Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In May, Belize Telemedia Limited, the state-owned telecommunications provider, stopped advertising with all KREMANDALA companies, one of the most popular media conglomerates in the country. The provider explained it was a general cut on all advertising, but it did not reduce advertising with other media firms. KREMANDALA was known to be critical of the government and was owned by the family of a prominent opposition politician.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 47 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. A state of public emergency was declared on September 4 for 30 days in two areas of Belize City as a result of gang violence, which limited assembly in the areas.

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

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

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

The government generally cooperated 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, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government severely restricted approval of asylum applications after reinstating the Refugee Eligibility Committee in 2015.

Citizenship: The government continued to enforce a moratorium on the issuance of Belize citizenship to Guatemalan citizens that started in 2012. The moratorium began in response to complaints that the constitution does not allow for Belizean nationality to be awarded to Guatemalans if they do not renounce their previous nationality first. Guatemala does not have a formal nationality renunciation process, so Guatemalan nationals cannot technically qualify for Belizean citizenship. As a result, several Guatemalan nationals who met the criteria to become Belize citizens found themselves in limbo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refugees and recognized refugees. During the year the government granted asylum status to 28 persons of the more than 3,000 applicants. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status within the 14-day deadline.

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in preventing the press from behaving in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On May 24, HAAC suspended the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune (LNT) for publishing “abusive, outrageous, detrimental, and intrusive” language deemed offensive regarding the president’s private life. On June 3, LNT Editor-in-Chief Vincent Foly stated that the newspaper was specifically targeted for publishing opinion pieces criticizing Talon administration policy, not for criticism of the president personally. The local press, civil society, and press-watchdog organizations objected to LNT’s suspension. Editor Foly filed a civil suit alleging wrongdoing against HAAC President Adam Boni Tessi with the Court of Cotonou. On October 12, the court announced that the case was not within its jurisdiction.

In May 2017 the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production, which it had suspended in 2016. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($90,252) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.

Independent media were generally active and expressed a variety of views without restriction; however, the press tended to criticize the government less freely and frequently than in previous years. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio coverage was poorer due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may not be prosecuted for libel and slander but may face prosecution and fines for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. The digital code, however, criminalizes use of social media for “incitements to hatred and violence.” On October 2, the Court of Cotonou convicted Sabi Sira Korogone of incitement of hatred and violence, incitement of rebellion, and “racially motivated slander” for statements posted on a social media sites. The court sentenced him to imprisonment for one year and a fine of three million CFA francs ($5,415). There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. There were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

The government requires advance notification for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On May 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prefect of Littoral Modeste Toboula Department violated the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights related to freedom of assembly and public liberties. The court ruled he did so by issuing a decree on March 13 that restricted antigovernment demonstrations by requiring prior registration and approval by the Ministry of Interior. The court stated that requiring registration with the Ministry of Interior violated the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.

In March 2017 the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of the right to freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

Unlike in prior years, there were no illegal roadblocks. As part of its effort to reduce corruption, the government banned roadblocks throughout the country.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government’s policy toward the seasonal movement of livestock allowed migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen from other countries to enter and depart freely; the government did not enforce designated entry points.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. On March 31, the government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees assumed responsibility for refugee issues in the country following closure of the local UNHCR office. The commission cooperates with UNHCR through its regional office in Dakar, Senegal.

STATELESS PERSONS

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship.

The government continued the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population it started in November 2017 to collect personal data on all citizens for a national digital database. Each citizen registered is to be issued a biometric card having a unique and permanent identification number.

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and generally expressed a variety of views. The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties and prohibits outlets from endorsing candidates during the election period. In its Freedom in the World 2018, Freedom House noted private media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that the creation of a new Media Council under the Information Communications and Media Act contributed to greater self-censorship, although the body had not yet been put into force. For example, journalists noted media generally practiced self-censorship during the election period on particularly sensitive issues such as foreign policy and national security.

Libel/Slander Laws: In its Freedom in the World 2018, Freedom House noted powerful individuals could use defamation laws to retaliate against critics, citing the case of a prominent journalist who left the country in early 2017 after a businessperson filed a defamation lawsuit against her.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The International Telecommunication Union estimated the number of internet users in 2017 at 48 percent of the population. By contrast, the Annual Statistics 2018 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users in 2017 at 93 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The law permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2018report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees but that other local and international NGOs worked with increasing freedom from official scrutiny. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. To register an NGO, an individual must be a citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, provide his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement was sometimes restricted based on location of permanent residence. Additionally, the government is generally reluctant to repatriate Nepali-speaking refugees who currently live outside of the country.

The government cooperated with the Office of the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The law establishes different categories of citizenship and determines whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally, which primarily affected those foreigners married to a Bhutanese citizen and their children and those who are permitted to reside in Bhutan to conduct business.

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis, although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father also were affected. Citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.

Exile: In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

As of September, after years of international efforts resulting in the resettlement of thousands of refugees, UNHCR reported approximately 6,500 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in the two refugee camps it administered in Nepal.

