Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Based on the electoral calendar specified in the constitution, parliamentary elections should have taken place in 2015; however, they did not take place in either 2015 or 2016.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although there were occasions when security forces acted independently.

The most significant human rights problems were widespread violence, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups; armed insurgent groups’ killings of persons affiliated with the government; torture and abuse of detainees by government forces; widespread disregard for the rule of law and little accountability for those who committed human rights abuses; and targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

Other human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; ineffective government investigations of abuse and torture by local security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of women accused of so-called moral crimes; prolonged pretrial detentions; judicial corruption and ineffectiveness; violations of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, religion, and movement; pervasive governmental corruption; underage and forced marriages; abuse of children, including sexual abuse; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination and abuses against ethnic minorities; societal discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status; and abuse of workers’ rights, including child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those who committed human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians, including journalists, using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks, and armed attacks. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 61 percent of civilian casualties (1,569 deaths and 3,574 injured) to nonstate actors. The Taliban used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked villagers, foreigners, civil servants, and medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. Authorities did not effectively investigate or prosecute most of these abuses.

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

There were credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, in February UNAMA received a report of Afghan Local Police (ALP) members detaining, torturing, and executing a shepherd after an IED killed two ALP members.

NGOs, UNAMA, and media throughout the year charged progovernment forces with extrajudicial killings. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to UNAMA’s October 19 report, there were 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured) between January 1 and September 30, representing a 1 percent decrease from the same period in 2015. The conflict continued to affect the most vulnerable, including women and children. In this same period, UNAMA documented 2,461 child casualties (639 deaths and 1,822 injured), an increase of 15 percent compared with 2015. UNAMA attributed 61 percent of all civilian casualties to nongovernmental elements and 23 percent to progovernment forces.

In July, Human Rights Watch and UNAMA reported that the Afghan army and Junbesh militia forces carried out an operation against the Taliban in Northern Faryab in June in which militia forces killed 13 civilians and wounded 32 others. Human Rights Watch interviewed villagers who said Junbesh fighters entered the villages and targeted those they believed sided with the Taliban.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributed to security forces, and insurgent groups were reportedly also responsible for disappearances and abductions (see section 1.g.).

On November 25, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him during a traditional “buzkashi” match in Jowzan Province. After being held for a number of days, Ishchi later publicized allegations that he was beaten and tortured by Dostum and his men during his detention. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the allegations.

On June 1, Taliban militants kidnapped 17 members of the Hazara Shiite minority community in Sar-e-Pul Province. Although all were subsequently freed, the Taliban continued to target and kidnap members of the Hazara ethnic community, executing Hazara hostages in certain instances. On September 1, Taliban members stopped a car in Dawlat Abad district of Ghor Province and kidnapped five Hazara university students. They killed one of the students and released the other four weeks later.

On August 7, two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped; at year’s end they were still in captivity.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians.

According to local media reports, on July 30, Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel beat civilians in the Speen Ghebarga area of Qalat district in Zabul Province on the site of a recent explosion. The Ministry of Interior suspended three police personnel for the offense.

According to reports, some security officials and persons connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. NGOs reported incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF); however, cultural taboos against reporting such crimes made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. UNAMA reported it continued to receive allegations of sexual violence against children. In the first half of the year, UNAMA verified two incidents in which ALP used boys for sexual purposes in Baghlan and Kunduz. In one of the cases, an ALP commander in Kunduz kidnapped a 16-year-old boy from his home, brought him to his ALP checkpoint, and raped him for three days. In another case an ALP unit in Baghlan used at least one boy as a bodyguard and for sexual exploitation. There were reports of other boys being abused in the same unit.

There were reports of abuses of power by “arbakai” (untrained local militia) commanders and their followers. According to UNAMA many communities used the terms ALP and arbakai interchangeably, making it difficult to attribute reports of abuses to one group or the other. Nevertheless, credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of “baad” (the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance) were attributed to the ALP.

There were numerous reports of torture and other abuses by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In March the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported the Taliban killed a woman in Jowzjan Province for committing adultery, after her husband and his family accused her of having an extramarital affair. Due to security concerns, neither the AIHCRC nor the government was able to investigate the case. In May a video appeared in social media of a woman in Jowzjan Province being tried in an informal Taliban court and later shot in the back of the head and killed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate (JRD) is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The ANP, which is under the Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate for Security (NDS), under the ANDSF, also operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan.

There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report common inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient throughout the GDPDC prisons. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget. Many prisoners’ families provided food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates, or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them, with the exception of some juvenile facilities that separately housed juveniles imprisoned for national security reasons. According to the UN April 20 Report on Children in Armed Conflict, security forces detained hundreds of children on suspicion of being Taliban fighters, attempting suicide attacks, manufacturing or placing IEDs, or assisting insurgent armed groups. In the same report, the United Nations stated the Ministry of Justice reported 214 boys detained in juvenile rehabilitation centers on national security-related charges as of December 2015. There were reports the Parwan detention facility, operated by the Ministry of Defense, held 145 children for security-related offenses ay year’s end, a threefold increase compared with the previous year.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem; 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded, based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross. As of July men’s prison facilities were at approximately 190 percent of capacity across the country. The Kapisa provincial prison for men was the most overcrowded, housing 340 inmates, more than 10 times the 29 prisoners for which it was designed. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 12,398 prisoners as of September, which was more than double the number it was designed to house.

In a March assessment on the country’s prison health services, UNAMA reported that few prisoners had access to medical check-ups or psychiatric services. The report also suggested the 26 provincial prisons did not have the female medical staff necessary to treat female prisoners. As a result, many children, up to the age of seven, accompanied their mothers to prison. In the same assessment, UNAMA reported that 336 children were accompanying female prisoners held in provincial prisons. While many women opted to keep their children with them in prison (ages seven and under), many others enrolled their children in Child Support Centers (CSCs). There were three CSCs: in Kabul, Mazar, and Herat.

In March, after authorities moved the Kabul Female Prison and Detention Center from a renovated building in the city to an allegedly subpar facility in the Pul-e Charkhi prison complex, a group of female prisoners set the facility on fire to protest their new living conditions.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to detention facilities of the NDS and the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Defense, and NATO Mission Resolute Support had access to NDS, ANP, and Ministry of Defense facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when unannounced. While Resolute Support did not experience the same level of difficulty, authorities denied unannounced access on several occasions at NDS and ANP facilities. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities. In February and May, members of parliament visited GDPDC prison facilities to conduct monitoring and oversight of prison conditions, with a focus on conditions for women. The Justice Ministry’s JRD also produced an annual report in March on juvenile justice problems, drafted by the JRD’s Monitoring and Evaluation Office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections.

