country deported just 20 radicalized foreigners in 2017.

Societal hostility against Roma, including Romani migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, continued to be a problem. There were reports of anti-Roma violence by private citizens. Romani individuals, including migrants, experienced discrimination in employment. Government data estimated there were 20,000 Roma in the country.

On June 29, the CNCDH highlighted in its annual report that intolerance of Roma remained particularly stark and had changed little since 2016. The 2018 report noted the presence of “intensified racism” leading to abuse of the fundamental rights of the Roma and that anti-Roma sentiment in the country was expressed both by public “rejection of [their] cultural differences” and the perception that Roma posed a “threat to the national [security] order.” The report also cited authorities’ “ambiguous policy towards slum dismantling,” which in turn encouraged “organized wandering” by members of the Romani community.

In March, Romani camps near Paris faced a series of attacks from groups wielding makeshift weapons after false rumors spread that Roma were kidnapping children from Paris’ poorer suburbs. In April a 19-year-old French man received an 18-month sentence for participating in the attacks and was ordered to pay 3,000 euros ($3,300) in compensation to each of the victims. On July 3, the Bobigny criminal court found six men guilty of planning an attack against a Romani camp near Paris. Four of the men received five- to six-month sentences; the other two received five-month suspended sentences.

Authorities continued to dismantle camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma. According to Romeurope data, authorities evicted 9,688 Roma from 171 different localities in 2018, a 14.3 percent decrease from the previous year.

Citizens, asylum seekers, and migrants may report cases of discrimination based on national origin and ethnicity to the Defender of Rights. According to the most recent data available, the office received 5,631 discrimination claims in 2018, 14.9 percent of which concerned discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The government attempted to combat racism and discrimination through programs that promoted public awareness and brought together local officials, police, and citizens. Some public school systems also managed antidiscrimination education programs.

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services. Authorities pursued and punished perpetrators of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The statute of limitations is 12 months for offenses related to sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

According to an online survey of 1,229 LGBTI individuals, more than one-half reported having been victims of homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic behavior. The survey was conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion between April 12 and April 24.

Anti-LGBTI acts in the country increased by 15.5 percent in 2018, compared with 2017, according to an annual report published on May 14 by the domestic NGO SOS-Homophobie. The results marked the third consecutive year that the number of reported anti-LGBTI acts increased in the country. The NGO stated it received 1,905 reports of anti-LGBTI incidents of all types in 2018, compared with 1,650 incidents in 2017. The data reflected a 66 percent increase in reports of physical assaults in 2018, to 231 cases, compared with 139 cases in 2017. The majority of victims were men (73 percent) and 34 years of age or younger in cases where the victim’s age was known (56 percent). The report noted there was a 42 percent increase in anti-lesbian incidents, and that 23 percent of anti-LGBTI incidents occurred on the internet.

On July 18, 12 students of the Catholic Institute of Higher Studies faced trial in the criminal court of La Roche-sur-Yon (Loire Region) for destroying a display during the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 18. Three students were previously expelled from the university, and their appeal to the Catholic bishop of the diocese was denied, with the bishop stating that the expulsions were “justified and proportionate to the gravity of each individual’s misconduct.” In response to the incident, La Roche-sur-Yon mayor Luc Bouard hosted an antihomophobia demonstration with more than 800 participants.

On July 27, a same-sex couple was hospitalized near Lyon after a group of approximately 20 persons armed with iron bars attacked and shouted homophobic slurs at them. The couple fled to a nearby building where they took refuge and called police. When police arrived shortly thereafter, they were also attacked by men with iron bars. Police dispersed the mob using tear gas, and the couple was then able to be taken to the hospital. The prosecutor opened an inquiry for aggravated violence.

Human rights organizations such as Inter-LGBTI criticized the government for continuing to require transgender persons to go to court to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity.

On May 22, the Paris Criminal Court convicted a man of “assault on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The defendant was filmed punching a transgender woman near a Paris metro station on March 31. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison (four of them on parole), issued a restraining order, and fined 8,000 euros ($8,800).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.

Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.

Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Most workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some union leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations. Union representatives noted that antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law recognizes the offenses of forced labor and forced servitude as crimes. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assist victims.

Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subject to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates of the extent of forced labor among domestic workers; however, in 2018 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 181 victims of forced labor, 75 percent of whom were women.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, with exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.

The government effectively enforced labor laws, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (also see section 6, Children) and forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Penalties for the use of child labor proved generally sufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the French overseas collective of Wallis and Futuna.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particular vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of the discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in this area. The International Labor Organization raised concerns that the labor code does not prohibit discrimination based on social origin.

A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees.

Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Romani community faced employment discrimination. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. In March, INSEE released a study indicating that in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available, women working the equivalent of full time earned 18.5 percent less than men.

The Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) and the fund for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Public Service released an audit in June that showed unemployment among persons with disabilities stood at 18 percent (515,531 individuals) in 2018, compared with 9 percent unemployment for the general population. Job seekers with disabilities stayed out of work for 832 days on average, compared with 630 days for the general population. They were also older, on average, than the general population: some 50 percent of job seekers with disabilities were 50 years or older, although they constituted just 26 percent of all job seekers.

The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. Noncompliant companies must contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH. The funds go to financial support for persons with disabilities seeking employment or firms employing persons with disabilities, research and analysis on disability employment issues, and support for employment retention of persons with disabilities. Approximately 51 percent of private-sector enterprises (41,270) met the workforce requirement in 2018, while the companies that did not complete the requirement contributed to a 400-million euro ($440 million) fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. In 2017 President Macron initiated a plan to promote the inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace. Companies required to employ disabled workers must complete an annual mandatory declaration regarding employment of disabled workers before March 1 of each year. The declaration documents company procedures for fulfilling the obligation to employ workers with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage adequately met the poverty-line income level, which employers in the formal sector generally adhered to. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.

The law gives employees the “right to disconnect” digitally from their work. Companies with 50 or more employees must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” from email, text messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.

Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work in excess of 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work in excess of 39 hours per week was generally remunerated.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards cover all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or their company health committee (for companies with more than 50 employees). Workers have a right to remove themselves without fear of reprisal from a situation presenting grave and imminent danger.

The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, that must conform to separate and clearly defined standards. Labor inspectors enforced compliance with the labor law. Disciplinary sanctions at work are strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees could pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court). Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.

Penalties for labor violations depend on the status of the accused and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, seasonal employment, construction, and hospitality services. On September 23, three Bulgarians and a French citizen were detained and indicted on charges of exploiting 160 Bulgarian grape harvesters in the Beaujolais region of the country. The accused recruited Bulgarians for seasonal work, forced the men to sign French-language contracts that they did not understand, and retained the majority of their wages. French law enforcement officers worked with Bulgarian authorities and the French Central Office against Illegal Work, in coordination with Europol, to discontinue the operation.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the Republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in March 2018 were considered free and fair.

The National Police and Carabinieri (Gendarmerie or Military Police) maintain internal security. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The army is responsible for external security, but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minorities, including violence and threats of violence; refoulement; and the use of forced or compulsory or child labor.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines from 51 to 309 euros ($56 to $340). There were no reports of enforcement of this law, or of convictions under it, during the year. On July 26, the municipal authorities of Saonara, near Padua, adopted rules penalizing public blasphemy with a 400-euro ($440) fine.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the

NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), characterized the level of violence against reporters, including verbal and physical intimidation, by private actors as “alarming,” particularly in Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Sicily, Rome, Latium, and Lazio.

