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Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. The country has a multiparty political system in which parties must be registered and recognized by the ruling authorities. President Ismail Omar Guelleh has served as president since 1999. In April he was re-elected for a fifth term. International observers from the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and Arab League characterized the election as free and fair, noting the peaceful and calm atmosphere, but suggested improvements to civil society participation and voter education. Opposition parties boycotted the election, claiming that President Guelleh held too much power, and the only other candidate was a political neophyte who claimed that the government’s refusal to provide security hampered his campaign. Limited space for credible political opposition called into question the fairness of the election but the outcome was not disputed. Legislative elections were held in 2018 but were boycotted by most opposition parties, which stated the government failed to honor a 2015 agreement to install an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by opposition leaders. Political power was shared by the two largest ethnic groups, the Somali-Issas and Afars.

The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points and reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City, as well as protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as the international airport, and reports to the minister of defense. The National Service of Documentation and Security operates as a law enforcement and intelligence agency. It reports directly to the Presidency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations or nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity was a problem. The government seldom took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish corrupt officials or those who committed human right abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Five individuals died during a week of civil unrest at the beginning of August. Civil society actors blamed police using live ammunition for at least some of the deaths. The National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) investigated the occurrence but did not conclude that law enforcement entities caused the deaths.

During the year authorities did not take known action to investigate reported cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings from previous years or to put suspected perpetrators on trial.

b. Disappearance

Authorities arrested and held journalists and political dissidents in unknown locations.

On April 10, Ethiopia extradited an online activist to the country to stand trial for murder. He was kept in an unknown place for two weeks before being sentenced to prison.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them. Security forces arrested and abused journalists and opposition members.

There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On March 17, police arrested seven members of an opposition political party for participating in an illegal demonstration to protest the president’s campaign for a fifth term. The head of the party reported that police beat one of the party’s female members while in detention at the Central Police Station, before releasing all seven of them without charge.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

International organizations and national human rights organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the Gabode Central Prison.

The Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held migrants and was not part of the prison system; however, due to COVID-19, it was used as a pre-trial holding facility to mitigate overcrowding in the regular prisons, although overcrowding remained a problem according to the CNDH in November.

There were reports that police and gendarmes abused prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prisons exceeded their original planned capacity by almost double. Due to space constraints, there was no formal system to segregate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities occasionally segregated opposition supporters.

Conditions in Gabode Prison for women were similar to those for men, although less crowded. Authorities allowed young children to stay with their mothers. The head of the prison initiated, in collaboration with a local association, sewing training for women. Prisoners with mental disabilities represented a growing percentage of the prison population. They were kept in the infirmary, where they regularly received adequate care, including access to psychiatric services through the national health system. These prisoners were segregated from prisoners with serious communicable diseases.

While prisoners were regularly fed, medical services and living conditions were poor. The prisons suffered from poor lighting, inadequate sanitation, and other deficient environmental conditions. Potable water and ventilation were limited.

Administration: The CNDH visits state prisons and other law enforcement detention facilities annually but does not make its report public until vetted by the government, sometimes a year later.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to visit the Nagad Detention Facility and the Gabode Prison quarterly to assess general prison conditions.

Improvements: As part of the country’s independence celebration in June, the president granted early release to 277 inmates involved in minor felonies to reduce overcrowding.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government seldom respected these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees for another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement officers should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays.

The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, but the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases, the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could be granted court-ordered release but no compensation.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of security officials arbitrarily arresting journalists, bloggers, opposition members, and demonstrators.

On January 15, police arrested two opposition party members for organizing protests without a permit. They were prevented from seeing family or legal counsel during their detention, before being released on February 3 without a trial. On June 13, police arrested the former head of the state-run newspaper reportedly for criticizing a dinner hosted by the president to celebrate his election to a fifth term. He was held for five days, then released by the court with a warning.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Prisoners often waited two or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: After release, detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Due to mistrust of the judicial procedure and fear of retaliation, very few pursued this recourse.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities did not consistently respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.

Trial Procedures

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

The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, sharia, and cultural traditions.

The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases, the court consists of the presiding judge of the Court of Appeals, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law requires detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities generally respected these rights. Indigents have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy.

Traditional law is often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates compensation be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as killing and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive topics such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued more than the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by such rulings.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, there were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters, journalists, and bloggers (see sections 1.d. – Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, and 2.a. – Violence and Harassment).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

In cases of human rights abuses, individuals could address correspondence to the CNDH. On a variety of matters, individuals could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes among government branches. Individuals could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Tanzania.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property, but the government did not always respect the law. Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance.

There were reports the government punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

On January 16, four elders from Tadjourah were arrested due to their family ties to members of an armed group that allegedly attacked a gendarmerie squad in Tadjourah, resulting in one death. The Gendarmerie released three of the elders a week later and the fourth in November.

On August 26, police arrested two relatives of members of an armed rebel group that allegedly carried out an attack at Lac Assal. They remained in custody as of December.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.

On January 13, eight young men published a video online expressing their dissatisfaction with their political representatives, and, by extension, the president’s plans to run for a fifth term. They were arrested and detained for one week, then freed with a warning.

On June 9, authorities detained Walid Hassan, a blogger, for eight days in an undisclosed location before sentencing him to jail for defamation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government-owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

The National Communication Commission, a branch of the Ministry of Communication, started issuing licenses to political parties and private citizens aligned with the government, allowing them to operate social media accounts. The commission also issued identification cards to progovernment journalists. Political parties, journalists, and private citizens critical of the government were not issued licenses and identifications cards, which limited their ability to express themselves freely online. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and al-Jazeera, were not required to obtain a domestic license. They registered directly with the Ministry of Communication.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists. Several citizen journalists were arrested for posting pictures of protests or comments against the government.

On August 2, police arrested BBC stringer Mahamoud Osman Boulhan in Ali-Sabieh. Police detained him for three days, allegedly for his reports on civil unrest, and released him without bringing him before a judge or filing charges.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. The government required that independent news and entertainment platforms receive a special license from the Ministry of Communication. This procedure discouraged freedom of expression on social media. The country’s law does not give the government legal authority to monitor social media.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), and independent streaming platform Voice of Djibouti, which criticized the government.

In August civil unrest involving confrontations between the Afar and Somali Issa ethnic groups broke out in the capital city spurred by events in Ethiopia. The government reportedly blocked access to Facebook via cellular data. As of December the block was still in place.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic and cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Opposition members alleged security forces routinely cancelled or disrupted meetings and other political events.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for assemblies. Between January and April, the opposition political party Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RADDE) applied for such permits to protest the president’s decision to run for a fifth term. The government denied those permits and RADDE held several unauthorized demonstrations. Throughout this period leaders were periodically detained for organizing protests without permits, despite requesting them.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions (see sections 3 and 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the north of the country remained under military control.

Foreign Travel: On September 12, the Index on Censorship, a British organization supporting freedom of expression worldwide, included Kadar Abdi Ibrahim on a shortlist for an award for his activities as a journalist. Ibrahim was also the secretary-general of a (non-recognized) opposition party. He could not travel to participate in the ceremony, as the government seized his passport in 2017.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons, as well as other persons of concern. By law refugees have the same rights to public services and employment as citizens, and the government actively implemented this law.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. Since November 2020, Tigrayans from Ethiopia are also considered prima facie eligible for asylum or refugee status. The National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) and UNHCR issued identification cards to Yemeni refugees. The National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer. Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers claimed discrimination in the refugee status determination process, citing lengthy delays. The NEC hears 10 cases in each month’s session, but up to 10,000 asylum seekers await status determination.

Refoulement: In June the government returned three Somalis upon the request of the Somali government without having verified their refugee status. In May the government cooperated with Ethiopia to extradite three Tigrayans, including refoulement of two registered refugees (similarly without verifying their status due to an internal communications breakdown), citing Ethiopia’s allegation they had ties to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees, primarily unaccompanied minor migrants who were enrolled in a program of voluntary return to their country of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 9, President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term in the first round of voting with 97.3 percent of the vote. Independent candidate Zakaria Ismail Farah received the remaining 2.7 percent of the vote. Farah claimed that unequal treatment and lack of provision of security hampered his campaign. Opposition political groups boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities stuffed ballot boxes. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International election observers from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared the elections free and fair, noted the peaceful conduct of the elections, and commented that polling stations were organized satisfactorily. Limited space for credible political opposition called into question the fairness of the election but the outcome was not disputed. Observers recommended that additional measures be taken to educate the public and electoral commission members on their respective rights and responsibilities, as well as to encourage civil society participation and increase the secrecy of the ballot.

International observers from the AU, IGAD, Arab League, and OIC characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair.” The mission from the AU, however, noted several worrisome observations, including lower voter registration due to restrictive laws, inadequate implementation of biometric identification processes during the elections, voter intimidation, inadequate security of submitted ballots, premature closures of voting centers, and the lack of opposition observers during ballot counting.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize opposition political parties Movement for Democracy and Liberty (MoDeL) and RADDE, although they continued to operate. Members of those political parties and other opposition members were routinely arrested and detained (see section 1.d.). Senior government officials alleged MoDeL was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood organization. While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority or other disadvantaged groups in the political process. While women did participate, they did not account for 25 percent of political candidates and election administration officials as required by law (see section 7.d.).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government generally allowed a few domestic human rights groups that dealt with matters authorities did not consider politically sensitive to operate without restriction, conducting limited investigations and sometimes publishing findings on human rights cases. Government officials occasionally were responsive to their views. Government-sanctioned human rights groups regularly cooperated with local associations offering training and education to citizens on human rights matters such as migrant rights and human trafficking. Many of these associations had leaders who were also key officials of the government. Local human rights groups that covered politically sensitive matters could not, however, operate freely and were often targets of government harassment and intimidation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s human rights organization CNDH was formed to serve as a watchdog for human rights abuses. Its members include technical experts, representatives of civil society and labor unions, religious groups, the legal community, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Assembly. By law the commission is a permanent institution with staff and regional offices. Staff were trained and assigned to regional facilities. The CNDH had limited independence as its reports were vetted by the government before being published. The CNDH last produced an annual report in 2019.

During the year CNDH signed several memoranda of understanding on cooperation in the field of human rights with the national police, the coast guard and three local civil society organizations.

The Ombudsman’s Office holds responsibilities that include mediation between the government and citizens on topics such as land titles, issuance of national identity cards, and claims for unpaid wages. Written records of the ombudsman’s activities were sparse, and it was unclear what actions they took to promote human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law includes sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape but does not address spousal rape. The law prohibits “torture and barbaric acts” against a spouse, specifying penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The 2020 Protection Law specifically enumerates protection against domestic violence, harmful cultural practices, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

The government continued to address problems of gender-based violence. The National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), a nonprofit organization chaired by the first lady, worked with the government to empower and protect women from violence. UNFD’s Cellule dEcoute (Listening Committee) addressed violence against women and girls, and worked in partnership with the Ministries of Health, Justice, Defense, Women and Family, Interior, and Islamic and Cultural Affairs. The committee referred cases of abuse to the Ministry of Justice and divorce cases to the council on sharia.