According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In 2012 the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) ordered a halt to the prosecution of women for “running away,” which is not a crime under the law. Reports indicated that prosecutors instead charged women who had left home with “attempted zina” (extramarital sexual relations) for being outside the home in the presence of nonrelated men, which is also not a crime under the law. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for providing security in the country, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and also has responsibility for the ALP, a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army (ANA), under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases were transferred to prosecutors. In some areas insurgents, rather than the ANP or ANA, maintained control.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS and ANP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited. Police corruption remained a serious problem (see section 4).

NGOs and human rights activists reported widespread societal violence, especially against women (see section 6). In many cases police did not prevent or respond to violence and, in some cases, arrested women who reported crimes committed against them, such as rape.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the AGO. With court approval the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines, and no further extension of the investigatory period is permitted if the defendant is in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits.

Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were allowed access to their families, but there were exceptions, and access was frequently delayed.

The criminal procedure code does provide for release on bail; however, in practice, the bond system was not always used. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In many cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime was actually committed.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Like adult detainees, detained children frequently were denied basic rights and many aspects of due process, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases fall under the ordinary courts. The law mandates that authorities handle children’s cases confidentially and, as with all criminal cases, may involve three stages: primary, appeals, and the final stage at the Supreme Court.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In some instances authorities chose to punish victims because they brought shame on the family by reporting an abuse. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not be returned to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. There were also allegations that authorities allegedly treated children related to a perpetrator as proxies and imprisoned them.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. Article 130 of the constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of sharia, or Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied Article 130 to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The presidential decree on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW)–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. UNAMA reported police detained individuals for moral crimes, breach of contract, family disputes, and to extract confessions. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Many detainees did not benefit from any or all of the provisions of the criminal procedure code, largely due to a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if the investigation cannot be completed or an indictment is not filed, within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, which existed between 2010 and 2016, was a mechanism for bringing combatants off the battlefield. The program document stated the program “is not a framework for pardoning all crimes and providing blanket amnesty,” and reintegration candidates were informed prior to enrollment that entry into the program did not amount to blanket immunity from prosecution.

In September the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin group. As part of the agreement, the government pledged to release certain prisoners in its custody. At year’s end the government was vetting prisoners for possible release.

As of September 2015, prison industries offered more jobs and vocational training to enhance employment opportunities after release. In December 2015 President Ghani visited Badam Bagh prison in Kabul to inquire about the situation of female inmates. Ghani said he personally oversaw the drafting of pardon and parole decrees and ordered the creation of an impartial delegation composed of female representatives from civil society to look into female prisoners’ cases. The delegation, comprising nine women, was reviewing female inmate cases to ensure those eligible were released. By year’s end, 235 women had been released, and 307 had their sentences reduced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Bribery, corruption, and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency continued to impair judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. There was varying adherence to codified law, with courts often disregarding applicable statutory law in favor of sharia or local custom. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was relatively strong in urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in rural areas, where approximately 76 percent of the population lived. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who were graduates of law school, many from universities with sharia faculties, continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March 2015 a mob killed Farkhunda Malikzada after a local religious cleric falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Quran. Following protests after Farkhunda’s death, the government promised swift and exemplary justice but showed little progress in holding the attackers accountable. A court prosecuted some of the attackers and sentenced some to the death penalty. In March 2016, however, the Supreme Court voted to reduce the sentences of those convicted. The reasoning was that the death penalty can be imposed only where the accused are found to be the “main perpetrators” of the death. The Supreme Court held it could not find sufficient evidence that any of the four men were the direct cause of Farkhunda’s death.

Following the Supreme Court decision to uphold the reduced sentences, President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case. More than 40 civil society and women’s organizations formed an alliance to demand that the Supreme Court decision be investigated and revisited. As an example, the Women’s Political Participation Committee, a civil society organization, held a press conference on March 19 to call on the government to reassess the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure more transparency in the process.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. UNAMA reported Taliban attacks against judicial authorities and prosecutors significantly increased following the government’s execution on May 8 of six Taliban prisoners. Following the executions, the Taliban carried out major attacks against judicial officials. On May 25, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a government shuttle bus transporting Maidan Wardak provincial court staff members, killing 12 civilians, including two judges, and injuring nine others. On June 1, the Taliban attacked Ghazni’s provincial appellate court and killed four civilians, including two court staff, and injured 15 others, including the head of the court.

In major cities, courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Civil cases continued to be frequently resolved using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments could include execution or mutilation. For example, in August in Kapisa Province, the Taliban accused a 20-year-old student of spying, kidnapped him, and killed him a week later. UNAMA reported death sentences, lashings, and beatings resulted in 29 civilian casualties (24 deaths and five injuries) in the first half of the year, a 28 percent increase over the same period in the previous year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although these rights were not always respected. In some provinces public trials were held, but this was not the norm. Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. An indigent defendant has the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. This right was applied inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens often were unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials were slowly demonstrating increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also allows for the accused persons to be released temporarily on bail, but this was rarely used. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had limited access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. The state judiciary did not play a significant or effective role in adjudicating civil matters due to corruption and lack of capacity, although the judiciary frequently adjudicated family law matters.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization.

There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Authorities imprisoned relatives, male and female, of criminal suspects and escaped convicts in order to induce the persons being sought to surrender (see section 1.d.).

Insurgents continued to intimidate cell phone operators to shut down operations. Reports of destruction of mobile telephone towers, bribing of guards, and disconnecting of networks at night were particularly common in the southwestern, southern, and eastern provinces.

Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem due to insurgent attacks. Civilians, particularly women and children, continued to bear the brunt of intensified armed conflict, according to UNAMA. Overall civilian casualties continued at approximately the same rates as in 2015, but with a 1 percent decrease in deaths. Terrorist groups caused the vast majority of civilian deaths.

Killings: For the first nine months of the year, UNAMA documented 8,397 civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured). UNAMA attributed 23 percent of civilian casualties to progovernment forces, while it attributed 61 percent of all civilian casualties to antigovernment elements.

According to UNAMA, ground engagements and crossfire incidents involving the parties to the conflict remained the largest cause of civilian casualties (dead and injured), followed by suicide and complex attacks and IEDs. UNAMA reported that the number of casualties among children in the first nine months of the year increased by 15 percent over the same period in 2015. Antigovernment elements continued to use suicide and complex attacks to target civilians and government officials, a practice that became the most harmful tactic by antigovernment forces. In the first nine months of the year, suicide and complex attacks represented 20 percent of all civilian casualties, while IEDs caused 18 percent of casualties.

The increase in complex and suicide attacks was evidenced by the attack in Kabul in July, when a twin bombing occurred near Deh Mazang Square in Kabul during a peaceful demonstration. More than 80 demonstrators, predominantly Shiite Hazara, were killed by the blasts, and more than 230 were injured.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack religious leaders whom they concluded spoke against the insurgency or the Taliban. Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials. The majority of Taliban attacks targeted security forces, in particular ANP and ALP forces, notably in volatile areas. Antigovernment elements continued to use civilian residences to attack government forces, such as those that occurred in February in Dand E Ghori, according to local media.