The RSF reported journalists increasingly self-censored due to pressure from politicians and organized crime networks. In January, Paolo Borrometi, a journalist collaborating with the newswire Agenzia Giornalistica Italia received a threatening letter, likely from an organized crime syndicate. Borrometi had previous around-the-clock police protection, because prosecutors believed an organized crime cell was planning to kill him for his investigations into its illicit business.

The 2019 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists (PJSJ) voiced concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-fascist groups.

Although authorities generally did not participate in or condone violence or harassment against journalists, the RSF and the PJSJ condemned the former deputy prime minister for his hostile social media rhetoric about the media and journalists. On May 23, a group of riot police officers beat Stefano Origone, a reporter for the daily La Repubblica, with batons and kicked him while the journalist was covering clashes among demonstrators near a rally staged by far-right party CasaPound in Genoa. Origone suffered two broken fingers and one broken rib before another police officer stopped the beating, shouting “stop, stop, he’s a journalist.” Police opened an investigation into the incident and expressed regret.

On August 1, the National Federation of the Italian Press (FNSI) denounced the hostility towards journalists who questioned public officials. Valerio Muzio, a journalist for a leading daily La Repubblica, videotaped police intimidating him after they noticed he was filming former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s son riding on a police jet ski, against regulations. On August 5, Chief of Police Franco Gabrielli opened an investigation into possible limitations on freedom of the press stemming from the incident. On August 4, the FNSI expressed solidarity for journalist Sandro Ruotolo, who criticized Salvini in a tweet and subsequently received threats via Twitter from other users.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out. On September 22, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) ruled, based on the European Convention on Human Rights, that journalists convicted of libel cannot be punished with imprisonment. Detention is legitimate only in case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. In August former prime minister Matteo Renzi sued Antonio Padellaro, former editor of independent daily Fatto Quotidiano, for defamation based on his likening Renzi to the former deputy prime minister during a talk show.

On March 7, the ECHR condemned the country for the jail term given to former deputy editor of the daily Libero Alessandro Sallusti for the publication of some articles in 2007. In 2012 the Court of Cassation had upheld a conviction to 14 months in prison, considered incompatible with the EU Convention on Human Rights, and a 5,000-euro ($5,500) fine.

On June 11, the weekly magazine L’Espresso reported a Milan judge acquitted journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi of defamation charges filed by the former deputy prime minister for having stated during a television show that it was impossible “to deploy Navy ships and shoot at anybody who gets closer, as proposed by the former deputy prime minister in some instances.”

Nongovernmental Impact: The RSF noted many journalists from Rome and the south claimed the mafia and local criminal gangs pressured them. On August 15 in Sulmona, unidentified individuals burned the car of Claudio Lattanzio, a photojournalist for local daily Il Centro. The FNSI also reported threats from organized crime syndicates against journalists. During the year, according to an RSF report, approximately 20 journalists received around-the-clock police protection due to threats from organized crime, while 200 others received occasional protection in 2018. In February a journalist was attacked by a group while filming an investigative story on mafia clans in Abruzzo. The same journalist was previously attacked in late 2017 while he was investigating a different mafia clan’s alleged support for radical group Casa Pound in the Roman coastal town of Ostia.

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, part of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions. On January 18, 117 persons drowned when the Italian Coast Guard referred their boat’s distress call to the Libyan Coast Guard, which did not respond. The boat was approximately 50 miles off the Libyan coast, which would have placed it in the Libyan search and rescue zone, when it sunk. Italian prosecutors investigated the Italian Coast Guard’s culpability in the incident and on February 7 determined that the Coast Guard acted in accordance with the law, and in line with its search and rescue procedures.

Media outlets reported some cases of violence against refugees. In July unknown attackers threw rocks at, and seriously injured, nine migrant farm workers on their way to work in fields near Foggia.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in the agriculture and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On July 2, police arrested 11 members of four NGOs for alleged fraud and money laundering in the mismanagement of migration centers.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of encouraging refoulement by pressuring NGOs to limit rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and encouraging the Libyan coast guard to take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not classify this as refoulement but stated it was looking into the legality of the country’s actions. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe port” because it has not signed the applicable UN refugee conventions.

Access to Asylum: In December 2018 the previous government enacted a law sponsored by the interior minister at the time which was designed in part to reduce irregular migration to Italy and to remove humanitarian protection status for migrants. The passage of the law resulted in a higher percentage of denials of any form of protection for migrants. The law also closed the country’s ports to rescue ships the government suspected of communicating and coordinating maritime rescues off the coast of Libya with Libya-based traffickers. On January 31, a rescue ship flying the Dutch flag docked in Lampedusa without the government’s permission. Authorities arrested the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, but released her and the ship when other EU countries agreed to relocate some of the asylum seekers. On May 20, six UN experts sent a letter to the government expressing concern for the security decree’s incompatibility with the right to life and the principle of nonrefoulement. On August 5, parliament approved a migration and security decree that empowers the Ministry of Interior to prohibit NGO migrant rescue ships suspected of collaborating with traffickers from entering the country’s territorial waters. With the formation of a new government coalition in September and Salvini’s departure from government, some security decrees were under review, and most NGO rescue ships were again allowed to dock in Italian ports. From January to November 7, authorities registered 9,944 new seaborne arrivals. Between August 2018 and July 2019, the Ministry of Interior expelled 6,862 illegal migrants.

NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.

Regional adjudication committees took an average of six months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. Authorities closed the largest migration centers in Sicily and Lazio, where service provided to asylum seekers was not always adequate. On July 31, migration centers hosted 105,000 migrants, a 34-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government received 16,865 asylum requests.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identifies the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. The government paired efforts to reduce migrant flows through the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels with restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.

Employment: According to the Federation of Agroindustrial Workers–an affiliate of the Italian General Labor Confederation (CGIL)–and other labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees, including high-quality centers run by local authorities, although many were in larger centers of varying quality, including repurposed facilities such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings where they lived in substandard conditions. On July 30, police forcibly evicted 400 persons, including refugees, squatting in a building in the outskirts of Turin originally built to host Olympic athletes. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees with legal status.

On June 6, hosted refugees and other migrants in Frosinone staged a demonstration against the reduction of the daily allowance provided by the government to asylum seekers in which two police were injured. On September 2, refugees and other migrants joined Italians in Foggia, Puglia, to organize a sit-in inside the building where the territorial committee meets to adjudicate asylum. Protesters drew attention to the lack of services and asked for greater scrutiny of labor exploitation in southern Italy.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The government offered refugees whose asylum was granted resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and September, the government provided humanitarian protection to 16,761 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,614 persons.

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Recent Elections: National and international observers considered the March 2018 national elections free and fair. The observation mission to the elections from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported they were competitive and pluralistic and provided voters with a wide range of candidates. The mission noted that while the campaign was conducted with respect for fundamental freedoms, it was confrontational and at times characterized by discriminatory stereotyping and intolerant rhetoric targeting immigrants, including on social media.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On February 25, a Rome court sentenced former Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno to six years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding public office for corruption and for accepting illegal funds from an organized crime clan that obtained lucrative public contracts.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament to disclose their assets and incomes. The two parliamentary chambers publish a bulletin containing parliamentarians’ information (if agreed to by each member of parliament) on their public websites. The law stipulates that the president of each chamber may order noncompliant members to submit their statements within 15 days of their request but provides for no other penalties. Ministers must disclose their information online.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views, former minister Salvini alleged some foreign NGOs conducting search and rescue activities in the central Mediterranean coordinated their activities with human traffickers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Interministerial Committee for Human Rights and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high-profile domestic cases. The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: A new violence against women law adopted on July 17 imposes harsher penalties for crimes of domestic and gender-based violence. The law penalizes rape, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

Between January and June, 39 women were killed by domestic partners. On March 15, a man killed his wife and then committed suicide in Castelvetrano after she asked for a divorce.