The National Gendarmerie has a special unit for cases of gender-based violence. Nonetheless, officials at the Ministry of Justice reported survivors of rape and domestic violence often avoided the formal court system in favor of settlements between families. The Protection Law created a support fund for survivors of violence and integrated care centers to provide them with medical care and psychosocial support.

The government prosecuted one high-profile case of domestic violence in July which resulted in the death of the victim. The assailant awaited trial in jail while an instruction judge investigated the case. Criminal sessions are held twice per year.

UNFD placed a full-time staff member in all refugee settlements to provide support for domestic violence survivors in these communities.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but rates remained high. In 2012 the UN Population Fund completed the most recent comprehensive study of FGM/C in the country. It stated that 78.4 percent of girls and women older than 15 had been subjected to FGM/C, a drop from previous studies that put the rate at more than 90 percent. A 2019 preliminary study from the Ministry of Women showed a significant decrease of the FGM/C prevalence rate for girls from birth through age 10, from 94 percent in 1994 to 21.2 percent in 2019. According to the study, the prevalence rate remained higher in rural than in urban areas, with 37.9 percent and 13.2 percent prevalence rates in those areas, respectively.

The law sets the punishment of FGM/C at five years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine, and NGOs may file charges on behalf of victims. The law also provides for up to one year’s imprisonment and a substantial fine for anyone failing to report a completed or planned FGM/C to the proper authorities.

The government took measures to address the problem. In July authorities successfully prosecuted an FGM/C case. The mother and the perpetrator were sentenced to six months of preventive detention and were released on bail. With no facility to appropriately care for their minor children, authorities released them. The government was supportive of efforts by international and national NGOs to provide training and education concerning the harmful effects of FGM/C. Additionally, the country’s religious leaders took a stance against FGM/C, declaring the belief that the practice “purifies young girls” has no basis in Islam. Despite the government’s efforts, major obstacles included high rates of illiteracy, difficulty of enforcement, and deep-seated societal traditions.

Sexual Harassment: The Protection Law prohibits sexual harassment. Anecdotal information suggested such harassment continued, but the government made women’s empowerment one of its top priorities as illustrated by increasing the number of women in high-profile government positions.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Particularly in the rural areas, individuals were subject to the pressures of tradition, religion, and custom. Women could obtain birth control without the consent of their husbands or male partners. Sixteen percent of women of reproductive age used modern methods for family planning. The government offered access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, however, there was no data available on victims’ use of reproductive health information or health facilities.

Statistics indicated a high maternal death rate of 248 deaths per 100,000 live births. This statistic increased outside of Djibouti City, especially in makeshift urban developments around the city and in rural areas where malnutrition was high. A lack of facilities impacted access to skilled health attendance. Skilled health personnel attended 28.6 percent of births between 2006 and 2014; more recent statistics for health personnel attendance were unavailable. Home births were the norm in rural areas.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens regardless of gender, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector (see section 7.d.).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The governing coalition included representatives of all the country’s major clans and ethnic groups, with minority groups also represented in senior positions. Nonetheless, there was discrimination based on ethnicity in employment and job advancement. Somali-Issas, the majority ethnic group, controlled the ruling party, the Union for a Presidential Majority, and shared political power with the Afar ethnic group. There were multiple rival subclans, and discrimination based on ethnicity and clan affiliation remained a factor in business and politics.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. The government encouraged prompt registration of births, but confusion regarding the process sometimes left children without proper documentation. Lack of birth registration did not result in denial of most public services but did prevent youth from completing higher studies and adults from voting.

Education: Although primary education is compulsory, only an estimated 75 percent of children were enrolled in school. Primary and middle schools are tuition-free, but other expenses are often prohibitive for poor families.

Child Abuse: Child abuse existed but was not frequently reported or prosecuted. The government sought to combat child abuse by establishing the National Commission for Youth and nominating a specialist judge to try cases involving child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Although the law fixes the minimum legal age of marriage at 18, it provides that “marriage of minors who have not reached the legal age of majority is subject to the consent of their guardians.” Child, early, and forced marriage occasionally occurred in rural areas. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning, as well as UNFD, worked with women’s groups throughout the country to protect the rights of girls, including the right to decide when and whom to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for three years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine for the commercial exploitation of children. The law does not specifically prohibit statutory rape, and there is no legal minimum age of consent. The sale, manufacture, or distribution of all pornography, including child pornography, is prohibited, punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a substantial fine.

The law criminalizes sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law considered child sex trafficking as an aggravating circumstance for which the penalties significantly increased.

Despite government efforts to keep at-risk children off the streets, migrant and local children in Djibouti City were vulnerable to sex trafficking. Children also remained vulnerable to sex trafficking in bars, clubs, and illicit brothels. Traffickers exploited local and migrant unaccompanied minors in sex trafficking in Djibouti City, the trucking corridor to Ethiopia, and Obock, the main departure and arrival point for Yemen.

Displaced Children: There was a significant population of migrant children due to the country’s location as a transit point for migrants, especially from Ethiopia, who sought to transit to Yemen and ultimately to the Arabian Peninsula. An NGO operates the only facility in the country caring for these unaccompanied minor migrants.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community at fewer than 30 persons, the majority of whom were foreign military members stationed in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. The indigenous Jewish community emigrated to Israel in 1947 during the French colonial period.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. In 2018 the government created the National Agency of Handicapped Persons. It has responsibility specifically to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and improve their access to social services and employment. The government did not mandate access to government services and accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, and buildings were often inaccessible. The law provides persons with disabilities access to health care and education, but it was not effectively enforced.

Authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities separately from other pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. They received some psychological treatment or monitoring. Families could request confinement in prison for relatives with mental disabilities who had not been convicted of any crime, but who were considered a danger to themselves or those around them. Aside from psychiatric services administered to prisoners with mental disabilities in Gabode, there were no mental health treatment facilities and only one practicing psychiatrist in the country.

The agency conducted awareness-raising campaigns, coordinated with NGOs to organize seminars and other events, and encouraged social service providers to improve their systems to serve persons with disabilities better.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reported cases of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, although stigma against individuals with the disease was widespread. Several local associations worked in collaboration with the government to combat social discrimination.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not explicitly criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) status or sexual conduct between consenting adults. No antidiscrimination law exists to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. There were no reported incidents of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, although LGBTQI+ persons generally did not openly acknowledge their LGBTQI+ status. There were no LGBTQI+ organizations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions with limitations that fell significantly short of international standards for trade unions, including the requirement for obtaining prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law provides the right to strike after giving advance notification, allows collective bargaining, and fixes the basic conditions for adherence to collective agreements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The economic free zones (EFZs) operate under different rules, and labor law provides workers fewer rights in the EFZs.

The law provides for the suspension of the employment contract when a worker holds office in a trade union. The law also prohibits membership in a trade union if an individual has prior convictions (whether or not the conviction is prejudicial to the integrity required to exercise union office). The law provides the president with broad discretionary power to prohibit or restrict severely the right of civil servants to strike, based on an extensive list of “essential services” that may exceed the limits of international standards.

The procedure for trade union registration is lengthy and complicated, allowing the Ministry of Labor virtually unchecked discretionary authority over registration. The government also requires unions to repeat this approval process following any changes to union leadership or union statutes, meaning each time there is a union election the union must reregister with the government.

The government neither enforced nor complied with applicable law, including the law on antiunion discrimination. The government did not levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In June the government arrested two members of a government-approved labor union for organizing an unapproved extraordinary congress of the union to replace the union president, who had served beyond his three-year mandate.

The government also limited labor organizations’ ability to register members, thus compromising the ability of labor groups to operate. The government did not allow the country’s two independent labor unions to register as official labor unions. Two government-backed labor unions with the same names as the independent labor unions, sometimes known as “clones,” served as the primary collective bargaining mechanisms for many workers. Members of the government have close ties to the legal labor unions. Only members of government-approved labor unions attended international and regional labor meetings with the imprimatur of the government. Independent union leaders stated the government suppressed independent representative unions by tacitly discouraging labor meetings.

Collective bargaining sometimes occurred and usually resulted in quick agreements. The tripartite National Council on Work, Employment, and Professional Training, which included representatives from labor, employers, and government, examined all collective bargaining agreements and played an advisory role in their negotiation and application.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law strengthens tools available to prosecutors to convict and imprison traffickers. It was not clear whether the law prescribes penalties that were commensurate with those for other analogous, serious crimes such as kidnapping (see section 6, Children).

Local and migrant women and children were vulnerable to forced labor, including domestic servitude, forced begging, and peddling, in Djibouti City and along the trucking corridor to Ethiopia. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize the worst forms of child labor. Child labor, including the worst forms, occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits all employment of children younger than age 16 and contains provisions prohibiting dangerous work for minors. The law places limitations on working more than 40 hours a week and working at night. Government enforcement of the law was ineffective. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other analogous, serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for monitoring workplaces and preventing child labor; however, a shortage of labor inspectors and vehicles impeded investigations of child labor. Although inspectors focused on the formal economy, labor inspectors recognized that most child labor took place in the informal sector.

According to the law, children are strictly prohibited from employment in domestic jobs, hotels, and bars and drinking places, except jobs related to catering only. Children were engaged in the sale of the narcotic khat, which is legal. Family-owned businesses such as restaurants and small shops employed children during all hours. Children were involved in a range of activities such as shining shoes, washing and guarding cars, selling items, working as domestic servants, working in subsistence farming and with livestock, begging, and other activities in the informal sector. Labor inspectors also noted an increase in children working in construction. Parents or other adult relatives forced unaccompanied minors to work, including begging. Children were also coerced to commit petty crimes, such as theft.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens regardless of gender or other distinctions, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector. Penalties for violations of labor laws were commensurate to those of similar violations, such as fraud. Most labor violations were settled through mediations by labor inspectors between the employer and the employee. There was also discrimination based on ethnicity in employment and job advancement.

The Protection Law addressed discrimination against women in the workplace. Legal restrictions for women included limitations on employment in occupations requiring certain levels of physical strength. The government promoted women-led small businesses, including through expanded access to microcredit.

A presidential decree requires women to hold at least 25 percent of all high-level public service positions, although the government has never implemented the decree. A decree adopted on the proposal of the ministers of labor and the minister of health, at the suggestion of the National Council for Labor, Employment, and Vocational Training, determines the jobs and categories of businesses prohibited for women, pregnant women, and young persons, and the age limit to which the ban applies.

There is no law prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV and AIDS, or other communicable disease status. The Labor Inspectorate did not adequately carry out inspections for discrimination. According to disability advocates, there were not enough employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and legal protections and access for such individuals were inadequate. The law does not require equal pay for equal work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage for the public sector was above the World Bank poverty income level. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for the private sector, but it provides that minimum wages be established by common agreement between employers and employees. According to the government statistics office, in 2017, 79 percent of the population were living in relative poverty. The legal workweek is 40 hours over five days, a limit that applies to workers regardless of gender or nationality. The law mandates a weekly rest period of 48 consecutive hours and the provision of overtime pay at an increased rate fixed by agreement or collective bargaining. The law states that combined regular and overtime hours may not exceed 60 hours per week and 12 hours per day. Penalties for abuses were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The law provides for paid holidays.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that cover the country’s main industries. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing OSH standards, wages, and work hours; however, enforcement was ineffective. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment. Penalties for violations of the law were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

Informal Sector: There was a large informal sector but no credible data on the number of workers employed there. Much of the labor market was in the informal sector. By law migrant workers who obtain residency and work permits enjoy the same legal protections and working conditions as citizens, although the law was unevenly enforced.