The Taliban and antigovernment elements continued to engage in indiscriminate use of force, attacking and killing villagers, foreigners, and NGO workers in armed attacks and with vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and suicide bombs. Through the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 2,509 civilian casualties (531 civilian deaths and 1,528 injuries) because of combined IED tactics, or 67 percent of all civilian casualties caused by antigovernment forces.

Abductions: UNAMA documented 195 incidents of conflict-related abductions in the first six months of the year that resulted in 85 civilian casualties (46 deaths and 39 injured) and the abduction of 1,141 persons. This showed a 67 percent increase in the number of civilians abducted, albeit with a 2 percent decrease in the overall number of abductions, compared with the same period in 2015. On May 30, the Taliban stopped three civilian buses carrying passengers from Kabul to Takhar and Badakhshan Provinces in Ali Abad district of Kunduz Province. Taliban abducted 185 passengers, including 30 women and children. The abductors identified 28 men as Afghan Security Personnel and released 157 passengers. They executed 12 of the kidnapped passengers and released eight others. The last eight were released a month and a half later, after local elders mediated their release.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to some reports, on June 26, security forces launched a combined operation with progovernment armed groups against the Taliban in Faryab Province. While the Taliban fled the area, progovernment armed groups led by six commanders conducted operations in four villages that resulted in 17 casualties (five deaths and 12 injured). The forces loyal to these six commanders shot and killed three civilian men in Sheshpar village and severely beat 14 other men in the same village on accusation of supporting the Taliban; two of the 14 beaten men died of their wounds. There were reports that these forces looted and burned civilian houses in Shordarya area, and UNAMA was investigating the allegations. President Ghani ordered the arrest of individuals responsible for the abuse, and the NDS arrested one commander and seven men while the investigation continued.

Antigovernment elements continued to target civilians. The following are illustrative examples. In February, Taliban members killed four civilians at a wedding party in the Sar Hakwza district of Paktika Province, accusing them of cooperating with government officials. On March 5, the Taliban shot and killed a mosque custodian/imam in front of his mosque in Kandahar Province. The group claimed that the imam was working for the government’s intelligence service.

Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries, restrict areas available for farming, and impede the return of refugees. UNAMA reported the number of deaths and injuries from land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war was 35 percent higher than in previous years. The Mine Action Program of Afghanistan reported that during the 12 months ending in March, there were 155 reported casualties from ERW, seven casualties due to land mines, and 1,051 casualties from pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (PPIEDs). In addition to these casualties from traditional antitank and antipersonnel mines and PPIEDs, there continued to be thousands of civilian casualties from other IEDs. According to the Mine Action Coordination Center, land mines, unexploded ordnance, and ERW imperiled 1,577 communities across 256 districts, covering approximately 230 square miles. The Ministry of Education and NGOs continued to conduct educational programs and mine awareness campaigns throughout the country.

Between January 1 and June 30, child casualties from ERW increased by 53 percent, accounting for 85 percent of all civilian casualties caused by ERW, compared with the same period in 2015. ERW caused 264 child casualties (83 deaths and 181 injured), making it the second leading cause of child casualties in the first half of the year. In the same period, UNAMA documented 136 incidents of ERW detonation resulting in 312 civilian casualties (95 deaths and 217 injured, a 49 percent increase compared with the first half of 2015. Mine-risk education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, was conducted in schools to raise awareness. According to the Mine Action Program Coordination Center of Afghanistan, there were 1,620 mine-contaminated communities, covering an area of approximately 210 square miles.

Child Soldiers: There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias, particularly the ANP and ALP, recruited and used children for military purposes. In an effort to prevent the recruitment of children, the government continued to work towards the expansion of Child Protection Units (CPUs) to all 34 provinces. As of November there were 17 active CPUs–12 of them established during the year. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), CPUs prevented 315 children from being recruited during the year.

The AIHRC reported 21 cases of child recruitment by the Ministry of Interior security forces. Under a government action plan, the ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted enlistment by children. Recruits undergo an identity check, including a requirement that at least two community elders vouch that a recruit is 18 years old and is eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes.

UNAMA also documented the recruitment of children by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements, although figures were unreliable and difficult to obtain. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers and human shields and in other cases to assist with their work, such as placing IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. During the year the United Nations recorded 35 cases of child recruitment by armed opposition groups and 13 cases by the ANDSF.

In February the Taliban killed Wasil Ahmad, an 11-year-old boy who had been praised for fighting in an ALP unit for 43 days in 2015 when Taliban forces laid siege to his hometown of Khas Uruzgan. Although the ALP claimed the boy was not recruited and volunteered to defend his family, he was armed and in uniform. The boy was killed six months after the siege; he was no longer engaged in combat.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to have a negative effect on the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Insurgents deliberately targeted government employees and aid workers.

Suspected Taliban members attacked NGO offices, vehicles, guesthouses, restaurants, and hotels frequented by NGO employees. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into the country and distribute them. In April unidentified armed men abducted 15 members of a mine removal team from HALO Trust, a mine-clearing agency, in Herat Province. The men were released the next day during a military operation.

The Taliban continued to distribute threatening messages in attempts to curtail government and development activities. Insurgents used civilians, including children, as human shields, either by forcing them into the line of fire or by conducting operations in civilian settings.

In the south and east, the Taliban and other antigovernment elements frequently forced local residents to provide food and shelter for their fighters. The Taliban also continued to attack schools, radio stations, and government offices.

On September 5, Taliban forces carried out two large bombing operations in Kabul, targeting the Ministry of Defense and the humanitarian agency CARE International. At least 30 were killed and more than 90 injured at the ministry. The majority of casualties at the ministry attack were ANDSF, and an ANA general and two senior police officials were among the dead. The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. At CARE International unidentified attackers detonated a VBIED at the agency’s headquarters. One civilian was killed, while one ANP person and seven civilians were injured.

On October 25, militants killed 24 civilians–including women and children–who had been captured the day before near the Ghor provincial capital of Firezkoh city (formerly Chaghcharan). The Taliban denied involvement, and the provincial governor’s spokesperson told one journalist that Islamic State in Khorasan Province carried out the attack. Other reports indicated the civilians were executed in response to the death of local Taliban commander Faroq on October 24 during an attack on an Afghan National Civil Order Police checkpoint.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.

In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.

In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.

Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.

On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.

On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”

Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.

An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.

Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.

Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.

Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,

Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. In May a mass demonstration took place in Kabul over the government’s decision on routing of an electricity line from Turkmenistan to Kabul. Although government forces placed shipping containers to provide security and limited the areas in which the demonstration took place, protesters were allowed to march on the streets of Kabul. On July 23, protesters gathered again to protest the same electricity line but were attacked by insurgents with a bomb that killed 80 and injured an additional 250 protesters. After Da’esh claimed responsibility, the Ministry of Interior banned street protests for 10 days.