Two sentences in March in cases of violence against women were considered too lenient because they were based on crimes of passion. In Bologna the court of appeal reduced a sentence from 30 years to 16 because the person convicted appeared to have acted in “strong emotional and passionate turmoil.” In a second case, magistrates in Genoa also reduced from 30 years to 16 the sentence for a man who killed his wife because they considered he had a “strong sense of anger, disappointment, and resentment.”

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and it is punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment, even if the crime is committed abroad. Cases of FGM/C occurred in some immigrant communities. Experts estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 women were victims of genital mutilation and that most mutilations were performed outside the country. The European Institute for Gender Equality estimated that 15 to 24 percent of girls originating from countries where FGM/C is practiced were at risk of FGM/C in the Italy. Prosecutors often depended on coverage by NGOs and self-reporting from the migrant community to identify and prosecute FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine of up to 516 euros ($568). By law, gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are foreigners from countries of origin that do not give citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, and when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Sexual abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. The NGO Telefono Azzurro reported 4,210 cases of child abuse and 66 missing children cases in 2018. Approximately 5,700 persons, mostly teenagers, contacted its help center through social media. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor under the age of 18. Forced marriage even for religious reasons is also penalized. In a report released in February, the NGO ECPAT International estimated the rate of illegal child marriages (within the community, but not recognized by law) in the shantytowns of Rome to be as high as 77 percent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 5,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. On April 3, a Bari court convicted two men respectively to six year and six months and five years and six months in prison for exploiting at least four minors as sex workers between 2010 and 2017. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of assisted minor victims of trafficking increased from 199 in 2017 to 215 in 2018.

There were reports of child pornography. On June 21, the Postal Police (under the National Police) announced an operation conducted in 10 regions to dismantle a network responsible for exchanging and selling pornographic material showing minors online and using two WhatsApp groups to entice new victims. Authorities investigated 51 persons. In 2018 Postal Police reported 532 persons allegedly involved in child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, of whom 43 were arrested.

Save the Children Italy reported 263 minors were victims of labor exploitation and approximately 2,210 minors were victims of child trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation, in five of the country’s 20 regions.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 or 13 if the partner is under the age of 18 and the age gap is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 1,335 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and November 4. As of June 30, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported 7,272 unaccompanied minors, of whom 93 percent were boys, present in the country. It also reported approximately 5,314 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing in 2018, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation.

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

There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in six months’ to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia are sold online. On July 9, police arrested Fabio Carlo D’Allio, leader of the far-right group Legio Subalpina, for possession of weapons of war and seized knives and other weapons after raiding the homes of 10 other rightist militants.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center (the Center) reported 158 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 7, but no violent assaults.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On August 7, the center reported 105 cases of insults on the internet and 181 cases of graffiti or vandalism against Jewish residents. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Rome, Forli, and Livorno.

On October 30, the Senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism and hate crimes; however, 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. Segre, who was expelled from school for her religion in 1938 and sent to the Nazi Auschwitz camp in 1943, noted that, “there is a mounting wave of racism and intolerance that should be stopped in all possible ways.” Subsequently, in November, the Milan prefect gave Segre a police escort after she received a wave of threats and was the target of anti-Semitic hate speech on social media culminating in a few days when Segre and her family received more than 200 hate messages per day, including statements denying the Holocaust.

On February 13, in northwestern Italy, a man insulted a Jew walking with his son and stole his kippah. When the victim reacted, the man slapped him twice and shouted anti-Semitic remarks at him.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.

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

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges.

On June 20, police arrested 13 persons accused of mistreating a group of persons with disabilities in a rehabilitation center in Novi Ligure.

Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In February the press reported that the country’s intelligence agency warned parliament that racism and xenophobia were threats the country could face and that attacks on migrants and minorities could rise ahead of European elections in May.

On May 10, national and local police forcibly evacuated a former fireworks production facility hosting a Romani camp near Naples. More than 450 persons had illegally occupied the facility since 2016 in the absence of alternative housing. On May 21, the ECHR, after hearing a complaint by some of those affected with the support of the NGO Associazione 21 Luglio and the European Roma Rights Center, ordered the national government to provide temporary housing to 10 families; on June 5, the ECHR determined that the government had complied.

In June then-interior minister Salvini announced he planned to conduct a “census” of the Romani community and to take steps to expel noncitizen Roma. According to the Associazione 21 Luglio, housing remained a serious concern for the country’s 25,000 Roma, most of whom came from Balkan countries. A total of 15,000 persons lived in 127 authorized camps, and another 9,600, mainly Romanians and Bulgarians, lived in informal encampments primarily in Lazio and Campania.

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services and the government enforced the law effectively. NGOs advocating for LGBTI rights reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples during the year. On June 23, a man assaulted and injured two Brazilian gay men in Pescara. When LGBTI persons reported crimes, the government investigated, but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

In March media reported that a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was riding a public bus in Turin when a local woman verbally and physically attacked her, including violently ripping the hijab off her head.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Employers who violate the law are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law. The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes illegal recruitment of vulnerable workers and forced laborers (the so-called caporalato). Penalties range from fines to the suspension of a company’s license to conduct commercial activities. In 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies dedicated an increased amount of attention to this problem. Government labor inspectors and the Carabinieri carried out 7,160 inspections of agricultural companies, and identified 5,114 irregular workers, of which 3,349 were undeclared workers (off the books) and 263 were foreign workers without residence permits. These irregularities remained substantially in line with 2016 and 2017 figures.

Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the south. There continued to be anecdotal evidence that limited numbers of Chinese nationals were forced to work in textile factories, and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into begging. A migrant encampment outside of San Ferdinando in Reggio Calabria province hosted approximately 2,000 migrants earning approximately 0.50 euros ($0.55) per crate of picked oranges. There were also limited reports that children were subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under the age of 16. There are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Government enforcement was generally effective, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in the formal economy. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the south and in family-run agricultural businesses.

There were some limited reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant or Romani communities. In 2018 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 263 underage laborers, compared with 220 in 2017. The number of irregular migrants between the ages of 15 and 18 entering the country by sea from North Africa decreased. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving by sea dropped from 3,536 in 2018 to 1,335 between January and November 4. Most of these minors were from Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority arrived in Sicily, and many remained there in shelters, while others moved to other parts of the country or elsewhere in Europe.

The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age 21 and can support themselves. As of June the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies had identified 7,272 unaccompanied minors, of whom 4,736 had left the shelters assigned to them. Of those assisted, 93 percent were boys and 86 percent were 16 or 17 years old. Girls were 7 percent of the total, of which 32 percent came from Nigeria. This group was especially vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were more vulnerable to becoming child laborers in agriculture, bars, shops, and construction and worked to prevent exploitation by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained voluntary guardians at the juvenile court-level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law have yet to be fully implemented across the country, although significant progress was made. More than 4,000 volunteers became guardians and supported migrants integrating into local communities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. There were some media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Anti-Racial Discrimination Office to intervene in discrimination cases, and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations but the number of inspections was insufficient to guarantee adequate implementation.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, according to labor unions. According to Eurostat, in 2017 women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 5 percent lower than those of men performing the same job.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day. The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibly for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector only. Penalties were not enough to deter all violations.