Migrants were particularly vulnerable to hazardous working conditions, particularly in the construction sector and at ports. Hazards included improper safety equipment and inadequate safety training. According to the Labor Inspectorate, workers typically reported improper termination, not abuses of safety standards. The most common remedy for violations was for the labor inspector to visit the offending business and explain how to correct the violation. If the business corrected the violation, there was no penalty.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia. The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect the president, deputies to the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. In 2019 voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote. The election marked the first democratic transition of power between two elected presidents since the country’s independence in 1960. United Nations and African Union observers considered the election to be relatively free and fair. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Union for the Republic, the political party founded by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly.

The National Police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas, reports to the Ministry of Interior. The National Guard performs a limited police function in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, including prisons. The National Guard reports to the Ministry of the Interior. Regional authorities may call upon the National Guard to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior’s General Group for Road Safety maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal blasphemy laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons, including continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, and punish officials who committed abuses and prosecuted some abusers, but some officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by authorities. The government also continued to take steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials involved in corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted in 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Both cases involved transactional sex with an adult, and as of October, investigations into both remained pending.

The National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) is an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The MNP has not launched any investigations since its inception in 2016.

Complaints filed with the courts for allegations of torture were submitted to police for investigation. The government continued to deny the existence of “unofficial” detention centers, even though nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations pointed out their continued usage. Neither the MNP nor the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) directly addressed the existence of these locations.

Impunity was a serious problem in the security forces, particularly among the General Group for Road Safety, the National Guard, and the National Police. Politicization, widespread corruption, and ethnic tensions between the Beydane-controlled security forces and Haratine (“Black Moor” Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan communities were primary factors contributing to impunity. Cases of abuse were routinely handled within the security forces, but authorities took steps to refer cases to the criminal courts. For example, on February 11, authorities sentenced a police commissioner to five years in prison after he assaulted a judge.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained life threatening due to persistent food shortages, overcrowding, violence, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, and indefinite pretrial detention.

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded. For example, the Directorate of Penal Affairs and Prison Administration (DAPAP) maintained that the country’s largest prison, Dar Naim, held approximately three times the number of inmates compared to its capacity. Authorities frequently grouped pretrial detainees with convicts who presented a danger to other prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates, a practice criticized by the CNDH.

On July 9, DAPAP announced the death of Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a prisoner at the Aleg national prison. Although DAPAP attributed Abdel-Rahman’s death to natural causes, they noted that his frequent prison transfers may have had adverse effects on his health. DAPAP’s announcement came after prisoners in Aleg rioted to protest Abdel-Rahman’s death. There was no further investigation into the incident at year’s end.

There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital Nouakchott and the other in the country’s second-largest city, Nouadhibou. Almost all supervisors of female inmates were male because the all-male National Guard was assigned the task of supervising prisons nationwide. The few female supervisors in prisons were not members of the National Guard, but rather members of civil protection teams (firefighters). Detention conditions for women were generally better than those for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded than those for men.

Prison authorities held a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities, regardless of their specific sentences. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security procedures surrounding visitors. Prisoners sometimes rebelled and disobeyed authorities, in some cases to protest violence and inhuman treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and the indiscriminate grouping of inmates meant that prisoners often lived with the threat of violence, while some had to bribe other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Salafist prisoners jailed on terrorism-related charges alleged mistreatment at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. Local NGOs reported that inmates partially managed one wing of the Dar Naim prison by themselves from January to July, a practice not uncommon in the region but with which DAPAP expressed unease. Narcotics, weapons, and cash reportedly circulated freely because staff could not effectively screen goods that entered the prison and could not safely enter some areas.

Human rights groups continued to deplore the lack of adequate sanitation and medical facilities in prisons nationwide, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. The government allocated a budget of 50 ouguiyas ($1.35) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies, an amount observers deemed inadequate. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

The Ministry of Justice operated a youth detention center in Nouakchott. The detention facility held 70 minors during the year. An Italian NGO continued to operate a separate detention center for minors, the only prison facility that came close to meeting international standards. These facilities operated in addition to youth detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH and the MNP. Government regulations also allowed inmates to elect one representative for dealing with the prison administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity. The government acknowledged allegations of inhuman conditions but rarely took corrective action. Authorities routinely transferred prisoners to prisons in the interior of the country to alleviate the overcrowding in Nouakchott and to allow for renovation projects in the Nouakchott prisons; however, these transfers often meant that prisoners were separated from their families and legal representatives and increased the average length of time prisoners were held in pretrial detention. There were no reports of concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding prisoners’ access to visitors or religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The CNDH carried out unannounced visits to these detention centers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to prisoners suspected of terrorist activities.

Improvements: International and local partners, including the ICRC, the Noura Foundation, and Caritas-Mauritania, contributed to the improvement of general hygiene and living conditions in the detention centers and prisons with the support of the government. The ICRC helped to improve infrastructure, hygiene, and health conditions in detention centers and rehabilitated the sanitation network of Dar Naim Prison. The ICRC also continued implementing a program to combat malnutrition in prisons, including the main prisons in Aleg and Dar Naim, by rehabilitating kitchen facilities and periodically providing medicines and other hygiene products.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. A detainee has the legal right to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention under two circumstances: first, if a person remains arrested after the end of his or her legal period of detention; and second, if the detainee disagrees with his or her sentence, in which case he or she has the right to file an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of the police investigation. With few exceptions, individuals could not be detained for more than 48 hours without evidence, and prosecutors may extend the period for an additional 48 hours in some cases. Because nonbusiness days are not counted within this 48-hour maximum period, police sometimes arrested individuals on a Wednesday or Thursday to keep them in custody for a full week. If a person is detained on terrorism charges, that individual can be held in custody for as long as 45 days. The law requires that a suspect be brought before a judicial officer and charged with a crime within 48 hours; however, authorities generally did not respect this right.

During its Universal Periodic Review of the country on January 19, the UN Human Rights Committee noted that police records of detainees in police stations were poorly maintained. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but legal representation was frequently either unavailable or attorneys did not speak the defendant’s language (and were not always provided interpretation services). On January 6, the government completed staffing for legal aid offices throughout the country. These legal aid offices are provided for by law, and they helped victims and defendants to access the legal resources available to them. Judges sometimes arbitrarily refused requests for bail or set inordinately high bail amounts.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.). On April 25, the Nouadhibou police detained four young adults (one woman and three men) who had participated in a social media program called al-Matrush. The content featured the young woman talking about gender equality, female sexuality, and premarital sex. Authorities released the four on April 28, after police allegedly made them promise to stop the program and confiscated their cell phones.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to DAPAP the average length for pretrial detention was six to 12 months, and approximately 40 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Members of the security forces sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than the legal maximum time, often due to a lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, and in some cases to obtain confessions. By law authorities may not hold a minor for more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports of many individuals, including minors, remaining in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency, although the length of pretrial detention rarely, if ever, equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most jurisdictions stopped processing cases in January and from July through September, and both the rate and length of pretrial detention increased.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government mostly respected judicial independence and impartiality. Nevertheless, the executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Authorities did not always respect or enforce court orders. Observers generally perceived judges to be corrupt, unskilled, and subject to social and tribal pressures.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them within 48 hours, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants often did not learn of the charges against them until the police investigation was complete. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities generally did not respect this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases.

Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants did not always have access to free interpretation if they could not speak or understand the language of the court. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Sharia is, in part, the basis for trial procedures. Courts generally did not treat women equally with men during these proceedings.

A special court for minors hears cases involving persons younger than age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults, and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complaints of human rights abuses fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international and regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chambers in both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, although there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. For example, authorities often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda; however, the government sometimes used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of disadvantaged populations, namely the Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans. On December 1, the Nouadhibou Criminal Court sentenced Hamda Ould Obaid Allah to six months in prison for criticizing President Ghazouani in a video that went viral in October. In the video the blogger criticized President Ghazouani’s personal appearance and his management of the country.

On November 9, the government adopted a law criminalizing criticisms and derogatory comments of the country’s national symbols, including the flag, the national anthem, Islam, and the president. The law reinforces and slightly expands previous laws and decrees by including specific references to the use of digital media (e.g., social media, WhatsApp messages, voice messages, and photographs). The law caused widespread controversy prior to its adoption, and many NGOs and human rights activists declared the law unduly restricted freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased compared with the previous year. Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists during the year. On April 24, authorities detained Abdallahi Med Atigh after he criticized Minister of Social Affairs Naha Mint Cheikh Sidya. Authorities then released Atigh on April 26 (see also section 5).

Libel/Slander Laws: There is a law against blasphemy, which is punishable by death, although the country last carried out an execution in 1987.

National Security: The government sometimes cited laws protecting national security and social cohesion to detain critics of the government and deter criticism of governmental policies.

Internet Freedom

The government sometimes disrupted access to the internet and sometimes arrested persons for expressing political or religious views online that criticized the government. On September 22 and 23, authorities disrupted internet access in the southern part of the country due to violent protests in the village of Rkiz. On July 26 and 29 and on August 30 and 31, authorities also disrupted the country’s 3G network while national exams were taking place. Authorities took this action as part of an annual effort to combat cheating. There was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. On February 9, police arrested Bilal Ould Maimoun in Nouadhibou after he shared several Facebook posts criticizing the government’s policies for stabilizing food prices. Police released him on February 15.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted these freedoms. The government, however, took steps to respect increasingly these rights, including by enacting a law that makes it easier for NGOs to register and operate.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that NGOs claimed were politically motivated. Security forces were sometimes violent in dispersing protesters. On November 28, security forces in Bababe (a village in the south) violently dispersed a demonstration protesting the 1990 killing of 28 sub-Saharan soldiers. Several persons were injured during the dispersal, including five who were flown to Senegal for medical treatment.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. On January 11, the National Assembly adopted a new Law on Associations (the “NGO Law”), which changed the registration process for NGOs from an authoritative to a declarative system. This new law allows NGOs, including prominent antislavery organizations, to register and operate in the country. The government adopted the implementing decree for NGO law on October 20, and several NGOs, including the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, were registered under the new law by the end of the year (also see section 7.b.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, government security and safety measures included frequent use of mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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 refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition.

In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands, although authorities regularly worked with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to screen for vulnerable migrants prior to deportation.

Access to Basic Services: The government and UNHCR worked together to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees to fight against the pandemic. The government also worked with UNHCR and the Malian government to agree upon a common curriculum for refugee children to allow them to have more access to higher education.