In September, Tajik supporters assembled to rebury the remains of a former king on a hill important to the Uzbek community in Kabul, leading to a standoff. After an agreement was reached, the reburial took place, although some criticized the government for not handling the issue properly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The right to freedom of association is provided in the constitution, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges them to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. By law a political party must have 10,000 registered members to register with the ministry.

In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. The regulation provides for removal of parties failing to do so from the Justice Ministry’s official list. In 2015 the ministry conducted a nationwide review of provincial political party offices. It found 10 political parties not in compliance with the regulation and deregistered all 10 of them. There were a total of 57 political parties registered with the ministry.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, which the government generally respected, although it sometimes limited citizens’ movement for security reasons.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. Government ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces or insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers.

The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. In many areas insurgent violence, banditry, land mines, and IEDs made travel extremely dangerous, especially at night.

Armed insurgents operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods. The Taliban imposed nightly curfews on the local populace in regions where it exercised authority, mostly in the southeast.

Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

Emigration and Repatriation: Refugee returns to the country rose in the last half of the year. As of mid-November UNHCR had assisted the return of more than 370,000 registered refugees (99 percent of whom returned from Pakistan), greatly surpassing the 58,460 returns in 2015. According to UNHCR surveys of returnees at arrival centers, many returnees claimed they left Pakistan due to increased rates of harassment and extortion and because they no longer believed they could stay in their homes safely or find jobs. Other reasons they cited included maintaining family unity with undocumented Afghans following their deportation, enhanced border controls, and uncertainty about legal status. Former refugees constituted more than 20 percent of the total country population, yet the government lacked the capacity to integrate large numbers of new arrivals due to continuing insecurity, limited employment opportunities, poor development, and budgetary constraints.

Undocumented Afghan refugees also returned in large numbers. The International Organization for Migration reported that about 230,000 had returned from Pakistan as of mid-November and projected that approximately 300,000 undocumented Afghans would return by the end of 2016. Approximately 391,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran during the same period; most of these returns resulted from deportation by Iranian authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased, mainly triggered by increasing armed conflict. The United Nations estimated there were 1.2 million IDPs in the country. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 486,000 new IDPs fled their homes from January to November. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs and led to estimates of the total number of IDPs that were significantly larger than official figures. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries. Nonetheless, the government worked closely with the international community to protect and respond to the needs of Pakistani refugees, including an estimated 100,000 refugees who remained in UNHCR camps in Khost and Paktika Provinces after being displaced in 2014 following Pakistani military operations against insurgents across the border.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, there were cases in which government officials intimidated human rights groups. Human rights activists continued to express concern that war criminals and human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds.

Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled’s Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate without interference or political influence. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were generally respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties, including a “maximum term” of imprisonment for forced labor (between eight and 15 years). Article 515 of the penal code also could be interpreted to criminalize a “foreign party’s” coercive labor practices through fraud or deceit, with a penalty of five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Men, women, and children were forced into poppy cultivation, domestic work, carpet weaving, brick kiln work, organized begging, and drug trafficking. NGO reports documented the practice of bonded labor, whereby customs allow families to force men, women, and children to work as a means to pay off debt or to settle grievances. The debt can continue from generation to generation, with children forced to work to pay off their parents’ debt (see section 7.c.). Labor violations against migrant workers were common, especially the widespread practice of bonded labor in brick kiln facilities.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 18 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are 15 and older to do “light work,” and permits children 16 and 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. Children under age 14 are prohibited from working under any circumstances. The law prohibits the employment of children in work likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining, begging, and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

The government lacked a specific policy on implementing the law’s provisions on child labor. Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations, and the government made minimal efforts to prevent child labor or remove children from exploitative labor conditions. Reports estimated that fewer than 10 percent of children had formal birth registrations, which further limited authorities’ already weak capacity to enforce laws on the minimum age of employment.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Labor declined to estimate the number of working children, citing a lack of data and deficiencies in birth registrations.

Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers, and in carpet weaving, brick making, the coal industry, and poppy harvesting. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in agriculture, mining (especially family-owned gem mines), commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work, and there were reports children were exposed to sexual abuse by adult workers. There were reports of recruitment of juveniles by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. According to the 2016 Asia Foundation survey, 74 percent of the population agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home; nonetheless, only 9.4 percent of women in the survey said they were involved in any activity that involved making money. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus were subjected to discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The minimum wage for permanent government workers was 6,000 Afghanis ($103) per month. There was no minimum wage for permanent workers in the private sector; but the minimum wage for workers in the nonpermanent private sector was 5,500 Afghanis ($95) per month. According to the Central Statistics Organization, 36 percent of the population earned wages below the poverty line of 1,150 Afghanis ($20) per month.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for youth, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law prohibits women and minors (ages 15 to 18) from engaging in physically challenging work, work that is harmful to health, and night work. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The labor ministry had only 18 inspectors for 34 provinces, and the inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.

Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held office since 1999, in the 2014 presidential elections. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but noted low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. The 2012 legislative elections did not result in significant changes to the composition of the government.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most significant continuing human rights problems were restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association, lack of judicial independence and impartiality, and limits on freedom of the press.

Other human rights concerns were the excessive use of force by police, including allegations of torture; limitations on the ability of citizens to choose their government; widespread corruption accompanied by reports of limited government transparency; and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Women faced violence and discrimination, and there was some reported child abuse. Additionally, the government maintained restrictions on worker rights.

The government did not take sufficient steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, and the government rarely provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

Abuses by terrorist groups remained a significant problem. Terrorist groups committed attacks against the security services and targeted military personnel in particular.

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In 2015 the deaths of two individuals in detention raised public concern. In September 2015 several newspapers reported that Benchikh Aissa died in a Ghardaia prison. His lawyers said he suffered from depression, and prison officials refused to provide necessary health services. Afari Baaouchi died several weeks earlier in a Laghouat prison. Authorities arrested both detainees in July 2015 in the wake of the clashes between Mozabite Ibadi Muslims and Arab Sunni Maliki Muslims in Ghardaia. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) called for an official investigation into the deaths, but no public information was available at year’s end on whether the government conducted investigations.

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and a Da’esh affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah, and attacked security services personnel. On April 15, terrorists killed four soldiers in Constantine Province. On August 6, an improvised explosive device killed four civilians in Khenchela Province. Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) took credit for the October 28 killing of a police officer in Constantine. Terrorists reportedly killed two police officers and a civilian in a November 13 attack in Ain Defla.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The government stated it was in discussion with the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances regarding a visit to the country. The government regarded this as the next step to addressing cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from the 1990s that the working group submitted to it in 2014.