In 2018 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 144,163 companies (including agricultural companies), identifying 162,932 individual workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor laws. Of these, 42,306 were undeclared (off the books), and 1,332 were irregular migrants. The National Labor Inspectorate found 15,641 violations of regulations on working hours and suspended 8,789 companies for the specific violation of employing more than 20 percent of their workers without a formal contract, compared with 6,932 companies in 2017.

Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. According to the CGIL, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors.

In 2018 the Association of Artisans and Small Businesses of Mestre estimated there were approximately three million irregular workers in the country, 40 percent of whom were based in southern regions. Some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions.

North Macedonia

Executive Summary

The Republic of North Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy. A popularly elected president is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The unicameral parliament exercises legislative authority. Parliamentary elections were last held in 2016 and presidential elections during the year. In its final report on the parliamentary elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) observed the elections were transparent, well administered, and orderly but took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment” and failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process. The OSCE/ODIHR’s final report on the 2019 presidential elections noted the environment during the campaign was calm and peaceful and fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were respected.

The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: high-level corruption and violence against LGBTI individuals.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. The ombudsman believed police impunity continued to be a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. The government made progress in respecting media freedom and freedom of expression, but problems remained, including weak media independence, and violence toward and intimidation of journalists.

The May 29 EC report on the country noted the “overall situation and political climate for media continued to improve.” The report cited increased government efforts to support media through changes to legislation and financial subsidies for print media. The report also highlighted that professional organizations acknowledged the open dialogue and increased transparency of institutions.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2019 report stated that “while the media and civil society are active, journalists and activists face pressure and intimidation.” The report noted the media landscape was “deeply polarized along political lines, and private media outlets were often tied to political or business interests that influenced their content. Some critical and independent outlets operated and were found mainly online.”

As of September the government had not taken measures to address a July 2018 open letter from media stakeholders expressing concern the legal changes to the electoral code, introduced the same month, would permit taxpayer money to be used for political campaigning in commercial media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: While outlets and reporting continued to be largely divided along political lines, the number of independent media voices actively expressing a variety of views without overt restriction continued to increase. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

A National Network against Hate Speech in Media was launched in January, led by the Media Ethics Council and supported by the OSCE. The network is comprised of 17 entities, including media and journalist associations, civil society, government, and other relevant stakeholders. In February an awareness campaign was launched under the motto, “Respect, Do Not Hate.” The government accepted these organizations and did not limit or restrict their activities.

In December 2018 and in February, the government amended its Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (AAVMS). The May EC report noted implementing the law would require “strong political commitment to guarantee professionalism, respect for the principles of transparency, merit-based appointments and equitable representation.” OSCE representative on freedom of the media Harlem Desir welcomed the adoption of the amended law, saying it “is now in general accordance with European and international standards on audiovisual media.”

Government advertising on commercial channels is banned. The May EC report noted concerns the legal changes that permitted public funding of the September 2018 referendum campaign with commercial ad buys risked politicization of editorial policies.

The EC report also noted “further self-regulation efforts are required to improve professional standards and the quality of journalism.” The Media Ethics Council reported that as of August, 78 percent of complaints received were for unethical reports or fake news in online portals.

The Skopje Criminal Court issued a reprimand May 5 against 1TV for violating Electoral Code ad campaign regulations during the first round of presidential elections in April by continuing with political advertising beyond the legal deadline. On July 12, the Skopje Appeals Court upheld the first-instance verdict reprimanding 1TV for the violation.

Violence and Harassment: There were several cases of alleged threats and harassment against journalists during the year.

The head of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, Mladen Chadikovski, told the Global Conference for Media Freedom on July 10-11 in London that impunity for cases of attacks on journalists remained a major problem and impeded freedom of expression. According to the Association of Journalists, the Ministry of Interior completed all 12 pending investigations of attacks on journalists since 2017, but no further action was taken except in one case. On May 17, Skopje’s Basic Court sentenced VMRO-DPMNE member Toni Mihajlovski to three-months’ probation for his June 2017 threats against journalist Branko Trickovski. The EC report noted the country should “continue paying attention to the swift and effective follow-up by law enforcement and judicial authorities of all instances of physical and verbal attacks against journalists.”

As of August 31, no progress was reported regarding the Basic Prosecution Office investigation into former head of the AJM Naser Selmani’s March 2018 complaint he received threats against his and his family’s lives from an individual affiliated with the Democratic Union for Integration party.

On April 16, journalists reporting on poor infrastructure in the village of Aracinovo said they received threats and verbal attacks from individuals reportedly linked to Mayor Milikije Halimi. The journalists alleged individuals forcibly escorted them to the municipality building after they refused to delete their recorded interviews. In a press release April 18, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir condemned the intimidation, calling it a “blatant attack on freedom of the media.” Additionally, the Association of Journalists and the Audiovisual Media Services Agency condemned the attack. Police did not open an investigation because, according to them, the journalists did not officially report the case to police. The prosecution also did not open an investigation.

On June 4, the AJM and the Media Ethics Council (CMEM) strongly condemned the “explicit hate speech” against ethnic Albanians during the June 3-4 celebration in Skopje of Handball Club Vardar’s European Cup victory. AJM and CMEM expressed concern media failed to condemn the hate speech calling for violence and intolerance. The Helsinki Committee, NGO CIVIL, and ethnic Albanian political parties condemned the inflammatory speech, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were some reports the government pressured journalists into self-censorship. In its May 29 report on the country, the EC noted, “There was no progress on improving the labor and social rights of journalists whose working conditions are very poor. Consequently, journalists still practice self-censorship. Lengthy negotiations led by the independent union of journalists and media workers did not result in any collective union agreement with any media outlet.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on nonmaterial damage. The EC noted “preliminary steps have been taken to reduce fines for defamation to a symbolic amount which is expected to improve the sense of balance between freedom of expression and protection of reputation.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani of DUI announced January 29 his party would file slander charges against journalists and media for alleging some DUI officials had abused state pension funds. AJM reacted January 30, urging politicians to refrain from filing slander charges against journalists. On February 7, EC spokesperson Maja Kocijancic noted “threats of legal consequences for media for their reporting,” by political actors, reiterating the EC 2018 recommendation the country should demonstrate “zero tolerance for physical and verbal harassment, and threats against journalists.”

Government General Secretary Dragi Rashkovski announced July 2 slander charges against journalists and media portals for spreading fake news by alleging that he had been illegally involved in a bid for the purchase of an air navigation system. The AJM criticized Rashkovski’s “direct threats” against journalists as “pressure that may result in ‘self-censorship’.”

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

A “state of crisis” has been in force for border areas adjacent to Greece and Serbia since 2015. It has been extended by the government every six months, including through year’s end. The state of crisis allows government authorities to regulate the entry and transit of migrants. Since the closure of the “Western Balkans Route” in 2016, migrants apprehended in these areas were regularly placed in contained temporary transit centers, near the border, and pushed back to the prior transit country within days. No freedom of movement was ensured for migrants while in the transit centers or the reception center for smuggled foreigners, nor was a formal removal or readmission procedure established.