Durable Solutions: The government worked with UNHCR to issue birth certificates to refugee children born in the country. UNHCR reported that ongoing insecurity in Mali and COVID-19 border closures precluded large-scale returns in 2020 and during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the law, children born to citizen fathers and foreign mothers are automatically citizens, whether born inside or outside the country. The law does not grant women the same ability as men to confer nationality to their children when born outside of the country, but those children are able to obtain Mauritanian nationality at age 17. If the father is stateless, children born outside the country are subject to statelessness until age 17, at which point the child is eligible for nationality. The unwillingness of local authorities to process thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who returned from Senegal following their mass expulsion between 1989 and 1991 rendered the returnees stateless. Many Haratine children also faced difficulties obtaining civil status documents since authorities required proof of identity from both parents.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote in the 2019 presidential election. Prominent antislavery activist and politician Biram Dah Abeid placed second with 19 percent of the vote, while Mohamed Ould Boubacar, a former prime minister backed by the Islamist party, placed third with 17 percent. Observers from the United Nations and African Union judged the election to be relatively free and fair, with no evidence of large-scale fraud that could have materially influenced the outcome of the vote. The presidential elections represented the first transition of power from one democratically elected leader to another since the country’s independence in 1960.

In 2018 the party founded by the former president, the Union for the Republic, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly in legislative elections, which the African Union judged to be relatively free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are some restrictions on the ability of political parties to register. By decree all political parties must be able to gain at least 1 percent of votes in two consecutive elections in order to continue to operate legally and receive government funding, and this decree continued to limit the overall number of political parties that can participate. The government did not approve registration for previously denied activist parties, including the Forces of Progressive Change. The government took some steps to address the ethnic disparity in political leadership. Under the previous regime, the Beydane elite (“White Moor” Arabs) accounted for at most 30 percent of the population but occupied approximately 80 percent of government leadership positions; Haratines constituted at least 45 percent of the population but held fewer than 10 percent of the positions; and the various sub-Saharan ethnic groups (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) constituted an estimated 25 percent of the population and accounted for fewer than 10 percent of leadership positions. Of the 27 ministers in the sitting cabinet, 18 percent come from a Haratine ethnic background, and 18 percent come from a sub-Saharan ethnic background. Unlike in previous governments, the existing cabinet was largely made up of technocrats.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural factors restricted women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. Despite laws promoting women’s access to elective positions (including a quota of 20 percent of seats reserved for women on lists of candidates in legislative and local elections), the number of women in electoral politics remained low. Following the 2018 legislative elections, women held 19.6 percent of seats in the 157-member National Assembly, compared with the 2014 election results in which women held 22 percent of seats. Five women were named to the new cabinet: one from the non-Arab sub-Saharan ethnic community, none from the Haratine ethnic community, and four from the Beydane (“White Moor”) ethnic community. Traditional and cultural factors also prevented persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons from participating in political life on the same basis as nonminority citizens.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption was a serious problem in public administration, and the government rarely held officials accountable or prosecuted them for abuses. There were reports government officials used their power to obtain personal favors, such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, special grants of land, and preferential treatment during bidding on government projects. Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement but was also common in the distribution of official documents, fishing and mining licenses, land distribution, as well as in bank loans and tax payments.

On March 11, authorities charged former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and 12 other persons with mismanagement of state property, bribery, illicit enrichment, obstruction of justice, and money laundering. These charges were based on the 2020 Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that investigated corrupt practices during the previous administration. On May 11, authorities then sent Aziz to prison for breaking the terms of his judicial supervision. Aziz remained in prison for the remainder of the year awaiting his trial on corruption-related charges.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Several domestic and international groups also reported evidence of a continued change in attitude under the new government, citing statements by government human rights bodies calling attention to international laws and conventions protecting human rights, as well as an increased willingness to work with human rights groups.

In May the government welcomed a visit from the Abolition Institute, an antislavery NGO that in 2017 authorities had denied entry to the country. During the May visit, the government allowed the group to freely conduct antislavery activities. Nevertheless, there were restrictions on some human rights groups, particularly those investigating cases of slavery and slavery-related practices. For example, authorities sometimes denied NGOs access to the prosecutor’s office or the victim when they were investigating a possible slavery or slavery-related case. On April 16, police detained two representatives of the antislavery NGO SOS Esclaves, one former victim of slavery, and one Swiss journalist. The four individuals had been investigating a possible case of slavery in the northern part of the country. Police released the four persons on April 19, but authorities reportedly kept the journalist’s professional equipment due to the journalist’s lack of prior authorization to operate the equipment.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commissariat for Human Rights (CDHAHRSC) designs, promotes, and implements national human rights policies. The CDHAHRSC managed government- and internationally funded human rights and humanitarian assistance programs. The CNDH, an independent ombudsman organization, includes government and civil society representatives. It actively monitored human rights conditions and advocated for government action to correct abuses. The CNDH produced an annual report on human rights topics, conducted regular investigations, including prison and police detention center facility visits, conducted information caravans throughout the country to combat slavery, and made recommendations to the government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women is illegal. The law does not address rape of men. Rapists who are single men face penalties of imprisonment, forced labor, and whipping; married rapists are subject to the death penalty, although this penalty was last enforced in 1987. The government increasingly enforced prison sentences for convicted rapists, but prosecution remained provisional. Nevertheless, as in years past, wealthy rape suspects reportedly avoided prosecution or, if prosecuted, avoided prison. It was common for the families of rape survivors to reach an agreement with the perpetrator in the form of monetary compensation.

Rape survivors were discouraged from reporting the crime because they themselves could be jailed for having intercourse outside of marriage. Reliable data on gender-based violence remained sparse, and the situation of children and women who were victims of abuse was poorly documented. The subject remained taboo due to social mores and traditional norms, which often called for survivors to be rejected by their family and society. On June 17, three men allegedly raped a mother and her two daughters in Nouakchott. Police arrested the three suspects, and they remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

Spousal abuse and domestic violence are illegal, but there are no specific penalties for domestic violence. The government did not enforce the law effectively, and convictions were rare.

Police and the judiciary occasionally intervened in domestic abuse cases, but women rarely sought legal redress, relying instead on family, NGOs, and community leaders to resolve their domestic disputes. NGOs reported that, in certain cases, they sought police assistance to protect survivors of domestic violence, but police declined to investigate.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law states that any act or attempt to damage a girl’s sexual organs is punishable by imprisonment and a monetary fine. Authorities seldom applied the law due to lack of awareness regarding the ordinance in the law that bans the practice and traditional and religious beliefs supporting the practice. According to a 2015 UNICEF study, 67 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C, and the study found that in certain regions the prevalence was higher than 90 percent. On February 6, Minister of Social Affairs Naha Mint Cheikh Sidya stated the rate had fallen to 53 percent for girls younger than 14.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, Childhood, and Family continued to track the more than 2,000 traditional health providers who publicly abandoned the practice of FGM/C to ensure that the providers would not start the practice again.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continued to decline. One of these was the forced feeding of adolescent girls prior to marriage, practiced by some Beydane families and known as gavage. The practice forced some girls to eat up to 16,000 calories a day for two months, with refusals to eat often accompanied by physical punishments from family members.

Sexual Harassment: There are no laws against sexual harassment. Women’s NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a common problem in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. According to NGOs, doctors continued to perform so-called virginity tests, particularly in cases of rape and sexual violence.

According to the law, married couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Single pregnant woman, however, do not enjoy the same freedoms, since the law criminalizes sexual relations outside of marriage.

Social and cultural barriers significantly limited access to contraception, including misinformation that contraception causes cancerous diseases, death, or infertility. Contraceptives were not widely available in health centers, and some religious fatwas forbid the use of contraception without the husband’s permission. For unmarried women, stigma impeded access to contraception. The proportion of women of reproductive age whose need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods was 35 percent, and the contraceptive prevalence rate for women ages 15-49, with any method, was 12 percent.

According to the law, women have the right to a childbirth assisted by qualified health personnel, but many women lacked access to those services. Social stigmas and conservative sociocultural factors limited access to information and health services, particularly for adolescents.

The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. A unit in the Maternity and Child Center in Nouakchott treated female victims of sexual violence. This unit also gave women emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after cases of rape. Access to these services was uncommon outside of Nouakchott, and even when services were available, women were often discouraged by their immediate family from seeking assistance after incidents of sexual violence.

In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the maternal mortality rate to be 766 per 100,000 live births. The high maternal mortality rate was due to a lack of medical equipment, few programs promoting prenatal care for mothers, births without the assistance of health professionals, poor sanitation, malnutrition, and high rates of adolescent pregnancy. FGM/C was a significant problem and contributed to maternal morbidity. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.) The WHO estimated the adolescent (females ages 15-19) birth rate to be 84 per 1,000.

Girls’ access to education was affected by pregnancy and motherhood status, since many girls who became pregnant dropped out of school to care for their child.

Discrimination: Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and the more educated and urbanized women were more likely to enjoy these rights. Nevertheless, women in general had fewer legal rights than men.

Additionally, women faced other forms of legal discrimination. According to sharia as applied in the country, the testimony of two women was required to equal that of one man. The courts granted only one-half as large an indemnity to the family of a female victim as that accorded to the family of a male victim. The personal status code provides a framework for the consistent application of secular law and sharia-based family law, but judicial officials did not always respect it. There are legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous and certain industries including mining and construction.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law provides that all citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity, are equal. Nevertheless, Haratines (the “Black Moors” and former slave caste) and sub-Saharans often faced discrimination from the country’s Beydane community. Police often tolerated discrimination towards the Haratines and sub-Saharans since the security services were largely controlled by Beydane.

Haratine and sub-Saharan ethnic groups faced governmental discrimination while the Beydane ethnic group received governmental preference. For example, individuals living across the border in Western Sahara (who are of Beydane ethnicity) easily obtained national identity cards required to vote, although they were not legally qualified to do so because they were not citizens. Meanwhile, Haratine (Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan (non-Arab) citizens often had great difficulty obtaining national identity documents.

Racial and cultural tension and discrimination also arose from the geographic, linguistic, and cultural divides between Moors (Beydane and Haratine) – who while historically representing a mix of Berber, Arab, and sub-Saharan Africans, today largely identify culturally and linguistically as Arab – and the sub-Saharan non-Arab minorities. Historically, the Beydane (“White Moors”) enslaved the Haratine population (“Black Moors”); some hereditary slavery continued, and Haratines continued to suffer from the legacy of centuries of slavery (see section 7.b.). Beydane tribes and clans dominated positions in government and business far beyond their proportion of the population. As a group, the Haratines remained politically and economically weaker than the Beydane, although they represented the largest ethnocultural group in the country. The various sub-Saharan ethnic groups, along with the Haratines, remained underrepresented in leadership positions in government, industry, and the military (see section 3). President Ghazouani increased the number of Haratines and sub-Saharans in leadership positions, most notably by appointing a Haratine as prime minister.

From June through September, the Union for the Republic, the country’s ruling political party, held a series of workshops and debates throughout the country to address the issue of national cohesion and slavery. The workshops marked the first time that the ruling party began to openly discuss ways to overcome some of the country’s racial and cultural tensions.

