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Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state and serves a largely ceremonial role; he serves a five-year term, and the kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary rulers. The United Malays National Organization, together with a coalition of political parties known as the National Front (BN), has held power since independence in 1957. In the 2013 general election, the BN lost the popular vote to the opposition coalition but was re-elected in the country’s first-past-the-post system. The opposition and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the ruling coalition.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: an incident of forced disappearance; abusive and degrading treatment by security officials that in some cases led to death; the use of caning as a legal punishment; indefinite detention without warrant or judicial review for persons suspected of certain security-related crimes; arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics; limits on the freedoms of expression, including for the press, assembly, and association; limits on political rights and privacy; corruption; violence against transgender persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was rarely enforced; and child and forced labor, especially for migrant workers.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil society groups alleged continued impunity.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. The inauguration of President Keita and the subsequent establishment of a new National Assembly through free and fair elections ended a 16-month transitional period following the 2012 military coup that ousted the previous democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. The restoration of a democratic government and the arrest of coup leader Amadou Sanogo restored some civilian control over the military.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Despite the signing of the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in June 2015 between the government, the Platform of northern militias, and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), violent conflict between CMA and Platform forces continued throughout the northern region. The terrorist coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa Muslimin (Support to Islam and Muslims, JNIM)–comprised of Ansar al-Dine, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF)–was not a party to the peace process. JNIM carried out attacks on the military, armed groups, UN peacekeepers and convoys, international forces, humanitarian actors, and civilian targets throughout northern Mali and the Mopti and Segou regions of central Mali.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; excessively long pretrial detention; denial of fair public trial; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which was common and not prohibited by law; the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, some of which were affiliated with the government; and trafficking in persons. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. Widespread impunity for serious crimes committed in the north and center of the country continued.

Despite human rights provisions in the June 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of AQIM, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists, armed group elements, and other suspects accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) who were accused of numerous human rights abuses in Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in 2016, were under investigation but remain unresolved.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June 2016 gubernatorial elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful killings, disappearances, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and corruption of judges; violence against journalists by government and organized criminal groups; violence against migrants by government officers and organized criminal groups; corruption; lethal violence and sexual assault against institutionalized persons with disabilities; lethal violence against members of the indigenous population and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and lethal violence against priests by criminal organizations.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the OHCHR, the IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government.

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

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

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua is a multiparty constitutional republic, but actions by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party resulted in the de facto concentration of power in a single party, with an authoritarian executive branch exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the FSLN was inaugurated to a third term in office in January following an electoral process regarded as deeply flawed by domestic organizations and the international community. The 2016 elections also expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. Observers have noted serious flaws in municipal, regional, and national elections since 2008. Civil society groups, international electoral experts, business leaders, and religious leaders identified persistent flaws in the 2017 municipal elections and noted the need for comprehensive electoral reform.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings; torture during detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention of suspects; almost complete lack of judicial independence; reports of holding at least one political prisoner; unlawful interference with privacy; multiple obstacles to freedom of speech and the press, including government intimidation, and harassment of and threats against journalists and independent media; and partisan restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly. The government restricted citizens’ right to vote and employed biased policies to realize single-party dominance. There was widespread corruption, including in the police, Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and other government organs. The government restricted the ability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations to receive funding. There was lethal and increasing societal violence against women; violent attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, to which police failed to respond; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous persons and communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

The government rarely took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. Impunity remained a widespread problem.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country. Humanitarian organizations faced obstacles to operating or denial of entry, and government officials harassed and intimidated domestic and international NGOs that were critical of the government or the FSLN. Some NGOs reported intimidation by government officials created a climate of fear intended to suppress criticism. The government continued to prevent non-FSLN-affiliated NGOs and civil society groups from participating in government social programs, such as Programa Amor and Hambre Cero, and it frequently used FSLN-controlled family cabinets (community-based bodies that administer government social programs) and party-controlled CLSs to administer these programs. Increased government restrictions on domestic NGOs’ ability to receive funding directly from international donors seriously hindered the NGOs’ ability to operate. Additionally, increased control over the admission of foreign visitors or volunteer groups into the country hindered the work of humanitarian groups and human rights NGOs. Some groups reported difficulties in moving donated goods through customs.