Government officials declared there were 84 reported cases of child kidnapping in 2015 and 28 in the first half of 2016. Figures on total ransom payments were unavailable, since the government maintained a strict no-concessions policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.

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

The law prohibits torture, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local human rights activists alleged that government officials sometimes employed torture and abusive treatment to obtain confessions. The government denied these charges. Government agents face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and there were two convictions during the year. There were no other reported cases of prosecution of civil or military security service officials for torture or abusive treatment. Local and international NGOs asserted that impunity was a problem.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Committee found the country to be in violation of article seven of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The decision was based on the government’s failure to contest allegations made in the case of financial consultant Chani Medjoub, who was initially arrested in 2009 in connection with a corruption case and who alleged that members of the judicial police of the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) tortured him.

On May 25, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to seven and 15 years in prison, respectively, following their May 2015 arrests for raping a woman during her detention in a police station.

In September, LADDH called for an investigation into reports that male police officers in Ain Benian, west of Algiers, forced a detained 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities to undress in front of them in the local police station. The woman’s family reportedly filed a complaint with the local tribunal, but additional information was unavailable as of September.

The Surete Nationale (DGSN) stated that it did not receive any reports of abuse or misconduct from the public during the year. Information from the National Gendarmerie was not available.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

A 2013 presidential decree dissolved the Central Bureau of the Judicial Police under the DRS, removing its authority to detain individuals and hold them in separate detention facilities. A 2014 presidential decree, however, reinstated this authority and permitted the DRS to manage prison facilities. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS and reorganized the intelligence services. The July 2015 amendment of the penal code prohibits police officers from detaining suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: According to statistics provided in August, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 60,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by whether authorities considered the prisoners highly dangerous or of high, intermediate, or low risk.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. With support from the British, Canadian, and French governments, the DGAPR modernized its inmate classification system and maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners among facilities according to the general lengths of their sentences. Several detention facilities reportedly operated at 200 to 300 percent of capacity. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to “excessive use” of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons and did not hold them in separate detention facilities. In some prisons pretrial detainees were held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: No ombudsman existed to serve on behalf of prisoners or detainees. Prisoners may submit uncensored complaints to penitentiary administration, doctors, and their judge. It was unclear how frequently prison authorities collected the complaints or requests. Authorities permitted family members to visit prisoners in standard facilities weekly and to provide detainees with food and clothing, although the common practice of holding inmates in prisons very far from their families discouraged visits. In the majority of the prisons, nonfunctional telephones further exacerbated the difficulty for detainees to maintain regular contact with family.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit regular prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. By September the ICRC had visited 32 detention facilities, representing approximately one-third of the total prison population. Delegates paid special attention to vulnerable detainees, including foreigners, women, minors, persons in solitary confinement, and individuals held for security reasons by police and gendarmes. The ICRC provided the government confidential feedback, when applicable, to help authorities improve detainee treatment and living conditions, reinforce respect for judicial protections, and expand access to health care. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights–as they relate to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures–for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie and judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons announced that since 2010, the government opened 31 new detention centers. Of the new facilities, 10 were minimum-security centers that held prisoners in cells and permitted them to work. Intelligent camera systems were installed in some pretrial detention facilities to allow the DGSN to monitor conditions of detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. Security forces routinely detained individuals who conducted activities against the order of the state such as protesting, striking, or rioting. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share general responsibility for maintaining law and order. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS, which had been subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense. It was replaced by three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Impunity remained a problem. The law provides mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The DGSN conducted a two-week training session for police officers specifically focusing on human rights practices in September and another two-day training session in November.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the Prosecutor’s Office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Public lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities require time beyond the authorized 48-hour period for gathering additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: once, if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems; twice, if charges relate to state security; three times, for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes; and five times (for a maximum of 12 days), for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney. The 2015 report of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), a governmental human rights commission, criticized this provision for forcing detainees to choose between contacting their families and consulting an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half the extended time has expired. Authorities may use in court confessions and statements garnered during the period prior to access to an attorney–which a prosecutor’s application to a judge may extend. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the certificate of the medical examination into the detainee’s file.

In non-felony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents required to leave the country, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Various press outlets reported that in October 2015 National Gendarmerie officers told a Cameroonian female migrant, who claimed a group of Algerian men assaulted and raped her, that they could not file charges because she was an illegal migrant. The victim reported that several hospitals refused to provide her treatment and to issue her a certificate documenting her sexual assault. After social media and local civil society organizations mobilized over the issue, authorities accepted her complaint and arrested two of the eight alleged actors. As of September the status of the investigation was not known.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress activist speech. Police arrested protesters in Algiers and elsewhere in the country throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

On July 13, attorney and human rights activist Salah Debouz and six other activists were arrested at a cafe in Ghardaia and detained for eight hours for holding an unlawful gathering. The activists had been meeting near the local courthouse to discuss the case of one of Debouz’s clients. Debouz had also been arrested on February 6 during a meeting with labor union activists and subsequently released the same day.

Authorities arrested Youcef Ouled Dada in March 2014 for “harming a national institution” and “insulting a government body” when he posted a video on Facebook that captured three police officers engaged in looting during riots in the city of Ghardaia. In September 2014 a Ghardaia court reaffirmed the two-year prison term and DZD 100,000 ($916) fine it imposed in June 2014 on Dada. He was released March 27 after two years in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but admitted they did not have specific statistics. The Ministry of Justice said that as of September, the proportion of detainees in preventive detention was 13.85 percent of the total detainee and prisoner population, compared with 15.02 percent during the same period in 2015, and that the proportion in police custody was 5.66 percent. Ministry statistics did not include prisoners whose cases were pending appeal. July 2015 changes to the penal code limit the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulate that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk.

AI alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities held KBC TV journalists Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf and Ministry of Culture official Nora Nedjai in pretrial detention for 26 days. They were arrested on June 22 in connection with the alleged unauthorized production of satirical television programs that were broadcast in July. All three received suspended prison sentences and were released July 18.

Police arrested Nacer Eddine Hadjadj, former mayor of Beriane municipality and member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, in July 2015. Press reports indicated authorities detained Hadjadj for questioning regarding the violent events that took place in Ghardaia, but the government did not confirm this. In August 2015 Hadjadj’s lawyer, Salah Debouz, denounced the government for not notifying him of his client’s hearing for provisional liberty. The judge rejected his request for provisional liberty, and he remained in pretrial detention as of September.