The government took steps to mitigate the economic factors that contributed to the problem. For example, the General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, was created in 2019 to intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. With a budget of 20 billion ouguiyas ($541 million) through 2024, Taazour was implementing projects to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution had the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies in order to maximize their impact. Taazour had an agreement with the CNDH to facilitate efforts by beneficiaries of Taazour projects to seek redress for any abuse of their civil rights.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a person derives citizenship from one’s father. One can derive citizenship from one’s mother under either of the following conditions: if the mother is a citizen and the father’s nationality is unknown or he is stateless, or if the child was born in the country to a citizen mother and the child repudiates the father’s nationality a year before reaching majority. Children born abroad to citizen mothers and foreign men can acquire citizenship one year before reaching the majority age of 18. Minor children of parents who are naturalized citizens are also eligible for citizenship.

The process of registering a child and subsequently receiving a birth certificate was reportedly difficult. Failure to register could result in denial of some public services, such as education.

Education: The law mandates six years of school attendance for all children, but the law was not effectively enforced. Many children, particularly girls, did not attend school for the mandatory six years. Children of lower castes from both Haratine and sub-Saharan families often did not receive any formal education.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, although authorities rarely applied them. Authorities also rarely investigated allegations of child abuse in homes or schools.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal marriage age is 18, but authorities rarely enforced the law, and child marriage was widespread. Since consensual sex outside of marriage is illegal, a legal guardian can ask local authorities to permit a girl younger than 18 to marry. Local authorities frequently granted permission. The government continued to work with UNICEF to implement a program to combat child marriage through a series of judicial and political reforms.

In 2017, according to UNICEF, 37 percent of girls were married before the age of 18, and 18 percent were married before the age of 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual relations with a child younger than 18, with penalties of six months to two years in prison and a fine. Possession of child pornography is illegal, with penalties of two months to one year in prison and a fine. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is illegal. NGOs asserted the laws were not properly enforced.

Displaced Children: According to a 2019 statement by the minister of social affairs, there were more than 16,000 children who needed protection, including displaced children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

A very small number of foreign residents practiced Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities generally did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law provides for access to information and communication, and to existing public buildings through retrofitting and future buildings through amendments to the building code. Authorities did not enforce the law.

There were no confirmed reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, or other abuses against persons with disabilities during the year.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, private discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and health case was common. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS were often isolated due to societal taboos and prejudice associated with the disease but were gradually becoming more accepted within society and by the government. These individuals were increasingly consulted to help implement state programs to combat infectious disease, including HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

LGBTQI+ persons were reportedly harassed and were subject to violence from the National Police, the general Group for Road Safety, neighbors, and family members. On October 21, a video circulated on WhatsApp showing several road safety police harassing a transgender person. During the video, which appeared to be filmed by one of the officers, police began stripping the person, and officers can be heard saying they were going to investigate the woman’s “fake breasts.” There were no reports that authorities launched an investigation into the incident.

No laws protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination. Under sharia as applied in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men is punishable by death if witnessed by four individuals, and such conduct between women is punishable by three months to two years in prison and a token monetary fine. The government did not actively enforce these measures. The LGBTQI+ community was rarely identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and the legal penalties attached to such labels.

According to the latest report by the LGBTQI+ Nouakchott Solidarity Association from 2017, the rights of LGBTQI+ persons were not recognized and therefore not protected. LGBTQI+ persons lived in perpetual fear of being expelled from their families, had difficulty finding employment, and were rejected by society in general. As a result they did not attend or participate in public activities due to fears of retribution and violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, except members of police, armed forces, and foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice at local and national levels and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and to bargain collectively. Other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

Prior authorization or approval by authorities is required before a union may be recognized. The public prosecutor must authorize all trade unions before they enjoy legal status. The public prosecutor may provisionally suspend a trade union at the request of the Ministry of Interior if ministry officials believe the union did not comply with the law. The law also provides that authorities may initiate legal proceedings against union leaders who undermine public order or make false statements. This law in effect authorizes administrative authorities to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations by unilateral decision.

Noncitizens do not have the right to become trade union officials unless they have worked in the country and in the profession represented by the trade union for at least five years. Labor unions must obtain government authorization in order to hold labor elections. Despite previous promises, the government had not authorized union elections since 2014.

Bargaining collectively at the national level requires previous authorization or approval by the president, who decides how collective bargaining is organized. No such authorization is required for collective bargaining at the company level. The minister of labor, public service, and modernization of the administration may call for bargaining among employers, employees, labor unions, and the government. In addition, the ministry is entitled to take part in the preparation of collective agreements. The law provides that the meeting must occur 15 days following a statement of nonagreement between parties.

The law provides for the right to strike, except for those working in services deemed essential. Aggrieved parties must follow complex procedures before conducting a strike action. If negotiations between workers and employers fail to produce an agreement, the case is referred to the Court of Arbitration. If the court fails to broker a mutually satisfactory agreement, workers may have to wait up to four additional months from the time of the decision before they can legally strike. The government may also dissolve a union for what it considers an illegal or politically motivated strike. The law prohibits workers from holding sit-ins or blocking nonstriking workers from entering work premises. Workers must provide advance notice of at least 10 working days to the Ministry of Labor for any strike.

The government did not enforce the law effectively and did not provide adequate resources for inspections. While authorities seldom punished violators, the government ordered the reinstatement of workers who were wrongfully terminated or directed companies to improve employee benefits and services on several occasions. While antiunion discrimination is illegal, national human rights groups and unions reported authorities did not actively investigate alleged antiunion practices in some private firms. Collective bargaining at the company level remained rare. In May longshoremen, however, reached an agreement with the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott after they went on strike in 2020 to protest the dismissal of thousands of dock workers during a previous strike in 2018.

Registration and strike procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor ministry officials routinely issued notices calling on all parties to negotiate. Such notices legally restrict workers from striking for a period of four months. Workers and unions organized several strikes and, unlike in previous years, authorities did not employ force to disperse them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. It also criminalizes the practice of slavery, which includes forced labor and forced child labor, and imposes penalties, both on government officials who do not act in response to reported cases and on those who benefit from contracting forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The constitution and law make the offense “a crime against humanity.” The law grants civil society organizations the right to file complaints in court on behalf of victims as civil parties; however, many civil society organizations reported difficulty in filing complaints on behalf of victims. The law also provides free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to compensation. Although the government took more steps towards ending the practice of slavery, including increased engagement with civil society groups, efforts to enforce the antislavery law were considered inadequate by NGOs and human rights activists. The government doubled the budget for the antislavery courts from 900,000 ouguiyas ($24,300) to 1,800,000 ouguiyas ($48,600) during the year, but the courts still lacked adequate funding to carry out their mandate.

On January 13, the prime minister gave the CDHAHRSC the power to introduce cases on behalf of victims of slavery, although the CDHAHRSC had not yet used this authority. The new NGO law does not allow for NGOs to introduce cases on behalf of victims, although several antislavery organizations continued to do so throughout the year.

On December 31, the government used the new NGO law to officially recognize the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, which was created in 2008 and was one of the most active organizations fighting slavery in the country.

On April 13, the Nema specialized antislavery court ruled on one slavery-related case. The court acquitted Habibi Ould Murtadja, a 64-year-old man accused of slavery and child labor, due to lack of evidence. On June 8, the Nouakchott antislavery court ruled on four cases of slavery-related slander, a crime punishable under the law, and sentenced one person to six months in prison but suspended the sentence. The three other cases were either dismissed or postponed. The specialized antislavery courts, like the rest of the judicial system, were closed in January and from July through September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves did not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions affected a small but not insignificant portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slavery-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.

In 2015 the government asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a program to assess the scope of forced labor in the country. Among other activities, the ILO Bridge Project supported research in the country on recruitment mechanisms and employment conditions to help identify different types of employment that may involve slavery or slavery-like practices.

Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, including cultural traditions, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced the law.

Former slaves in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable and lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.

Some former slaves were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.

Slavery, including forced labor and de facto slavery, were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids some, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Nevertheless, it allows children as young as 12 to be employed in most forms of family enterprise with authorization from the Ministry of Labor if the work does not affect the child’s health, exceed two hours per day, or occur during school hours or holidays. The law states employed children between ages 14 and 16 should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage and those who are 17 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage. Children should not work more than eight hours a day, should be given one or several one-hour breaks, and may not work at night. Children working in unpaid, temporary, or noncontractual work do not have the same protections under the child labor laws and regulations as do children working in contractual employment.

The Ministry of Labor authorized children as young as 13 to do work in a variety of areas, resulting in children doing hazardous work with government authorization in the areas of agriculture, fishing, construction, and garbage removal. Additionally, the government does not legally prohibit all forms of hazardous work as defined by international law.

The law penalizes violations of child labor laws and criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced begging. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations, and the penalties were generally insufficiently enforced to deter violations. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including domestic work and agriculture. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Mechanisms for exchanging information among agencies or assessing the effectiveness of child labor laws were not active during the year. There was no specific mechanism for submitting complaints, other than to labor inspectors or the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs were the only organizations that handled cases of child victims, referred them to the Special Police Brigade for Minors, and pressured the government to adjudicate the cases or integrate the victims in social centers or schools during the year.

The CNDH’s 2016 annual report, which had the most recent numbers available, stated that 26 percent of children between the ages of 15 and 17 worked. The report indicated the proportion of children between the ages of 12 and 14 who performed some work totaled 22 percent. The report also stressed that exploitation of girls was more frequent in domestic work.

An unknown number of talibes (religious students), nearly all from the Halpulaar community, begged in the streets and gave the proceeds to their religious teachers as payment for religious instruction. There were reliable reports that some marabouts (religious teachers) forced their talibes to beg for more than 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter. The government continued a program to reduce the number of talibes and cooperated with NGOs to provide talibes with basic medical and nutritional care.

Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly in poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and collected garbage. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.

The government continued to operate seven Centers for Protection and Social Integration of Children in Difficult Situations: one in each of the regions of Kiffa, Nouadhibou, Aleg, and Rosso, and three in Nouakchott.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, or language, but the government generally did not enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. For example, in conformity with long-standing practice, the employment and advancement of both Haratines and sub-Saharans in the armed services, the National Police, and civil administrative jobs remained limited. On July 27, the government enacted a dual nationality law that allows dual citizens to work in the government and participate in political life. The new law does not allow for dual citizens to run for president or become the prime minister, the president of the national assembly, or a minister of sovereignty (i.e., minister of foreign affairs, defense, Islamic affairs, or interior).

The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women faced widespread employment discrimination, because employers usually preferred to hire men, with women overrepresented in low-paying positions (see section 6). There are legal restrictions on women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous or morally inappropriate and certain industries including mining and construction.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage that is more than the most recent estimate for the poverty income level. The law provides that the standard legal nonagricultural workweek must not exceed either 40 hours or six days per week. Domestic workers and certain other categories may work 56 hours per week. There are no legal provisions regarding compulsory overtime.

The Labor Office of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws but did not do so effectively. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient for the labor force, and inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. The ILO reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets occupational health and safety (OSH) standards, and in principle workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment; however, this was rarely applied. These OSH standards apply only to the formal sector, and labor inspectors rarely identified unsafe conditions or responded to workers’ OSH complaints.