Domestic NGOs under government investigation reported problems accessing the justice system and delays in filing petitions, as well as pressure from state authorities. Many NGOs believed comptroller and tax authorities audited their accounts as a means of intimidation. While legally permitted, spot audits were a common form of harassment and often used selectively, according to NGOs. NGOs reported difficulties in scheduling meetings with authorities and in receiving official information due to a growing culture of secrecy. Local NGOs reported having to channel requests for meetings with ministry officials and for public information through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These requests were generally not processed. NGOs also reported government hostility or aggression when questioning or speaking with officials on subjects such as corruption and the rule of law. Groups opposing the construction of a proposed interoceanic canal also reported being harassed and placed under surveillance.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not send a representative to the March or September hearings of the IACHR, which convened public hearings regarding the situation of the right to freedom of expression and the situation of female human rights defenders in Nicaragua, respectively. The IACHR had requested to visit the country several times in previous sessions and had received a promise from the government to process its request. The IACHR commissioner and rapporteur on the rights of children, Esmeralda Arosemena de Tritino, cancelled a planned November 20 trip when informed the government had not given consent for the visit.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2016 the administration named Corina Centeno as head of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH). Human rights organizations responded to her appointment with criticism, noting her prior experience working with health labor unions and her affiliation with the FSLN. The PDDH was perceived as politicized and ineffective.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. President Issoufou Mahamadou won a second term in March 2016 with 92 percent of the vote. The African Union certified the election as free and fair over the criticism of some domestic observers, who noted the jailing of the entire leadership of the lead opposition party among other irregularities. The government refused to follow a Constitutional Court ruling for a parliamentary election in the district of Maradi to replace a representative who had died.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included attacks by armed groups that resulted in death, disappearances, and abuse; arbitrary arrest and detention of accused terrorists or other combatants by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; detention of opposition politicians; restrictions on freedom of assembly; allegations of widespread official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons, caste-based slavery, and forced labor..

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

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. The presidential and 2013 midterm national elections were generally free and fair. The 2016 local elections were twice postponed until May 2018. Proponents of delaying the elections cited several reasons, among them the continued influence of drug money on local elections.

Civilian control over the Philippine National Police (PNP) improved but was not fully effective. The government confirmed a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service in December 2016, after an eight-year hiatus.

In May members of the terrorist Maute Group and supporters of other extremist organizations attacked Marawi City, on the southern island of Mindanao. In response President Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) restored government control of the city on October 23. Approximately 360,000 persons were displaced as a result of the crisis.

Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017. From January to the end of September, media reports chronicled more than 900 fatalities in police operations suspected to be connected with the government’s antidrug campaign. Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings. As of August, police claimed to have resolved 1,889 cases, and 4,373 remained under investigation.

The most significant human rights issues included: killings by security forces, vigilantes and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; often harsh and life threatening prison conditions; warrantless arrests by security forces and cases of apparent government disregard for legal rights and due process; political prisoners; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; threats of violence against human rights activists; violence against women; and forced labor.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of police killings, but he said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures.

Conflicts continued between the government and Muslim separatist, communist insurgent, and terrorist groups, displacing communities and resulting in deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, and the organizations operated shadow governments in areas they controlled. The government called off negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the New People’s Army, early in the year after clashes between the armed forces and New People’s Army guerilla fighters in violation of a 2016 ceasefire. The government resumed peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections in September 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.

Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.

The occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside, forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of LGBTI persons in Chechnya; enforced disappearances; torture that was systematic and sometimes resulted in death and sometimes included punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of judicial independence; political prisoners; severe interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other vague laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; and violence against journalists and bloggers; blocking and filtering of internet content and use of cyberattacks to disrupt peaceful internet discussion; severe restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe restriction on freedom of association, including laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization”; restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; refoulement; severe restriction on the right to participate in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; thousands of fatal incidents of domestic violence to which the government responded by reducing the penalty for domestic violence, and honor killings and other harmful traditional practices against women in parts of the North Caucasus; thousands of fatal incidents of child abuse; trafficking in persons; institutionalization in harsh conditions of a large percentage of persons with disabilities; and state-sponsored as well as societal violence against LGBTI persons, especially in Chechnya.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses of human rights, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya committed abuses with impunity. Virtually none of these abuses was credibly investigated or prosecuted by either the federal government or local Chechen authorities.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and in many instances intensified, particularly of groups that focused on election monitoring, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted. Some officials, including the ombudsman for human rights, regional ombudsman representatives, and the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