In-Country Movement: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that approximately 25,000 persons transited the country from January 1 to August 31, but neither UNHCR nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) registered any hate crimes against them. UNHCR did not note any in-country movement restrictions for internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, or stateless persons.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP), 112 persons (26 families) remained displaced from the 2001 internal armed conflict, seven (three families) lived in collective housing centers, and 105 persons (25 families) were in private accommodations or with host families. The government provided protection and assistance, and supported safe, voluntary, and dignified returns, as well as resettlement or local integration of IDPs. There were no reports of IDPs suffering abuses.

Despite having no national policy document, the government generally observed the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Authorities undertook significant measures to combat and detect cases of migrant smuggling. During the year the government established a task force comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Interior and prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime and Corruption. The May EC report noted the problem of smuggling needed to be continuously addressed, as the country continued to be under severe pressure due to its geographic location.

The 2018 Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Annual Report stated, “The provision limiting the freedom of movement of asylum seekers was retained. Namely, Article 63 prescribes that freedom of movement shall be restricted in extraordinary circumstances, in order to determine the identity and citizenship, and establish the facts and circumstances of the asylum requests, particularly if a risk for escape has been determined, in order to protect the order and national security or when a foreigner is retained for the purposes of initiating a procedure for his return or removal.”

The IOM stressed the movement of migrants through the Western Balkans route was facilitated by smuggling networks, which exposed the migrants to significant risks of abuse and exploitative practices, including trafficking in human beings.

A multisector system and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were in place to ensure protection of the victims of gender-based violence. UNHCR considered the system needed strengthening and a systemic application of SOPs, especially regarding case identification.

Refoulement: UNHCR assessed access to asylum practices had consistently improved since 2016, and that previous concerns regarding the arbitrary practice of denying access to asylum had been addressed. During the year there were no instances of forceful returns of asylum seekers or refugees to unsafe countries recorded, or inappropriate pressure by any countries to return them to their country of origin.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to provide protection to refugees. UNHCR reported, however, that the mechanism for adjudicating refugee status failed to provide basic procedural guarantees and proper determinations as prescribed in the law. It reported that 252 migrants applied for asylum in the first eight months of the year. No person was granted refugee status or a subsidiary form of protection.

In April 2018 parliament adopted a new Law on International and Temporary Protection. The Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) stated the new law addressed some of the shortcomings of the old law pertaining to the right to family reunification and access to asylum, but it unduly limited asylum seekers’ freedom of movement. The IOM expressed similar concerns regarding the new law. On September 14, the Constitutional Court dismissed MYLA’s May 2018 petition challenging articles 63 and 65 of the law.

The government issued identity documents to recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection, but authorities frequently delayed or failed to issue identification documents to new asylum seekers.

Migrant populations detained in the Transit Center for Foreigners were impeded from accessing asylum. An asylum application by a person held in the Reception Center for Foreigners (a closed-type facility in Gazi Baba) would only be possible after the person gave a statement before the court, in criminal proceedings, against their smugglers. During the year approximately 50 percent of all asylum requests registered in the country were processed through the Reception Center for Foreigners.

During the year the Administrative and the Higher Administrative Courts continued to avoid ruling on the merit of asylum applications, despite having the requisite authority, according to MYLA. They routinely returned the cases to the Ministry of Interior for further review.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, authorities detained some individuals intercepted while being smuggled. The grounds for detention decisions are arbitrary. As a rule, persons are supposed to be detained until their identity can be established. They were routinely detained after identification, however, to prevent them from escaping the country prior to providing testimony in court against smugglers. In addition, the majority of asylum seekers who were previously detained reported they were not issued detention decisions, or if they did receive such decisions it was in a language they could not understand, impeding them from exercising their right to judicial review.

MYLA also noted the practice of detaining illegal migrants and asylum seekers to secure their testimony in criminal proceedings continued during the year. Detention orders did not specify the legal grounds for detention, and there was no effective judicial review of the detention decisions. According to MYLA, as of August 28, at least 126 persons were detained as illegal migrants.

The average detention period during the year was 15 days, with the longest period being 45 days and the shortest period one day.

Some improvement was noted compared to previous years, as women, children, or families were generally not detained; alternatives to detention were employed instead. A Safe House, run by an NGO, was rented for these individuals, with international donor funding, so they were not placed in prison or in detention facilities. The individuals were monitored, however, and needed to report to authorities on a weekly basis.

The 2018 Law on International and Temporary Protection introduced the possibility of detaining asylum seekers, referred to in the law as “limitation of freedom of movement.” Under this provision, three asylum seekers were detained in the Reception Center for Foreigners, a closed facility. The law stipulates the “use of limitation of freedom of movement” should be a last resort. The law does not provide for adequate alternatives to detention. Through September 24, unaccompanied children and three women were held in detention.

Employment: There are no restrictions on refugees’ ability to work, and the law allows asylum seekers whose asylum procedure is not completed within nine months to apply for a work permit.

The 2018 Law on International and Temporary Protection also provides the right to work for persons granted subsidiary protection, as well as for asylum seekers, whose asylum request is not completed within nine months. Recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection with work permits were able to access the active labor market. Nevertheless, asylum seekers faced restrictions because of conflicting laws. By law, a foreigner needs to have a unique identification number assigned in order to be issued a work permit. Although an asylum seeker has the legal right to apply for a work permit after nine months in procedure, s/he has no right to be assigned a unique identification number, which by the same law is issued once a positive decision is granted. Consequently, an asylum seeker is granted the right to work but is unable to exercise it, a serious gap considering some procedures last for two to three years, including instances of judicial review.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, prior to a final decision on their asylum applications, had the right to basic health services, in accordance with the regulations on health insurance. The same applied to the right to education. To date, however, there were no cases of children coming from outside the region enrolled in state-run educational facilities. Upon recognition of status, persons with refugee status have the right to full health care provided under the same conditions as it is to citizens.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR none of the 394 individuals from the 1999 conflict in Kosovo who remained in the country returned to Kosovo during the year. No cases of resettlement were registered.

The law provides for naturalization of refugees residing in the country under preferred conditions, while persons under subsidiary protection may naturalize as any other foreigners do who stay legally in the country for a minimum of eight years. During the year one refugee and one person under subsidiary protection were naturalized.

Under the law the MLSP, in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and UNHCR, should facilitate the voluntary return of asylum seekers to their homes. There were no cases of assisted voluntary repatriation during the year.

UNHCR continued to assist rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, whom the government allowed to stay in the country. The government issued them provisional identification documents to secure their access to services. The MLSP provided integrated, durable solutions with the support of UNHCR for approximately 274 refugees who had applied for integration into the country. The ministry provided social assistance, housing assistance, and access to education, health care, and the labor market.

Temporary Protection: The government could provide subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but there were no such protections granted during the year.

Some habitual residents were legally stateless, in spite of fulfilling one or more criteria for citizenship. According to consolidated statistics from the government, UNHCR, and NGOs, there were 569 stateless persons registered in the country at the end of the year. They were primarily Roma who lacked civil registration and documentation. Children born in the country to stateless persons are considered nationals and have access to birth registration and certification. A government program to register persons without documents was initiated in late 2018.