The Ministry of Labor was responsible for ensuring OSH standards. Inspections for OSH were conducted by the same inspectors under the same authorities as wage and hours. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws, and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. The National Agency of Social Security registered 168 workplace fatalities or injuries during the year, most of which occurred in the mining sector.

Informal Sector: The majority of the working population labored in the informal sector, primarily in subsistence agriculture, fishing, domestic services, and animal husbandry. According to the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers, only 25 percent of workers filled positions accorded regular pay.

Despite the law, labor unions pointed to conditions approaching forced labor in several sectors, including the food processing industry. In these sectors workers did not have contracts or receive pay stubs. Their salaries were below the official minimum wage, and they worked in unfavorable conditions. They occasionally did not receive pay for several months.

Working conditions in the fishing industry were similarly difficult. Commercial fishermen reportedly often exceeded 40 hours of work per week without receiving overtime pay. Additionally, some factory workers employed by fish-processing plants and boat manufacturers did not receive contracts guaranteeing the terms of their employment. Government inspections of fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories were rare.

Violations of minimum wage or overtime laws were frequent in many sectors but more common in the informal economy, which included domestic service, street vending, artisanal fishing, garbage collection, bus fare collection, donkey-cart driving, apprenticeship, auto repair, and other similar types of employment.

Senegal

Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2019 voters re-elected Macky Sall as president for a second term of five years in elections local and international observers considered generally free and fair. Observers judged the 2017 legislative elections to be also generally free and fair.

Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The country was under a state of emergency from January 6 to March 19. The National Police are part of the Ministry of the Interior and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside major cities. The army also reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports members of security forces committed abuses.

The March arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko triggered several days of intense political protests that spiraled into widespread riots and looting, causing 13 deaths, more than 600 injuries, and millions of dollars in property damage.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings by or on behalf of the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel and slander laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses and corruption existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a low-level insurgency between security forces and armed separatists continued. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance involving individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance. Incidents related to illegal harvesting of timber by Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance separatists occurred as government security forces sought to end this illicit commerce. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted these incidents.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

Following widespread protests in March, several local and international media outlets reported human rights abuses committed by police and national gendarme responding to the nationwide protests. Amnesty International attributed 13 deaths to the protests, with 10 caused by security forces.

On March 6, security forces reportedly shot and killed an unarmed student protester and severely injured seven others during a violent confrontation outside a gendarmerie brigade post in Disobey. While the post was in the process of being evacuated, security forces reportedly opened fire on the demonstrators. The government expressed its condolences to the family of the victim and provided monetary restitution. In April the government announced an “independent and impartial” commission of inquiry to investigate the riots and provide accountability for the 13 deaths. As of September, the commission had not been established. A similar commission announced by human rights organizations also remained unestablished.

Prison staff or prisoners reportedly killed some inmates in prisons and detention centers, but figures were unavailable (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Government offices empowered to investigate misconduct and excessive use of force included the gendarmerie and police internal affairs units. If abuses bore further investigation, cases were referred to an investigative judge, who could request additional investigations by the Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) of the National Police or the Research Brigade of the Gendarmerie.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by authorities, including excessive use of force as well as cruel and degrading treatment in prisons and detention facilities. They criticized strip search and interrogation methods. Police reportedly forced detainees to sleep on bare floors, directed bright lights at them, beat them with batons, and kept them in cells with minimal access to fresh air. Investigations often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.

Impunity for such acts was a significant problem. Offices charged with investigating abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty. The DIC and police and gendarmerie internal affairs units are charged with investigating police abuses but were ineffective in addressing impunity or corruption.

On February 8, authorities arrested a protester and kept him for four days at the Dakar central police station. He alleged police beat him with motorcycle chains, kicked him in the groin during his interrogation, and handcuffed him so tightly his circulation was affected.

Several protesters accused security forces of serious physical abuse while in detention following March protests (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). Authorities continued to investigate these allegations.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were four allegations submitted in March of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. The incidents allegedly involved exploitative relationships between Senegalese personnel and adults. As of September, the government and the United Nations were still investigating the allegations. Three investigations into allegations from 2020 – two related to exploitative relationships with adults and one related to rape of an adult – were also still pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was endemic. For example, Dakar’s main prison facility, Rebeuss, held more than twice the number of inmates for which it was designed. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief, citing 2019 figures, reported that the country held 11,547 detainees in facilities with a capacity of 7,350 persons. Female detainees generally had better conditions than male detainees. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile detainees were often held with adults or permitted to move freely with adults during the day. Infants and newborns were often kept in prison with their mothers until age one, with no special cells, additional medical provisions, or extra food rations.

According to the most recent available government statistics, 24 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2020, seven fewer than in 2019. Government statistics did not provide the causes of death. Some deaths reportedly were killings. Perpetrators, which included prison staff and other prisoners, may have been subject to internal disciplinary sanctions, but authorities undertook no prosecutions or other public actions against them.

In addition to overcrowding, the NGO National Organization for Human Rights identified lack of adequate sanitation as a major problem. Poor and insufficient food, limited access to medical care, stifling heat, poor drainage, and insect infestations also were problems throughout the prison system.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but there was no evidence that officials conducted any follow-up investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local human rights groups, all of which operated independently, and by international observers. The National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty had full and unfettered access to all civilian prison and detention facilities, but not to military and intelligence facilities. The national observer was unable to monitor prisons throughout the country.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.

Improvements: In January President Sall pardoned 854 prisoners to decongest prisons and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In May he pardoned 557 inmates on the eve of the Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday, and in July he pardoned 450 additional prisoners to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Unless a crime is “flagrant” (just committed or discovered shortly after being committed), police must obtain a warrant from a court to arrest or detain a suspect. Police treat most cases as “flagrant” offenses and make arrests without warrants, invoking pretrial detention powers. The DIC may hold persons up to 24 hours before releasing or charging them. Authorities did not promptly inform many detainees of the charges against them. Police officers, including DIC officials, may double the detention period from 24 to 48 hours without charge if they demonstrate substantial grounds for a future indictment and if a prosecutor so authorizes. If such extended detention is authorized, the detainee must be brought in front of the prosecutor within 48 hours of detention. For particularly serious offenses, investigators may request a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. Authorities have the power to detain terrorist suspects for an initial 96 hours, and with renewals for a maximum of 12 days. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International noted results in lengthy detentions. Prosecutors visited detention facilities on a regular basis to identify detainees with pending criminal dossiers to minimize use of detention for unofficial, extrajudicial purposes.

Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. By law defense attorneys may have access to suspects from the moment of arrest and may be present during interrogation; this provision, however, was not regularly observed. The law provides for legal representation at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. Appointed counsel, however, rarely showed up, especially outside of Dakar. Indigent defendants did not always have attorneys in misdemeanor cases. Several NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes.

Arbitrary Arrest: On March 3, Ousmane Sonko, president of opposition party PASTEF-Les Patriotes and member of the National Assembly, appeared before a court on sexual assault charges, offenses he denied. Sonko mobilized his supporters for a march to the court and refused to follow the route designated by authorities, leading to his arrest for public disorder. In the court proceedings, Sonko alleged several irregularities concerning his arrest and detention. On March 8, the court released him under judicial supervision, and the public prosecutor later dropped the public disorder charge. The investigation into the allegations of sexual assault continued as of year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: As of 2020, authorities reported 47 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. Most defendants awaiting trial were held in detention. The law states an accused person may not be held in pretrial detention for more than six months for minor crimes; however, authorities routinely held persons in custody until a court ordered their release. Judicial backlogs and absenteeism of judges resulted in an average delay of two years between the filing of charges and the beginning of a trial. In cases involving murder charges, threats to state security, and embezzlement of public funds, there were no limits on the length of pretrial detention. In many cases pretrial detainees were held longer than the length of sentence later imposed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. The judiciary is formally independent, but the president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council, the Court of Appeal, and the Council of State, and he and the minister of justice cochair the High Council of the Judiciary, the body responsible for managing magistrates’ careers. Judges are prone to pressure from the government on corruption cases and other matters involving high-level officials or supporters of the government.

The Regional Court of Dakar includes a military tribunal that has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. A tribunal is composed of a civilian judge, a civilian prosecutor, and two military assistants to advise the judge, one of whom must be of equal rank to the defendant. A tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. A military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.

In some cases political opponents faced prompt prosecution for alleged crimes, while prosecution of prominent government supporters encountered unexplained delays. In one case authorities charged a member of the National Assembly and close ally of the president, Seydina Fall, with trafficking in counterfeit currency, but he was granted provisional release in June 2020 while some of his alleged accomplices remained in prison.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for all defendants to have the right to a fair and public trial, and for an independent judiciary to enforce this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a timely trial, to be present in court during their trial and to have an attorney at public expense if needed in felony cases (although legal commentators noted provision of attorneys was rare), and they have the right to appeal. Defendants also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense and to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to confront and present witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence.

While defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt, the country’s long-standing practice is for defendants to provide information to investigators and testify during trials. Case backlogs, lack of legal counsel (especially outside of Dakar), judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined many of the rights of defendants.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice, the final court of appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

From February 17 to 23, police arrested 24 opposition members and activists for participation in an “insurrectional movement against public order” in support of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. Authorities released eight of the activists on March 24 after The Movement for the Defense of Democracy organized marches in Dakar, Diourbel, and Ziguinchor, demanding their release from pretrial custody. By June authorities released the remaining persons.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights abuses in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were several reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

President Sall continued efforts to resolve the 39-year conflict in the Casamance region between separatists and government security forces. Both the government and various factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) separatist movement accepted mediation efforts led by neutral parties. Progress toward a political resolution of the conflict remained incremental. The army conducted several air and ground operations to facilitate the return of local displaced populations affected by the conflict. From January through July, the army carried out several military campaigns along the southwestern border with Guinea-Bissau, seizing eight MFDC rebel bases.

Abductions: There were several acts of banditry attributed to MFDC rebels in which they detained civilians.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: MFDC rebels on occasion harmed civilians while committing criminal acts unconnected to military operations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: On January 15, authorities arrested Boubacar Seye, president of the NGO Horizon Without Borders, for “spreading false news.” Seye alleged the government had misused $215 million in European Union funds earmarked for stopping illegal immigration to the Canary Islands. Authorities released him on February 7.

On January 20, authorities arrested activist Samba Tall after he denounced the corruption and ineptitude of local municipal authorities on Facebook. A court released him without charges after several days in custody.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.

Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.

Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS, members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by the president, controlled all other public media outlets; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.

A new press law that entered into force in January mandates news editors have a minimum of seven years’ experience and publishers 10 years’ experience, with possible prison terms for infractions. The NGO Reporters Without Borders criticized the law as potentially having a chilling effect on online media, since few online sites could meet these requirements.