High-ranking officials often displayed a hostile attitude towards the activities of human rights organizations and suggested that their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. The deputy head of the Security Council, Aleksandr Grebyonkin, on May 17 publicly stated that foreign NGOs seek to influence and destabilize the sociopolitical situation in the country. The chief justice of the Constitutional Court, Valeriy Zorkin, stated on May 18 that protecting human rights should not undermine state sovereignty or the “moral standards of the society.” Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka reiterated his agency’s intent to continue to identify and prosecute foreign NGOs whose activities threaten national security. He continued to call for the expansion of the “undesirable” foreign organizations list to counter threats to the country’s “constitutional order.”

Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of investigations, fines, and raids. Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of their activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Urals. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to their effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 126-member Public Chamber, composed of appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government. Some human rights groups declined to participate in the chamber due to concern that the government would use it to exert control over civil society.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president selects some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently.

Human Rights Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a semiautonomous figure, who was empowered to make limited progress in specific cases. The country had regional ombudsmen in 83 of its 85 regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. International election monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process. In 2013 elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all of the open seats. In 2015 the country held a constitutional referendum; the National Electoral Commission reported 98 percent of registered voters participated of which 98 percent endorsed a set of amendments that included provisions that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).

The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings and politically motivated disappearances by security forces; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest; security forces’ disregard for the rule of law; prolonged pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights and on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; restrictions on and harassment of media and some local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on freedom to participate in the political process and the ability to change government through free and fair elections; harassment, arrest, and abuse of political opponents, human rights advocates, and individuals perceived to pose a threat to government control of social order; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on labor rights.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving some civilian officials and some members of the SSF was a problem.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law, which specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Saud. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, powers and duties of the government, and provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. In 2015 the country held municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Information on whether the elections met international standards was not available, but independent polling station observers identified no significant irregularities with the elections. For the first time, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings, including execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the internet, and criminalization of libel; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official gender discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were announced; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity.

Beginning in November the government detained approximately 200 government officials, businesspersons, and royal family members ostensibly to investigate allegations of widespread corruption. According to media reports, members of the security forces coerced with relative impunity at least some of the detainees to the point of requiring medical care.

The country continued air operations in Yemen as leader of a military coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 forceful takeover of the Republic of Yemen’s government institutions and facilities by Houthi militias and security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions, and the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, reported that some coalition airstrikes caused disproportionate collateral damage. Houthi-Saleh militias regularly conducted cross-border raids into Saudi territory and fired missiles and artillery into southern Saudi Arabia throughout the year, killing Saudi civilians. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), established by the Saudi government and based in Riyadh, investigated allegations of civilian casualties, published recommendations, and in some cases provided compensation to affected families, although no prosecutions occurred.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country but allowed representatives to visit on a limited basis. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported that the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and on issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The HRC stated that the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests” it received, in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government viewed unlicensed local human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations. ACPRA applied for a license in 2008, which authorities did not grant. The government initially allowed its unlicensed operation, but it remained unclear which activities the group could undertake without risking punishment. The group was unable to raise operating funds legally, which limited its activities. In 2013 a court ordered the dissolution of ACPRA and confiscation of its assets (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Eleven founders of ACPRA were initially detained and eight remained in custody for their activities related to the organization.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The well resourced HRC was effective in highlighting problems and registering and responding to the complaints it received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Diwan and the cabinet, with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics, such as protests or cases of political activists or reformers, that would require directly confronting government authorities. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included four women and at least three Shia; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In 2016 the country held largely free and fair municipal elections, in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) received 54 percent of the vote. In 2014 the country held a largely free and fair national election in which the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly, which re-elected Jacob Zuma to a second term as the country’s president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: police use of unlawful lethal force; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; official corruption; and victimization by police of migrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, including violence.

Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future