Some 281 persons have been recorded as habitual residents with undetermined nationality and at risk of statelessness since the dissolution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. The MLSP estimated some 500 children lacked birth certificates or personal name registration in the country. Early in 2018 the government initiated a program to register persons without documents. In July it reissued a public call for persons without birth certificates and personal name registration to apply for birth registry by the end of September.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Recent Elections: A popular election for president was held in two rounds on April 21 and May 5. The OSCE/ODIHR report on the elections concluded, “in the well-administered [second round] to the presidential election, continued respect for fundamental freedoms allowed voters to make an informed choice between candidates.” The report also noted shortcomings in campaign rules reflected broader deficiencies in the electoral law, and the transparency of campaign finance was lacking due to incomplete reporting. The 2016 parliamentary elections had a record high turnout and only minor confirmed irregularities. According to the OSCE/ODIHR report, although the State Election Commission (SEC) struggled with election preparations, election day was generally well administered and orderly. While ODIHR found fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates were able to campaign freely, it noted the elections took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment, and allegations of voter coercion.” According to ODIHR, the elections failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process; voter intimidation, widespread pressure on civil servants, vote buying, coercion, and misuse of administrative resources were observed.

During the year the ombudsman received complaints from 57 citizens concerning election rights. Of those, 47 concerned voting rights violations, five concerned threats or pressure, three concerned inmates’ voting rights, and two concerned sick persons’ voting rights. According to the ombudsman, the Electoral Code and its implementation need to be improved to address voting rights issues.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were few restrictions on forming or joining political parties, which were subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens. While membership in a political party was not mandatory, there was an active patronage system in the country through which parties conferred special benefits and advantages to their members. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party accused the government of continuing these practices, alleging party membership overrode educational and professional qualifications prescribed by law for public administration positions. For example, on April 22, the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) recommended charges against Economy Minister Kreshnik Bektesh and Prosecutor’s Council president Kola Sterjev for violating conflict of interest laws by employing and appointing family members.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires gender diversity in each political party’s candidate list for parliamentary and municipal elections. No more than two-thirds of a party’s candidates may be the same gender. As of August, 48 of the 120 members of parliament were women, and four women served as ministers in the president’s 25-member cabinet. Six of the 81 mayors were women.

Ethnic Albanians and other ethnic minorities continued to complain of inequitable representation within government and discriminatory practices that excluded them from political participation. There were nine ethnic Albanian ministers in the 25-member government cabinet. There were 23 ethnic Albanian members of parliament, including the speaker of parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government generally implemented the law, but there were reports officials engaged in corruption. NGOs stated the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. The government was the country’s largest employer; some analysts estimated it employed as many as 180,000 persons, despite official statistics showing public sector employment of approximately 128,000 persons.

Corruption: In its May 29 report, the EC noted the country has “some level of preparation,” and “good progress has been made through further consolidating a track record of investigating, prosecuting and trying high-level corruption cases, and changes to the legislative framework.” The report specifically noted the February 8 appointment of the new State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (SCPC) was more transparent than before and highlighted steps taken by the commission to proactively fight corruption. The commission also acknowledged, however, prevalent corruption in many areas remained a concern.

As of August 26, the SCPC received 465 citizen and 12 whistleblower complaints, the majority dealing with misuse of public funds, failure to exercise due diligence, and other nonethical conduct. In addition, the commission received 81 conflict of interest complaints. The SCPC opened at its own initiative 21 cases involving allegations of corruption, and another 65 nepotism cases. The commission also published 68 decisions that resulted in public reprimands against public officials, the recommendation of disciplinary action against four public officials, and a proposal to dismiss another official.

On August 21, the Skopje Criminal Court issued a 30-day detention order for Chief Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva for “abuse of official position” in relation to the “Racketeering” case. Her detention followed the July 15 Skopje Criminal Court detention order against 1TV Manager Bojan Jovanovski (aka “Boki 13”) and businessman Zoran Milevski in the same case. The Prosecutors’ Council dismissed Janeva on September 15 upon parliament’s recommendation. The trial was scheduled to begin December 3.

On September 13, the chief public prosecutor assumed authority over the SPO cases and announced he would assign the cases to the appropriate prosecution offices based on their competencies.

On March 8, the Skopje Criminal Court convicted and sentenced former UBK director Saso Mijalkov to a three-year prison sentence in the SPO “Titanic 2” case, on charges of illegal gain resulting from unlawful influence trading to commit election fraud in connection with the 2013 local elections in Strumica. The court also sentenced Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) leader Menduh Thaci to three years in prison; former VMRO-DPMNE State Election Commission members Sasho Srcev, Aneta Stefanovska, and Vlatko Sajkovski to three years in prison each; and DPA member Bedredin Ibraimi to four years and six months in prison for misuse of official authority. Defense appeals were pending before the Skopje Appeals Court as of September 10.

Police arrested and brought to prison SPO “Trust” convict Sead Kocan on August 1 to serve his four-year-and-eight-months sentence for public procurement fraud. On March 11, the Skopje Appellate Court upheld convictions of Sead Kocan and Vasilije Avirovic in the case. The court also upheld an order to confiscate €17.3 million, ($19.03 million), the largest amount ever confiscated by courts in North Macedonia.

A Hungarian court denied on June 27 North Macedonia’s request to extradite former prime minister Gruevski, who fled to Hungary November 2018 after the court rejected his appeal and ordered him to report to prison to start serving a two-year sentence in the “Tank” case involving the fraudulent procurement of a 600,000-euro ($660,000) armored Mercedes Benz in 2012. Hungary granted him asylum. Additionally, the Ministry of Justice shared October 7 it had received notification from Hungarian authorities on August 5 that Hungary’s Supreme Court had denied North Macedonia’s request to extradite Gruevski in the case against the organizers of the April 27, 2017 parliament violence. Previously, on June 27, a Hungarian court denied Gruevski’s extradition in relation to the SPO “Tank” case. Also, November 13, Skopje Criminal Court dropped charges against Gruevski in the SPO “Trajectory” case due to that statute of limitations taking effect.

Financial Disclosure: The anticorruption law requires appointed and elected officials and their close family members to disclose their income and assets and provides penalties for noncompliance. The public may view disclosure declarations on the SCPC’s website. The commission routinely received and checked conflict of interest statements submitted by public officials. In a prominent case, the SCPC found a conflict of interest involving Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Kocho Angjushev and businesses in which he had an interest.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often willing to listen to these groups but were also sometimes unresponsive to their views. During the year a number of ministries established working groups that included members of civil society, and civil society representatives were invited to participate in parliamentary debates.

In 2016 tax authorities under the previous government opened inspections of 20 civil society organizations, and the Public Revenue Office targeted NGOs that had been critical of the VMRO-DPMNE-led government’s policies. In 2018 the interior minister informed representatives of the civil society organizations that the Ministry of Interior had requested the prosecutor to close the investigations for lack of evidence, which was done in April.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman worked to protect citizens from infringement of their rights by public institutions, reduce discrimination against minority communities and persons with disabilities, promote equitable representation in public life, and address children’s rights.

The May 22 Law on Prevention of Discrimination terminated the incumbent Commission for Prevention of Discrimination effective August 21. The appointment of the new commission remained pending at year’s end.

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

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Penalties for rape range from one to 15 years’ imprisonment, but those laws were poorly enforced. Domestic violence is illegal but was a persistent and common problem.

From January to June, the MLSP registered ‎767 victims of domestic violence, of whom 572 were women, 160 men, and 75 children. Six, all female, were victims of sexual abuse.

The government ran four Regional Centers for Victims of Domestic Violence that accommodated 56 victims. In cooperation with the civil sector, the government funds one Center for Victims of Domestic Violence and one Crisis Center, which holds victims 24 to 48 hours. In 2018 they accommodated 126 victims. A national NGO operated a hotline in both the Macedonian and Albanian languages and ran two crisis centers to provide temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace of both men and women and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. The government effectively enforced the law. Women’s rights activists formed a new social movement with the hashtag #ISpeakUpNow (English translation) to show the normalization of sexual harassment in society. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace was a problem, but victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.