Violence and Harassment: International and local human rights organizations noted an increase in press freedom abuses during the March riots and reported targeted attacks on journalists and media outlets by protesters. On March 4, protesters partially destroyed the offices of a radio station and daily newspaper and attacked and set on fire another newspaper office. The government pledged to set up an “independent and impartial” commission of inquiry to investigate the attacks. As of September, this commission had not been established. On July 1, police assaulted journalist Alassane Balde as he was covering the adoption of highly contested legislation amending penal code provisions on terrorism.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media. On March 3, authorities suspended two private television channels, WALF TV and SEN TV, for three days for broadcasting images of social unrest.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced. The new press law punishes “fake news,” particularly news articles that “discredit public institutions.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, but generally respected freedom of association, except for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for this right, but authorities refused to authorize demonstrations, primarily due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Ministry of Interior must approve protests in advance. Some groups complained of undue delays in response to authorization requests for public demonstrations. Authorities systematically invoked the law that prohibits demonstrations in certain parts of downtown Dakar to ban demonstrations.

On September 12, in the Dakar suburb of Guediawaye police arrested four members of opposition organizations, Guy Marius Sagna, Papis Djim, Fallou Diagne, and Sylvestine Mendy, following their participation in an unauthorized march against the increasing cost of living. Authorities released them later that evening.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for this right, and authorities generally respected it, although the government did not allow LGBTQI+ organizations to meet or organize under the theory that their activities were against “public order.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government continued to permit generally unsupervised and largely informal repatriation of Casamance refugees returning from The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

Foreign Travel: The law requires some public employees to obtain government approval before departing the country. Only the military and judiciary enforced this law for their employees, however.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

During the 39-year Casamance conflict, more than 20,000 persons left villages in the region due to fighting, forced removal, and land mines, according to estimates by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Refugees and internally displaced persons continued to return to their villages (see section 6, Displaced Children). The government generally respected rights related to movement and promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement or local integration of these internally displaced persons, and had policies and protections in line with United Nations principles on displacement. Some returnees lacked civil documentation proving nationality, which could affect their access to state services.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Since the president must approve each case, delays of many years in granting refugee status remained a problem. Refugee advocates reported the government rarely granted refugee status or asylum. The government, however, generally allowed those with pending and some with rejected asylum claims to remain in the country.

The government did not offer all asylum seekers due process or security, since the same committee that examined appeals filed by denied asylum seekers had examined their original cases. Police did not arrest denied asylum seekers for staying illegally in the country but did arrest them if they committed crimes. Authorities generally contacted UNHCR in such cases to verify their asylum status and avoid deporting someone with a pending claim.

Durable Solutions: The country continued to offer protection to Mauritanian refugees dispersed over a large area in the Senegal River valley along the border with Mauritania. According to UNHCR, most of the Mauritanian refugees indicated a desire to remain in the country permanently, and the government and UNHCR continued to coordinate a naturalization campaign.

Temporary Protection: The government did not formally grant temporary protection, although the government generally allowed those with pending and sometimes denied asylum claims to remain in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 President Macky Sall secured reelection, winning 58 percent of the votes. Election observers agreed the election was generally free and fair, despite isolated cases of voters being unable to vote. In 2017 legislative elections President Sall’s ruling Benno Bokk Yaakar coalition won most National Assembly seats. Observers judged these elections to be generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires candidate lists of political parties contain equal numbers of men and women for elected positions at all levels, from city councils to the National Assembly. While the number of women in elected positions increased, the law has not significantly expanded their role in exercising political authority since it does not apply to party leadership positions or to other important decision-making bodies, such as the cabinet and the judiciary. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in the political process to the same extent as men. Women elected to office often faced additional pressure to maintain traditional subservient gender roles, making it difficult to confront male leadership and domination within the political sphere.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government often did not enforce the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Corruption: The National Anticorruption Commission in 2016 concluded that bribery, misappropriation, abuse of authority, and fraud remained widespread within government institutions, particularly in the health and education ministries, postal services, and the Transport Ministry. Reports of corruption ranged from rent seeking by bureaucrats involved in public approvals, to opaque public procurement, to corruption in the judiciary and police. Two members of the National Assembly allegedly facilitated fictitious marriages in order to issue diplomatic passports for paying clients: Authorities lifted immunity for the two elected officials, and as of December they awaited trial as the investigation continued.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A wide 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 somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not address the gender of survivors. The law also does not address spousal rape. Offenders faced 10 to 20 years in prison, with possible life sentences in aggravated situations. Experts noted the need for the government to train more gynecologists and psychologists to assist survivors and raise awareness of the law among key actors in society, including police, judges, religious leaders, and media.

The government did not fully enforce existing laws, particularly when violence occurred within families. Although domestic violence that causes lasting injuries is punishable with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years, and life imprisonment for murder, police usually did not intervene in domestic disputes. Several women’s groups and the Committee to Combat Violence against Women and Children (CLVF) continued to report a rise in violence against women.

NGOs, including the CLVF, noted the failure of some judges to apply domestic violence laws, citing cases in which judges claimed lack of adequate evidence as a reason to issue lenient sentences. NGOs also noted the government’s failure to permit them to bring suits on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and the lack of shield laws for rape survivors.

The number of incidents of domestic violence, which many citizens considered a normal part of life, were much higher than the number of cases reported. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for combating domestic violence, but it did not undertake any programs to address rape and domestic violence. The government-run Ginddi Center in Dakar provided shelter to women and girls who were survivors of rape or child, early, and forced marriage as well as to street children.

On July 3, the activist group Feminists of Senegal held a protest march in Dakar regarding perceived laxness in the judicial system’s handling of sexual assault cases. Fifty female members staged a sit-in following the alleged rape of an adolescent, age 15, by the son of a famous journalist. The alleged perpetrator, age 19, denied the charges, claiming the encounter, videotaped and released on social media, was consensual. At year’s end the court case continued.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law provides criminal penalties for the perpetration of FGM/C on women and girls, but authorities prosecuted no cases. The rate of FGM/C among girls and women was 25 percent in 2019, with dramatic variation across regions and ethnic groups, including rates as high as 80 percent in some regions, according to UNICEF and local surveys.

Sexual Harassment: The law mandates prison terms of five months to three years and modest to substantial fines for sexual harassment, but the problem was widespread. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

FGM/C exposed women to increased obstetrical complications during labor and childbirth (see the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information). The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. This did not include emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape cases.

According to 2017 data from the Ministry of Health and Social Action, the maternal mortality ratio was 236 deaths per 100,000 live births. The ministry estimated most maternal deaths in childbirth were preventable, caused by the lack of medical equipment and qualified providers, particularly in rural areas.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in many areas, although there are legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations and tasks but not on working hours. Nevertheless, women faced pervasive discrimination, especially in rural areas where traditional customs and discriminatory rules of inheritance were strongest.

The law’s definition of paternal rights also remained an obstacle to equality between men and women. The law considers men to be heads of household, preventing women from taking legal responsibility for their children. Additionally, any benefits for having children are paid to the father. Women may become the legal head of household only if the husband formally renounces his authority or if he is unable to act as head of household.

While women legally have equal access to land, traditional practices made it difficult for women to purchase property in rural areas. Many women had access to land only through their husbands, and the security of their rights depended on maintaining their relationships with their husbands. Discriminatory laws and policies also limited women’s access to and control over capital.

The Ministry for Women’s Affairs, Family Affairs, and Gender has a directorate for gender equality that implemented programs to combat discrimination.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law forbids acts of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination. Authorities enforced the law effectively. Ethnic groups generally coexisted peacefully, but discrimination occurred among many ethnic groups, particularly against individuals of lower castes, and intellectuals or businesspersons from lower castes often tried to conceal their caste identity. Such discrimination was rarely discussed openly.

Government programs to mitigate societal, racial, or ethnic biases included policies favoring the hiring of women, persons with disabilities, and youth.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired by birth on national territory or naturalization. The law provides for equal rights for mothers and fathers to transmit citizenship to their children. The law does not make birth declaration mandatory. Registering births required payment of a small fee and travel to a registration center, which was difficult for many residents of rural areas.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education for children between ages six and 16, although approximately one-third of these children did not attend school. Some did not attend for religious reasons. While children generally could attend primary school without a birth certificate, they needed one to take national exams. Students often had to pay for their own books, uniforms, and other school supplies.

Girls encountered greater difficulties in continuing in school beyond the elementary level. A lack of running water, poor sanitation, early pregnancy, long travel distances, and sexual harassment by school staff contributed to girls leaving school. Where school directors were aware of sexual harassment or exploitation, they generally tried to resolve the situation on their own without reporting it to higher authorities or police and often stigmatized and faulted the behavior of the girls rather than the teacher. Girls were generally unsure of what constituted consent and harassment and did not know where to report exploitation. If girls became pregnant, they dropped out of school and were often shunned by their families.

Many parents opted to keep their middle- and high-school-aged daughters home to work or to marry rather than sending them to school. In recent years, however, gender disparity at the middle- and high-school level significantly lessened.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common, particularly of boys sent to Dakar and other cities to beg under threat of punishment. Parents sent many of these boys to study in daaras (Quranic religious schools). At some daaras, Quranic instructors exploited, physically abused, and forced children to beg on the street. According to Human Rights Watch in 2019, more than 100,000 students lived in daaras across the country.

On July 26, a Quranic school student in Touba died from injuries sustained while trying to escape his school. The victim had alleged abuse by his teachers and difficult conditions at the school. The case remained under investigation, and authorities did not charge his teachers with any offenses.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law women have the right to choose when and whom they marry, but traditional practices often restricted a woman’s choice. The law prohibits the marriage of girls younger than 16, but this law generally was not enforced in most communities where marriages were arranged. Under certain conditions a judge may grant a special dispensation to a man to marry a girl below the age of consent.

According to women’s rights groups and officials from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender, child, early, and forced marriage was a significant problem, particularly in the more rural areas in the south, east, and northeast. The ministry conducted educational campaigns to address the problem. According to 2019 UNICEF statistics, 31 percent of women were married before age 18, and 9 percent before age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or using of children for commercial sex and practices related to pornography. The law was not effectively enforced, but when cases were referred to authorities, they conducted follow-up investigations. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

Exploitation of women and girls in sex trafficking was a problem, particularly in the southeast gold-mining region of Kedougou. Although there were no reports of child sex tourism, the country was considered a destination for child sex tourism for tourists from France, Belgium, and Germany, among other countries.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide continued to be a problem, usually due to poverty or embarrassment. In some cases, women’s families shamed them into killing their babies. Domestic workers and rural women working in cities sometimes killed their newborns if they could not care for them. According to the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, infanticide also occurred when a woman became pregnant with the child of a man from a prohibited occupational caste. If police discovered the identity of the mother, she faced arrest and prosecution for infanticide.

Displaced Children: Many children displaced by the Casamance conflict lived with extended family members, neighbors, in children’s homes, or on the streets. According to NGOs in the Casamance, displaced children suffered from the psychological effects of conflict, malnutrition, and poor health.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 100 Jewish residents in the country; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could access education, health services, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Some older public buildings lacked accessible facilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce these provisions adequately. The law also mandates accessibility for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Due to a lack of special education training for teachers and facilities accessible to children with disabilities, authorities enrolled only 40 percent of such children in primary school. Support for persons with mental disabilities was not generally available, and incidents of physical abuse of persons with mental disabilities occurred. Authorities did not investigate these abuses.

