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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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’.”

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.

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.

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.

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

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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