The government implemented changes adopted in 2015 to the criminal procedure code that prohibit the use of pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment. The revised law, however, exempts infractions that resulted in deaths and persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the revised law limits the use of pretrial detention to one month, nonrenewable. The government also amended the criminal procedure code to state that in all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Representatives of the CNCPPDH said that the penal code amendments had succeeded in reducing the use of pretrial detention in 2016 but did not maintain their own statistics demonstrating a decrease from the previous year.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants pre-trial detainees the right to appeal a court’s order of pre-trial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pre-trial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is also responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was often subject to influence and corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The July 2015 amendment of the penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them or present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. There were a few reports that courts occasionally denied defendants and their attorneys’ access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and local observers alleged that authorities used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

In March 2015 the National Coordination of Families of Political Prisoners called for the release of 160 persons who had remained incarcerated since the 1990s. In April 2015 Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated the government held no political prisoners. He declared that courts convicted the detainees in question of violent crimes, making them ineligible for government pardons under the National Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. The government permitted the ICRC to visit detainees held for “security reasons.”

On March 7, a Tamanrasset court convicted Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Unemployed Workers activist Abdelali Ghellam to a year in prison following his December 2015 arrest on charges of taking part in an unauthorized gathering and obstructing traffic. AI reported that seven other men were also arrested in connection with the same protest and received one-year sentences and DZD 50,000 ($458) fines.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was neither independent nor impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence, although government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

The government established a new anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets criticized government officials and policies, but the government restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.

On August 3, the government published a law passed by parliament that broadens laws on defamation to cover the conduct of retired military officers. The law specifies that retired officers who engage in a “dereliction of duty that harms the honor and respect due to state institutions constitutes an outrage and defamation” and can result in legal action under applicable laws. The law further prohibits speech that damages “the authority and the public image of the military institution.”

In March a court in Tlemcen issued human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine for posting a photograph on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Bouteflika. The offending post showed a retouched image of the president and other political figures that made them look like characters from a Turkish television show, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September 2015 ANEP stated it represented only half of the total advertising market, while nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine stated in February that ANEP’s budget had been cut by 50 percent. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Activists and journalists criticized the government for criminally prosecuting two KBC TV journalists, Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf, for allegedly making false statements in their applications for filming permits and their alleged unauthorized use of a television studio. The studio had previously belonged to Al-Atlas TV, which authorities shut down in 2014. In addition to the arrests of Benaissa and Hartouf, authorities shut down two of KBC’s political satire programs, which were filmed in the studio in question. Benaissa and Hartouf’s suspended sentences were announced on July 18, shortly after a court on July 13 canceled the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, to a subsidiary of a company owned by businessman Issad Rebrab, who has been critical of the government. The Ministry of Communication, which had sued to cancel the transaction, said the ruling was based on the law’s prohibition on one person owning multiple news outlets.

In October 2015 Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Grine accused the television station of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it transmitted on October 3, 2015, with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. In September, Djaafar Chelli, the former owner of El Watan El-Djazairya, received a DZD 10 million ($91,575) fine for broadcasting the interview with Mezrag.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

In January a court reclassified a charge against journalist and LADDH board member Hassan Bouras, resulting in his release from El Bayadh prison after three months in custody. Prosecutors had charged Bouras in October 2015 with insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. As of November charges against Bouras had not been dropped, according to his lawyer. Separately, in November an El Bayadh court indicted Bouras for producing a video alleging that certain police officials and judges were involved in corruption. The court on November 28 convicted Bouras of complicity in offending a judicial officer, law enforcement officers, and a public body and of unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by law, sentencing him to one year in prison plus fines. Bouras’s appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5). In May CNCPPDH president Farouk Ksentini said that depriving certain newspapers of public advertising revenue was “contrary to democracy and a violation of the constitution.”

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 332 accredited written publications, which included 149 daily newspapers, 47 weekly and 75 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, Minister Grine stated in April the number of private satellite channels that would receive frequencies would be limited to 13. He said in September that foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. As of year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. On June 20, the government instated the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), a nine-member body that regulates television and radio. In August ARAV published regulations that require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibits them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.

On June 27, police arrested Mohamed Tamalt, a freelance journalist and blogger based in the United Kingdom. He was charged with insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook and sentenced to two years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine. On December 11, Tamalt died following a prolonged hunger strike protesting his arrest and continued imprisonment.

On June 21, police officers encircled the new headquarters of the El Watan daily newspaper and ordered its staff to vacate the building. Local officials said the building did not conform to the construction permits granted by the government. As of September El Watan had not been permitted to take occupancy of the building.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

Some observers viewed the July conviction of two KBC TV journalists and the cancelation of the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, as motivated by the political views expressed in KBC’s programming and by the owner of the company that attempted to purchase El Khabar Group.

On May 3, Minister Grine called on private companies to cease advertising in three unnamed newspapers, widely assumed to be the El KhabarEl Watan, and Liberte newspapers, viewed as critical of the government. In an interview published online that day, the director general of El Khabar said Minister Grine’s opposition to El Khabar was based on the fact that it “does not follow the editorial line that he wishes.”

In a May 23 speech calling for unaccredited foreign satellite channels to be shut down, Prime Minister Sellal criticized channels that “use misleading advertising, violate private life, strike a blow to the dignity of persons, spread disinformation, and worse still, attack the cohesion of Algerian society through calls for hatred, regionalism, and chaos.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($916 to $4,579). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Mohammed or “messengers of God.” On June 14, the National Gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports appeared to reference the case when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and one or two other men in M’Sila Province, but the status of charges against them was unclear as of September. On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Mohammed. A court tried and convicted Bouhafs the same day and sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine. On September 6, his sentence was reduced to three years in prison.

Mohamed Chergui, a journalist for the El-Djoumhouria newspaper, was sentenced to three years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine in February 2015 for a column he wrote in 2014 that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. In April an appeals court in Oran overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government impeded access to the internet and monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. On June 18, state-run media reported the government planned to block access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, on June 19-23 during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media earlier in the month. On June 19-20, internet users reported that access to not only social media, but nearly all websites, was blocked. While internet service returned on June 20, access to social media was not fully restored until June 24.

In January police arrested an activist for the unemployed, Belkacem Khencha, and in May he was sentenced to six months in prison for posting a video on Facebook criticizing the judicial system’s handling of arrests of fellow activists.