Persons with disabilities experienced difficulty registering to vote as well as accessing voting sites, due to physical barriers such as stairs as well as the lack of provisions such as Braille ballots or sign language interpreters for persons with vision and hearing disabilities, or persons who are nonverbal. The law reserves 15 percent of new civil service positions for persons with disabilities, but this quota has never been enforced. In regions outside Dakar persons with disabilities were effectively excluded from access to these positions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, and the government and NGOs conducted HIV and AIDS awareness campaigns to increase social acceptance of persons with HIV or AIDS and increase HIV testing and counseling nationwide. Nevertheless, human rights activists reported HIV-positive individuals and those with AIDS-related illnesses suffered from social stigma due to the widespread belief that such status indicated homosexuality. HIV-positive men sometimes refrained from taking antiretroviral drugs due to fear their families would discover their sexual orientation.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

LGBTQI+ persons faced widespread social intolerance and acts of violence. LGBTQI+ individuals were subject to frequent threats, mob attacks, robberies, expulsions, blackmail, and rape. Authorities sometimes condoned or tolerated these abuses.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, referred to in law as an “unnatural act,” is a criminal offense punishable by up to 5 years in prison; however, the law was rarely enforced.

No laws prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nor are there hate crime laws that could be used to prosecute crimes motivated by bias against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons faced widespread discrimination, and LGBTQI+ activists complained of discrimination in access to social services. The government and cultural attitudes remained heavily biased against LGBTQI+ individuals.

In February anti-LGBTQI+ activists, seeking to further stigmatize LGBTQI+ persons, circulated a petition calling on the National Assembly to increase the penalties for “unnatural acts.”

On May 23, a large anti-LGBTQI+ rally in Dakar drew thousands of participants. The march included several prominent politicians and civil society leaders who openly expressed anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments.

According to media accounts, at least 150 gay men received threats in May and June, causing some to flee their homes. Between June 6 and 9, unknown individuals assaulted at least four persons perceived to be gay men or gender non-conforming. Each attack was captured on a video that was released publicly, potentially revealing the person’s identity. In each incident police arrested the victim and held them in detention until June 11 or shortly thereafter and then released them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, except for security force members, including police and gendarmes, customs officers, and judges. Unions have the right to bargain collectively and strike, with some restrictions. The law allows civil servants to form and join unions. Before a trade union may exist legally, the labor code requires authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Unions have no legal recourse if the minister refuses registration, although authorization is rarely withheld. Under the law, as part of the trade union recognition process, the ministry has the authority to check the morality and aptitude of candidates for positions of trade union officials. Any change to the bylaws of a trade union must be reported to and investigated by the inspector of labor and the public attorney. Additionally, the law provides that minors (both as workers and as apprentices) may not join a union without parental authorization. The state prosecutor may dissolve and disband trade unions by administrative order if union administrators are not following government regulations on the duties of a union to its members.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Foreigners may hold union office only if they have lived in the country for five years and only if his or her country provides the same right to Senegalese citizens. Collective bargaining agreements covered an estimated 44 percent of workers in the formal economy. Unions can engage in legal proceedings against any individual or entity that infringes the collective bargaining rights of union members, including termination of employment.

The law provides for the right to strike; however, certain regulations restrict this right. According to labor activists, the constitution undermines the right to strike by stipulating that a strike must not infringe on the freedom to work or jeopardize an enterprise. The law states workplaces may not be occupied during a strike and may not violate nonstrikers’ freedom to work or hinder the right of management to enter the premises of the enterprise. This means pickets, go-slows, working to rule, and sit-down strikes are prohibited. Unions representing members of the civil service must notify the government of their intent to strike at least one month in advance; private sector unions must notify the government three days in advance. The government does not have any legal obligation to engage with groups who are planning to strike, but the government sometimes engaged in dialogue with these groups. The government may also requisition workers to replace those on strike in all sectors, including “essential services” sectors. A worker who takes part in an illegal strike may be summarily dismissed. The government effectively enforced applicable laws on the right to strike. Penalties for noncompliance include a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law does not apply to the informal sector and thus excludes most of the workforce, including subsistence farmers, domestic workers, and those employed in many family businesses. The government did enforce applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar offenses.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining with restrictions. Workers exercised the right to form or join unions, but antiunion sentiment within the government was strong. The law has no legal mechanism to require employers to enter collective bargaining negotiations. Trade unions organized on an industry-wide basis, very similar to the French system of union organization. There were no confirmed reports of antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Many provisions of the law impose imprisonment with compulsory prison labor as a penalty for noncompliance with certain practices, however, such as for participation in strikes in “essential services,” for occupying the workplace or its immediate surroundings during strike actions, or for breaching labor discipline deemed to endanger ships or the life or health of persons on board. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws against forced labor, and such practices continued to occur in the areas of domestic servitude, sex trafficking, farm labor, and artisanal mining. Forced child labor occurred, including forced begging by children in some Quranic schools (see section 6, Child Abuse). Some children in these schools were kept in conditions of servitude; were forced to work daily, generally in the street begging; and had to meet a daily quota for money (or sometimes sugar or rice) set by their teachers. The National Anti-Trafficking Task Force and the Child Protection Special Unit continued to address these matters. When officials identified a potential forced begging case, however, they often did not prosecute according to previously mandated minimum sentencing guidelines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Regulations on child labor set the minimum working age at 15, with work considered “hazardous” prohibited until age 18. The law prohibits many forms of hazardous child labor but includes exceptions. In the agricultural sector, for example, children as young as age 12 are permitted to work in a family environment. The law also allows boys younger than age 16 to work in underground mines and quarries doing “light work.” Due to the nature of the dangers associated with mining, “light work” activities do not prevent exposure to hazards.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor are responsible for investigating and initiating lawsuits in child labor cases. The ministry’s investigators may visit any institution during work hours to verify and investigate compliance with labor laws and may act on tips from trade unions or ordinary citizens. Penalties for child labor were often unenforced and were not commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes.

The Ministry of Labor sent investigators to investigate formal workplaces, but they were not adequately trained to deal with child labor problems. The Child Labor Division in the Ministry of Labor was understaffed. Inspectors did not adequately monitor the informal sector, and no cases of child labor were identified in the formal sector. In addition, many areas with prevalent abuses were remote, and inspectors were only located in larger cities. There was no specific system to report child labor violations, largely due to inadequate efforts of the Child Labor Division and the Ministry of Labor. The ministry instead relied on unions to report violators. The government conducted seminars with local officials, NGOs, and civil society to raise awareness of the dangers of child labor, exploitative begging, and online exploitation of children.

Most instances of child labor occurred in the informal economy where labor regulations were not enforced. Economic pressures and inadequate educational opportunities often pushed rural families to emphasize work over education for their children. Child labor was especially common in the regions of Tambacounda, Louga, and Fatick, where up to 90 percent of children worked. Child labor was prevalent in many informal and family-based sectors, such as agriculture (millet, corn, and peanuts), fishing, artisanal gold mining, garages, dumpsites, slaughterhouses, salt production, rock quarrying, and metal and woodworking shops. In the large, informal, unregulated artisanal mining sector, entire families, including children, were engaged in artisanal mining work. Child gold washers, most ages 10 to 14, worked approximately eight hours a day using toxic agents such as mercury without training or protective equipment. There were also reports of children working on family farms or herding cattle. Children also worked as domestics, in tailoring shops, at fruit and vegetable stands, and in other areas of the informal economy.

According to the International Labor Organization, 28 percent of children participated in the labor force. A predominant type of forced child labor was the forced begging by children sent to live and study under the supervision of Quranic teachers (see sections 6 and 7.b.).

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 law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on national origin, race, gender, disability, and religion; violators are subject to fines and imprisonment, but these laws were not regularly enforced, and the penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The law provides for protection from dismissal or discrimination against pregnant workers and gives workers the right to return to the same or equivalent position after taking maternity leave. After childbirth and rejoining work, a worker must be allowed paid breaks for breastfeeding. The law establishes the type of work prohibited for women and pregnant women workers. The law provides for maternity benefits during maternity leave; benefits are paid by the government. The government did not effectively enforce the antidiscrimination provisions of the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred and was the most prevalent form of discrimination. Men and women have equal rights to apply for a job, although women faced some restrictions on occupations and tasks. Women experienced discrimination in employment and operating businesses (see section 6, Women, Discrimination).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. The national minimum hourly wage was higher than the estimated poverty income rate. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but surveys of workers indicated that enforcement was inadequate. Labor unions acted as watchdogs and contributed to implementation of the minimum wage in the formal sector. The minimum wage provisions apply to foreign and migrant workers as well.

For most occupations in the formal sector, the law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours with at least one 24-hour rest period per week, 21 consecutive days per year of paid annual leave, enrollment in government social security and retirement plans, safety standards, and other measures. Night work is defined as activity between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; night workers should receive a supplementary rate of 60 percent for any night hours worked and 100 percent for any night hours worked on holidays. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime in the formal sector.

Premium pay for overtime is required only in the formal sector. The Ministry of Labor, through the Labor Inspection Office, is responsible for enforcing labor standards in the formal sector; those who violate standards are subject to fines and imprisonment, but labor standards were not regularly enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable violations. Enforcement of the workweek standard was irregular. Labor inspectors had poor working conditions and lacked transportation to conduct their mission effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors had the authority to hold unannounced inspections and impose penalties. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for appropriate occupational safety and health (OSH) standards for the main industries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions is up to employers and workers, not OSH experts. Employers are required to set up an occupational safety service and a committee on occupational health and safety; the employer must provide training and free protective equipment including clothing to workers exposed to wet or hazardous substances. Employees or their representatives have the right to propose whatever they assume would provide for their protection and safety and refer proposals to the competent administrative authority in case the employer refuses. Due to high unemployment and a slow legal system, workers seldom exercised their nominal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. Labor activists claimed that workplace accidents were underreported, since the official statistic did not consider the large number of workplace accidents in the informal sector.

Informal Sector: Up to 96 percent of all workers in the country were in the informal sector, according to the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative. With increasing urbanization, the country’s economy was shifting from agriculture to informal commerce, per World Bank data. The informal sector included work in agriculture, self-employment, construction, services, restaurants, home-based producers, laborers, domestic workers, hotels and hospitality, tourism, fishmongers, street vendors, market vendors, laundry, waste picking, beauty salons, tailoring, transport, and private education.

Approximately 42 percent of informal workers lost their job and struggled to meet basic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a 2020 UN survey. Shutdowns of local markets and restrictions on the movement of persons and cars between regions and cities caused shortages of supplies and goods to traders. Informal workers did not have access to the rights and protections of the country’s labor code, because most were self-employed and had no employment contract. Laws regulating informal workers’ activities were not effectively enforced; legislation prohibiting street vending in public spaces contributed to discrimination against informal workers. Domestic workers are protected by some labor laws, but the law provides them fewer benefits and protections than other workers, and penalties were seldom enforced. Worker rights groups criticized the government’s “Senegal emergent” (Senegal Rising) plan to regularize informal sector tradespersons, because it covered small businesses but not the self-employed, who represented more than 90 percent of informal workers.

Informal workers have no social protection or access to public health care. Although the government set up Universal Health Coverage granting free health care to young children and basic healthcare coverage for adults through mutual insurance programs, most informal workers remain uninsured.

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