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

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The laws were effectively enforced. In some communities the practice of men directing the voting or voting on behalf of female family members disenfranchised women. From January to July, a total of 21 complaints were filed with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination concerning unequal treatment of women in political life.

Parliament adopted the Law for Protection and Prevention of Discrimination on March 11, explicitly listing gender identity and sexual orientation as categories protected from discrimination. The law requires courts to waive fees for plaintiffs in discrimination cases and for civil society action lawsuits.

During the year the MYLA and the Antidiscrimination Commission received complaints alleging discrimination against women athletes. The commission found discrimination existed and recommended to all sports federations they align their internal regulations and practices with the antidiscrimination laws. MYLA also received complaints about workplace discrimination against pregnant women.

Birth Registration: The law determines citizenship primarily by the citizenship of the parents. It also allows orphans found in the country to obtain citizenship, unless authorities discover before the orphan reaches the age of 18 that his or her parents were foreigners. The government automatically registers the births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions, and the law requires that parents register the births of all children born in other places, including those born at home, at magistrate offices within 15 days of birth. Some Romani families delayed the registration of newborns, making it difficult for them to access educational, medical, and other benefits later in life due to lack of proper identity documents.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties for conviction include fines, imprisonment, and closure of businesses. Child abuse was a problem in some areas. The government operated a hotline for domestic violence, including child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. A court may issue a marriage license to persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if it finds them mentally and physically fit for marriage. Early and forced marriage occurred occasionally in the Romani community and, to a much lesser extent, in some Albanian communities. There are no official statistics on minor mothers.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children, including the offer, sale, or procurement of children for prostitution. The penalty for the commercial sexual exploitation of children is 10 to 15 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and provides penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The country follows the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which any person under the age of 18 is considered a child.

Authorities considered child commercial sexual exploitation a problem but did not know its extent. The country had an online registry, searchable by name and address, of convicted child traffickers and sex offenders that listed photographs, conviction records, and residential addresses. Offenders could ask authorities to remove them from the register 10 years after they completed their sentence, provided they did not commit a new offense. According to the registry, during the year there were six pedophiles serving prison sentences of two to 20 years.

Displaced Children: According to the MLSP, as of the end of August there were 56 newly registered displaced children of different ethnicities. From June 2018 to August the MLSP through mobile teams established by the Centers for Social Work, and with support from UNICEF and the IOM, registered a total of 222 street children. A 2016 report from the ombudsman’s office estimated 236 children lived without shelter. With international support the ministry operated two day centers for street children. The government also maintained a transit shelter for street children, but its small size limited its effectiveness in providing social services (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: In 2018 advocates and the ombudsman reported a lack of accountability for child neglect and abuse in orphanages, shelters, and detention centers. To address this, in 2018 the MLSP began replacing the Public Institution for the Care of Children with Educational Social Problems and Disturbed Behavior and two public homes for parentless children with individual household accommodation. As of August, five to six children per home were housed with 24-hour oversight by social workers and childcare providers. As of October 13, all orphans under three years of age were in foster homes. The MLSP also took steps to shorten the time required to adopt orphan or abandoned children. There were no reports of cases of abuse of children in the new household accommodations.

The ombudsman noted the educational-correctional facility for juveniles in Volkovija-Tetovo, completed in 2016, was still not operational. Juveniles continued to be housed in the penitentiary in Ohrid, which did not fully meet the established criteria for accommodating juveniles and did not provide adequate rehabilitation and medical services.

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

According to the Jewish community, approximately 200 Jewish persons resided in the country. The community reported no violent acts against the community or anti-Semitic acts during the year.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. The new Law on Prevention of Discrimination recognizes the failure to provide reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination on grounds of disability. The law allows persons who have experienced discrimination to submit complaints to the Commission for Protection from Discrimination. The commission was not functional in November, awaiting appointment of new members.

A separate law regulates a special government fund to stimulate employment of persons with disabilities. The Employment Agency managed the fund with oversight by the MLSP. The fund provided grants for office reconstruction or procurement of equipment for workstations to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. The law requires persons with physical or mental disabilities to obtain approval from a government medical commission to serve in supervisory positions in the private and public sectors.

The law establishes accessibility standards for new buildings; existing public structures were to be made accessible for persons with disabilities by the end of 2015. NGOs reported many public buildings did not comply with the law. Although all buses purchased since 2013 by the government for Skopje were accessible to persons with physical disabilities, public transportation remained largely inaccessible in other regions.

The Ministry of Education and Science made efforts to provide suitable support to enable children with disabilities to attend regular schools. It employed special educators, assigned either to individual selected schools or as “mobile” municipal special educators covering all schools in their municipality, to support teachers who had children with disabilities in their regular classes. School authorities continued installing elevators in several primary schools and deployed technology to assist students with disabilities to use computers in selected primary and secondary schools. Despite these efforts, a large number of students with disabilities continued to attend separate schools. Many of the polling stations in the presidential elections, particularly in the rural areas, were inaccessible for persons with disabilities.

In July the ombudsman’s Children and Disabilities Unit formed a UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities’ implementation monitoring team. As of September 13, the ombudsman received and acted on 12 complaints concerning discrimination against persons with disabilities.

According to the country’s most recent census, in 2002, the ethnic composition of the population was 64.2 percent Macedonian, 25.2 percent Albanian, 3.9 percent Turkish, 2.7 percent Romani, 1.8 percent Serbian, 0.8 percent Bosniak, and 0.5 percent Vlach. According to the ombudsman’s annual report, ethnic minorities, with the exception of Serbs and Vlachs, remained underrepresented in the civil service and other state institutions, including the military, police, intelligence services, courts, national bank, customs service, and public enterprises.

The law provides for primary and secondary education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Romani, Turkish, and Serbian languages. The number of minority students who received secondary education in their native language continued to increase, especially after secondary education became mandatory in 2007, although the government was unable to provide full instruction in Romani due to a shortage of qualified teachers. On January 15, the Law on the Use of Languages was promulgated and became final. The law is seen by many ethnic Albanians as resolving the last remaining issue from the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ethnic Albanians continued to criticize unequal representation in government ministries and public enterprises, as well as inequitable budget allocations.

On January 15, the Law on the Use of Languages was promulgated and became final. The law is seen by many ethnic Albanians as resolving the last remaining issue from the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ethnic Albanians continued to criticize unequal representation in government ministries and public enterprises, as well as inequitable budget allocations.

Ethnic Albanians continued to criticize inequitable representation in government ministries and public enterprises as well as inequitable budget allocations. In September the ombudsman’s office noted slow implementation of the measures for equitable representation of ethnic communities in the state administration, including in law enforcement. According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2018, the representation of ethnic Albanians in state institutions was somewhat lower compared to previous years. Ethnic Albanian and other minority representation within the civilian administration of the Ministry of Defense remained low, with 19 percent overall, and under 13 percent in managerial/leadership positions. Some elite units of police and military had almost no representation of ethnic minorities.

Roma reported widespread societal discrimination. NGOs and international experts reported employers often denied Roma job opportunities, and some Roma complained of lack of access to public services and benefits. The Ministry of Health and NGO Hera, in partnership with UNICEF, sponsored the Roma Health Mediators Program to provide health, social, and early childhood development services in seven municipalities with high Romani populations. Ethnic Turks also complained of underrepresentation in state institutions.