In a July statement, the human rights organization Collective of Families of the Disappeared said the government had blocked Radio of the Voiceless, the online radio station it launched in June, making it inaccessible to the public.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and e-mail. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($458 and $4,579) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

In September the government estimated there were 18,583,427 internet users in the country in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding the protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

On March 21, media outlets reported that police shoved and kicked protesters gathered in front of the Central Post Office in Algiers to demand permanent positions for teachers working on fixed-term contracts. Two women sought hospital treatment for injuries, according to HRW. On April 4, police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing the final leg of a 140-mile march from Bejaia to Algiers. Protesters remained camped in Boudouaou until April 18, at which point police grabbed and shoved some protesters and loaded them onto buses.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of a written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. HRW, AI, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

In July police reportedly arrested more than 100 communal guards arriving in Algiers en route to a planned demonstration outside of parliament. In June authorities arrested several Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) activists who were preparing to hold an unauthorized meeting in Larbaa Nath Irathen to mark the 15th anniversary of a Berber-led protest in Algiers. Clashes ensued when area residents gathered in the town center to demand the activists’ release, resulting in injuries to police and some demonstrators, according to press reports. In February MAK president Bouaziz Ait Chebib stated to the El Watan newspaper that approximately 100 MAK activists had been briefly arrested in Tizi Ouzou to prevent their attendance at the MAK’s national assembly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government severely restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($18 and $46) and up to six months’ imprisonment. The law prohibits formation of a political party with a religious platform, but observers stated they knew some political parties were Islamist.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response regarding their application within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the Ministry of Interior, organizations receive a deposit slip after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the Ministry of Interior issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the deposit slip it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without the formal accreditation. Other organizations reported that they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time periods were able to submit an appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

During the year the Youth Action Movement, a civil society youth organization, was again unsuccessful in renewing its license despite submitting all documentation required by the Ministry of Interior. The ministry also did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing) and LADDH, which submitted their renewal applications in 2013. According to members of the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, the Ministry of Interior refused to approve the organization’s request for accreditation, stating that the application did comply with the law on associations but did not provide any further information. The organization first submitted its application for accreditation in 2012.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered. A 2015 study conducted by several prominent domestic civil society organizations found, however, that nearly two-thirds of the approximately 93,000 associations registered with the government when the law on associations went into force in 2012 were either inactive or no longer operating. Unlicensed NGOs did not receive government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.

The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns. Civil society organizations reported that the authorities prevented sub-Saharan migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

Foreign Travel: The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft, who had not completed their military service, to leave the country without special authorization, although the government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances. The Ministry of Interior affirmed that in 2014 the government ended its requirement for background checks on passport applicants.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government provided protection to an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations also assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and the WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees with an additional 35,000 supplementary food rations.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of September 2015 the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 24,000 Syrian refugees. Other organizations estimated the number to be closer to 43,000 Syrians. Starting in January 2015 the government instituted visa requirements for Syrians entering the country. Since 2012 UNHCR registered more than 6,000 Syrians, but only approximately 5,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located at a summer camp in the seaside area of Algiers known as Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in August that there were 21,073 illegal migrants residing in the country, while other sources assessed there were 30,000 in Tamanrasset alone and as many as 100,000 in the country. As of July the Algerian Red Crescent had closed all four of the refugee camps it had been managing, including its camp housing 600 migrants, mostly from Mali, near the southern city of Bordj Badj Mokhtar.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In early December, however, the government gathered an estimated 1,400 sub-Saharan migrants in communities outside of Algiers and removed nearly 1,000 of them to Niger. The president of the Algerian Red Crescent said all returns were voluntary, adding that some migrants were permitted to remain in Tamanrasset. The removals followed a period of several years in which the government had largely refrained from deporting sub-Saharan migrants due to security concerns and the instability in northern Mali.

The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated a total of more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination between the Algerian Red Crescent and the government and Red Cross of Niger. Observers also questioned whether all of the migrants were voluntarily repatriated. In August the government arranged the repatriation of approximately 500 Malians per a request from the Malian consulate in Tamanrasset.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Harma and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and partner NGOs largely provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

In August 2015 the Ministry of Education instructed all school administrators to allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and their ruling party, the Polisario, continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

AI maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of LADDH, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was the most active independent human rights group. The smaller Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in September 2015, but as of September no visit occurred. The country joined the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and on human rights and counterterrorism (pending since 2006) and the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNCPPDH plays a consultative and advisory role to the government. It issues an annual report on the status of human rights in the country. Published in July, the 2015 report highlighted government advances in social and legal rights with increased protections for women and children, the introduction of mediation in nonfelony criminal cases, and limits on the use of pretrial detention. The commission identified its principal concerns as public corruption, shortfalls in the recent law on violence against women, heavy bureaucracy, and impediments limiting citizens’ access to justice.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To found a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented a majority of public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included services such as banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment.

The government affirmed there were 101 registered trade unions and employer’s organizations. No new trade unions were registered between January and August. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles imposed by the government as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. In June the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations stated that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

Formed in 2013 but not recognized by the government, the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA) included public and economic sector unions and committees. In March 2015 the Ministry of Labor refused to register CGATA as a national confederation, thus preventing it from establishing an independent multisector confederation that would include private sector employees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, unions in multi-national companies, specifically in oil and gas production, were virtually nonexistent due to antiunion practices, threats, and harassment by employers.

In April police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing a union-organized march into Algiers. Authorities reportedly jammed mobile networks in the area and blocked deliveries of food and drink to the protest site. Teachers’ union members said police grabbed and shoved protesters during an attempt to break up the protest.

On February 6, police surrounded a trade union office in Bab Ezzouar, where a meeting was planned to discuss the 2016 finance law. Press reported that police arrested six activists and union members, including Salah Debouz, for assembling without a permit.

The Committee of Experts at the International Labor Conference in June requested that the government reinstate employees that the committee determined were fired based on antiunion discrimination and act expeditiously to process pending trade union registration applications.

Antiunion intimidation was commonplace, and there were several strikes launched in reaction to the government’s refusal to extend official recognition to fledgling new unions and its practice of engaging only with the UGTA. In March the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association urged the government to reinstate two Autonomous National Union of Postal Workers officials, in compliance with a court order. The committee concluded that the governmental postal system improperly dismissed the two officials in 2014 in connection with statements they made to the media and with one official’s role in organizing a work stoppage.

The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking. There were reports from NGOs that such practices occurred. Forced labor conditions existed for migrant workers, and the law did not fully protect them. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Prescribed penalties under this statute range from three to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government made limited efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims but created an interministerial committee to coordinate antitrafficking efforts and adopted a national antitrafficking action plan.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). According to UNICEF, 5 percent of children ages five to 14 were economically active.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and in some cases investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service conducted an investigation into child labor in 2015 of 15,093 businesses from the trade, agriculture, construction, and services industries. It reported the discovery of 97 minors, of whom 47 were under the age of 16. The law for the protection of the child, adopted in 2015, criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child with a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($476 to $952); the punishment is doubled if the offender is a family member or guardian of the child. These penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were inconsistent and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors.

The Ministry of Solidarity leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin and affiliation with a union. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions.

Women occupied few decision-making positions. Many unescorted or migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes and/or exploited as prostitutes (see section 6).

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established the national minimum wage of DZD 18,000 ($165) per month in 2012. The World Bank estimated in 2011 that the poverty rate was 5.5 percent, a level that some observers considered too low.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may reserve the right to renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status, which made them vulnerable to exploitation. The law does not adequately cover migrant workers employed primarily in construction and as domestic workers.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance include a prison sentence of two to six months and a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 200,000 ($916 to $1,832) and DZD 200,000 to DZD 500,000 ($1,832 to $4,579) for repeat offenders. In 2015 the director general of social security at the Ministry of Labor stated that employers had not declared 15 percent of workers to the government, down from 40 percent in 2001. Employers who violated the law faced DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fines and between two and six months in prison. An enforcement initiative in 2015 identified 13,473 undeclared workers, all but 3 percent of whom were employed in the private sector. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering.