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care, and the government enforced such laws. Sexual acts between members of the same sex are legal.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community remained marginalized, and activists supporting LGBTI rights reported incidents of societal prejudice, including hate speech. The CSO Coalition Margini documented 70 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, five cases of discrimination, and one case of verbal assault by a police officer during the year. In one case fellow students verbally and physically attacked an LGBTI high school student, resulting in a broken nose. The student reported the case to the principal but chose not to report it to the police. Additionally, Margini noted most cases of violence against LGBTI persons are not reported to police or other institutions. According to the coalition, the Skopje public prosecutor remained ineffective in processing pending cases involving hate speech targeting members of the LGBTI community. On January 17, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the country violated the privacy rights, as well as the right to appeal, of a transgender person related to the gender change procedure. The court required the government to pay €9,000 ($9,900) in damages to the unnamed applicant. Despite the court ruling, NGOs complained the government failed to recognize gender identity changes in identification documents.

On June 29, the day of the country’s first ever pride parade, approximately 20 persons attacked prominent LGBTI activist Bekim Asani in Skopje. The aggressors chased Asani and six other LGBTI activists down the street, pulled them out of a taxi, beat Asani, and threatened to kill him and the other activists. Police arrested the assailants and opened a criminal investigation.

CSOs noted deficiencies and improved the legislative framework to protect the LGBTI community from discrimination. The Law on Primary Education, adopted in July, introduced antidiscrimination language related to sexual orientation and gender identity. The Law on Prevention and Protection from Discrimination, adopted in May, explicitly forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas. Amendments to the Criminal Code specifically list sexual orientation and gender identity in the section regulating hate speech.

The first Pride Parade took place in June. Police ensured the safety of approximately 2,000 participants that included members of parliament and government ministers. The parade triggered some hate speech on social media.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Trade unions are based on voluntary membership, and activities are financed by membership dues. Approximately 22 percent of employees are union members.

Union representatives, with the exception of a few branch unions, claimed they were generally not free from the influence of government officials, political parties, and employers.

The law requires federated unions to register with the MLSP and with the State Central Registry.

A court of general jurisdiction may terminate trade union activities at the request of the registrar or competent court when those activities are deemed to be “against the constitution and law.” There are no nationality restrictions on membership in trade unions, although foreign nationals must have a valid work permit and be employed by the company or government body listed on the permit. Although legally permitted, no unions operate in the free economic zones.

The government and employers did not always respect freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. Unions maintained the law’s “exclusionary” provision, which allowed employers to terminate up to 2 percent of workers from collective bargaining negotiations during a strike. Collective bargaining is restricted to trade unions that represent at least 20 percent of the employees and employers’ associations that represent at least 10 percent of the employers at the level at which the agreement is concluded (company, sector, or country). Government enforcement resources and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations of the law were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were generally subject to lengthy delays.

The MLSP received three complaints in the period 2018-19 about violations of the right to union organization and freedom of association. The complaints were forwarded to the State Labor Inspectorate and are currently pending action.

The president of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (KSS), Blagoja Ralpovski, claimed he was fired from the State Cadaster Agency due to his union activities. He filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination, with court action pending at year’s end.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government largely enforced applicable laws. The law prescribes imprisonment, which applies to violations of forced labor laws or for the destruction or removal of identification documents, passports, or other travel documents. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. There were instances in which women and children were subjected to forced labor, such as peddling small items in restaurants and bars, and sexual exploitation. Some Romani children were subject to forced begging, often by relatives (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor, including prohibiting the worst forms of child labor. The government made efforts to enforce the law in the formal economy but did not do so effectively in the informal economy. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from labor abuses, including the worst forms of child labor, and the minimum age for work. The minimum age for employment is 15. Children may begin work at 14 as apprentices or as participants in official vocational education programs, cultural, artistic, sports, and advertising events. The law prohibits employing minors under the age of 18 in work that is detrimental to their physical or psychological health, safety, or morality. It also prohibits minors from working at night or more than 40 hours per week.

The MLSP’s Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing laws regulating the employment of children. Police and the ministry, through centers for social work, shared responsibility for enforcing laws on child trafficking, including forced begging. Due to lack of enforcement, stringent penalties are insufficient to deter violations.

There were no reports of children under 18 unlawfully engaged in the formal economy. During inspections at some family-run businesses, the State Labor Inspectorate noted minor children assisting in the work, most commonly in family run handicrafts and retail businesses, as well as on farms.

Some children in the country engaged in forced begging, cleaning windshields; scavenging, or selling cigarettes or other small items in open markets, on the street, or in bars and restaurants at night. Although the necessary laws were in place, government efforts to eliminate forced begging by children were largely ineffective. Children involved in these activities were primarily Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian and most often worked for their parents or other family members. Despite enforcing legal remedies, such as temporary removal of parental rights, criminal charges, and revoking parental rights of repetitive offenders, officials were largely ineffective in preventing this continuous practice, and Romani children remained vulnerable to exploitation and forced labor.

The MLSP runs a call-center where child abuse can be reported, and most reports referred to cases of street begging. The ministry also funded two day centers that provided education, medical, and psychological services to children who were forced to beg on the street.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations generally prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, health status, political opinion, religion, age, national origin, language, or social status. The law does not specifically address discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status but does refer to the health status of employees. The government did not always enforce the laws effectively, and penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination received a total of 136 complaints related to workplace discrimination, of which most referred to gender and age discrimination.

Despite government efforts and legal changes for mandatory inclusion in primary and high school education, Roma continued to live in segregated groups without proper health and social protection, mostly due to lack of registration documents. Data from the State Employment Office showed that due to low participation in the education system, particularly higher education, Roma generally had difficulties finding jobs in the formal economy. Women’s wages lagged behind those of men, and few women occupied management positions. The government made efforts to prevent discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace for persons with disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage, as of October 15, was below the poverty threshold for a family of four, but the average monthly wage was significantly higher. The State Statistical Office estimated that 22.9 percent of the population lived at or below the poverty line.

Although the government set occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards were not enforced in the informal sector.

The total number of labor inspectors was considered adequate to investigate violations of labor law and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Inspections were not adequate, though, to ensure compliance, due, in part, to an inadequate regional distribution of inspectors.

The law establishes a 40-hour workweek with a minimum 24-hour rest period, paid vacation of 20 to 26 workdays, and sick leave benefits. Employees may not legally work more than an average of eight hours of overtime per week over a three-month period or 190 hours per year. According to the collective agreement for the private sector between employers and unions, employees in the private sector have a right to overtime pay at 135 percent of their regular rate. In addition, the law entitles employees who work more than 150 hours of overtime per year to a bonus of one month’s salary.

During the year the MLSP labor inspectorate filed complaints against several businesses for forcing employees to work long hours without the rest breaks required by law; nonpayment of salaries, benefits, and overtime; and cutting employees’ vacation. Violations in wage and overtime were most common in the textiles, construction, railroads, and retail sectors.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced. Many employers hired workers without complying with the law, and small retail businesses often required employees to work well beyond legal hourly limits. During the year the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was not fully functional and played only an advisory role. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their future employment, employers did not always respect this right, reportedly due to the high unemployment rate.

According to data from the Macedonian Occupational Safety Association, there were 33 workplace fatalities in 2018 and 124 workplace injuries. Most of the casualties occurred in the category of Household Activities, which included farming and use of agriculture equipment, followed by the construction sector.

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