The Labor Ministry employed 624 labor inspectors and approximately 380 supervisors. The ministry generally enforced labor standards, including providing for compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Nevertheless, broad enforcement remained insufficient.

Andorra

Executive Summary

The Principality of Andorra is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Two co-princes–the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell–serve with joint authority as heads of state. In March 2015 the country held free and fair multiparty elections for the 28 seats in parliament (the General Council of the Valleys), which selects the head of government. Having won a majority in parliament, the Democrats for Andorra re-elected Antoni Marti Petit head of government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The country’s main human rights problem was the lack of legal protection for the constitutional rights of workers to bargain collectively or strike. The law does not protect workers from antiunion discrimination.

Other problems included domestic violence, including spousal abuse and child abuse. Gender discrimination persisted, especially related to unequal salaries for comparable work. Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, discrimination existed in the form of physical, social, and cultural barriers.

There were no reports that government officials or the national police committed violations.

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no reports of deaths in prison or in the pretrial detention center.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers.

Improvements: As of May inmates had internet access, which allowed them to communicate with their families periodically. Inmates could also register to study online courses.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country’s only security forces are the police, prison officers, traffic police, and forestry officials. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior maintained effective civilian control over the security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrest. Police legally may detain persons for 48 hours without a hearing, and police generally observed this time limit. The judge has up to 24 hours to charge the detainee with a crime or to release him or her. Police promptly informed detainees of charges against them. A bail system exists. The law provides detainees the right to legal counsel from the moment of arrest. Persons charged with a crime may choose their own lawyers or accept one designated by the government. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested and detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. They may also seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and receive prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them. The government provides an interpreter, if needed, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are fair and public and for the most part without delay. Defendants have the right to be present and consult in a timely manner with an attorney of their choice. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the government must appoint a public attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and attorneys have access to government-held evidence in their cases. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary is independent and impartial in all jurisdictions, including civil matters. Plaintiffs may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the ECHR. The national ombudsman also serves to protect and defend basic rights and public freedom on behalf of citizens.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and 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 speech and press.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: In February the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor gave the first-ever training on hate crimes and discrimination to Andorran judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. In July the Andorran prosecutor’s office delivered a similar training to justice staff members.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38 percent of the population had a fixed broadband subscription to the internet, and 97 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

The country has cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international refugee relief organizations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees, preferring to deal with them on an ad hoc basis. There is a lack of domestic legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, and in particular on measures to protect unaccompanied and refugee children. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior, no requests were received during the year.

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 cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman’s main function is to defend and oversee the fulfillment and application of the rights and liberties included in the constitution and to ensure the public sector adheres to constitutional principles. The ombudsman is independent from other institutions and provides its functions free of charge to interested persons. The ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The ombudsman had adequate resources, published an annual report to parliament with recommendations, and was considered effective.

Section 7. Worker Rights

The constitution and law provide for workers to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not provide for collective bargaining or the right to strike. Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration exist. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination. No laws require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government effectively enforced the law; however, unions continued to criticize the lack of laws effectively protecting workers. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government and employers respected freedom of association. Neither collective bargaining nor strikes occurred during the year. There were no official reports of or investigations into any antiunion discrimination. Workers continued to be reluctant to admit to union membership due to fear of retaliation by their employers and arbitrary dismissal.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Slavery and trafficking for labor exploitation are punishable by a minimum of four years and a maximum of 12 years in prison. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Resources were limited, and no formal structure for action against forced labor existed. There were no reports of such practices.

The law prohibits children younger than 14 years old from working. Children 14 or 15 years old may work up to two months per year during school holidays following strict regulations contained in the law. The law limits work by children 14 or 15 years old to no more than six hours per day, limits work by children 16 or 17 years old to eight hours per day, provides for safety restrictions, restricts the types of work children may perform, and outlines other conditions. According to the law, children cannot work overtime, work overnight, or can carry out dangerous occupations, especially in the construction sector. The law protects children from exploitation in the workplace.

The Labor Inspection Office in the Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior effectively enforced child labor laws and regulations. Penalties are adequate to deter violations. Economic fines range from 50 euros ($55) for minor violations to 24,000 euros ($26,400) for severe violations. There were no reports of child labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, and HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. The law permits fines of up to 24,000 euros ($26,400) for a violation. The penalties are sufficient to deter violations.

Some cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on sexual orientation, and women occurred with respect to employment or occupation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in the form of social and cultural barriers, as well as disadvantages in the labor market. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Justice, and Interior’s Department for Social Affairs and Labor approved a four-year (2016-19) strategic plan to favor labor insertion of persons with disabilities.

While women represent 49 percent of the workforce, the law does not require equal pay for equal work. Although no cases were filed during the year, the ADA and trade union representatives from the Andorran Trade Union reported cases of gender discrimination especially related to unequal salaries for the same work and workplace bullying. Victims were reluctant to file a complaint due to fear of reprisal from employers. The Andorran Social Security and the Department of Statistics estimated that women earned 24 percent less than men for comparable work. In the finance sector this percentage increases to 47 percent. The government made an effort to combat pay discrimination in general, and it applied pay equality within the government. The law permits fines from 3,001 euros ($3,301) to 24,000 euros ($26,400). These fines were sufficient to deter violations.

There were no limitations on women’s participation in the labor market, and the government encouraged women to participate in politics. Employment rates among men and women were equal, although women held fewer senior management positions than men.

The national minimum wage was 5.63 euros ($6.19) per hour and 975.87 euros ($1,073.46) per month. The most recent poverty income level was 886 euros ($974.60). The minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The law limits the standard workweek to five eight-hour days for a total of 40 hours per week and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers may work up to two overtime hours per day or 15 hours per week, 50 hours per month, and 426 hours per year. The law provides for premium pay of time plus 25 percent for the first four hours per week, time plus 50 percent for the following four hours, and time plus 75 percent for the remaining hours. There is a required rest period of 12 hours between work shifts.

The Labor Inspection Office sets occupational health and safety standards. Workers had the right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Authorities effectively protected such employees.

The law covers agricultural, domestic, and migrant workers. The Labor Inspection Office has the authority to levy sanctions and fines against companies violating standards and enforced compliance. The office consisted of nine persons, including seven labor inspectors. The law permits fines of up to 24,000 euros ($26,400) for a violation. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. As of the end of July, the Labor Inspection Office received 55 complaints. The majority of reported accidents came from the hotel, construction, motor, and machinery sectors.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future