There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s, the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. Tibetan officials reported the Tibetans had largely successfully integrated into society. According to the CTA’s 2017-18 annual report, 1,847 Tibetan refugees lived in Bhutan; approximately 1,654 of them have refugee resident permits. No current records indicate any of these refugees hold work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. Authorities keep the country’s border with China closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population was decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship, according to the Department of Immigration.

Freedom of Movement: Tibetan refugees reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Employment: Reports suggested some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to previous information from the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India, although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India.

The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. Officials repeated the census in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. The government categorized those who did not meet the new criteria as illegal immigrants and expelled them. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south. Officials conducted the last census in 2017. While records do not show any figures on stateless persons, informed sources estimated 1,000 families are stateless.

For a child to qualify for Bhutanese citizenship, both parents must be Bhutanese citizens. NGOs and media sources highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because their fathers’ nationality was undocumented. Nonetheless, the government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category. In May 2017 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the government to end discrimination against children based on ethnic origin, particularly in access to education.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public health care, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government frequently carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Government actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. In February National Press Association President Marcelo Miralles Iporre told the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the country suffered from “censorship caused by state publicity, law, the financial asphyxiation of the media, and intolerance of those with critical points of view.” He said these factors put at risk “freedom of the press and expression, and democracy.”

In its 2017 annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted several limitations placed by the government on media, including the use of the term “the Cartel of Lies” to discredit journalists or pressure journalists who criticized the government, in addition to the discriminatory use of state advertising. The report noted verbal attacks by national and local officials against the press. Progovernment demonstrators and security forces physically attacked journalists during protests, and the justice system allowed “preventive imprisonment” of journalists with little evidence.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the Inter American Press Association, the government regularly attempted to disqualify the independent press by claiming it acted on behalf of the political opposition and spread fake news to generate social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but in practice it did not purchase advertisements in media outlets considered adversarial.

Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association (ANP) and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves. Government entities such as the National Tax Service, National Delivery Service, Business Authority, Telecommunications and Transport Regulation and Control Authority, Gaming Control Authority, Departmental Labor Directorates, and Vice Ministry for Communication Policies, which is responsible for monitoring free advertising, carried out inspections and applied fines many observers claimed were unwarranted. The ANP expressed concern that the government attacked independent news outlets and attempted to “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government. The allocation of state advertising often excluded media that questioned the actions of government, to the extent that some media fired several investigative journalists due to fear of losing official advertising.

Violence and Harassment: From 2010 to 2017, the ANP reported 136 physical aggressions against journalists and other media members, as well as 155 cases of verbal aggressions and threats.

On August 9, military security forces beat two female journalists during the inauguration of the new presidential palace in La Paz and prevented other reporters from entering the location where President Morales was speaking.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reported various cyberattacks against media outlets in 2017. For example, the websites of Sol de PandoAgencia de Noticias FidesLa Razon, and Pagina Siete, which sometimes published articles critical of the Morales administration, were rendered unavailable by cyberattacks executed by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs, fear of prosecution, and fear of losing access to government sources. Human rights organizations reported many reporters were dismissed for reporting on controversial topics that conflicted with the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. On November 28, in a widely circulated recording, purportedly of a briefing for President Morales, Police Commander Faustino Mendoza stated police officers systematically monitored journalist and opposition politicians on social networks. In the audio recording, Mendoza revealed that police had 84 social media accounts specifically used for this purpose. The National Association of the Press of Bolivia, which represented the main print media of the country, expressed its “deep concern for the police control and surveillance of the informative work of journalists.” The government sharply criticized the release of the recording but did not deny its authenticity.

Government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.

The number of fake accounts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter sharply increased, particularly those favoring the government and ruling party, during the year. The accounts regularly criticized social media posts made by opposition leaders while expressing support for content produced by the government. The government openly admitted to funding “cyberwarriors” who targeted opposition leaders on social media through fake accounts.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.

Although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, civil society groups, especially, but not limited to, those critical of the government, faced harassment from government officials.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, firecrackers, and dynamite. Security forces at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities.

There were several demonstrations during the year defending the “21F” movement, which opposed Morales’ candidacy for president and rejected the constitutional change that ended presidential term limits. On May 29, during the South American Games in Cochabamba, a group of 21F supporters began shouting “Bolivia said no” and wore T-shirts with “21F” printed on the front. Police asked the protesters to cover their 21F shirts. After the incident the police subcommander, General Agustin Moreno, warned he would not allow 21F demonstrations during patriotic celebrations on the country’s national day in Potosi on August 6. In Potosi on August 6, police did not permit access to public space for those critical of the government. In September police in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba did not allow 21F supporters access to the main plaza and other public spaces.

On July 21, a small group of persons arrived at the Plaza Murillo in La Paz with 21F T-shirts. Within minutes a police contingent pushed the protesters out of the plaza and ended the protest.

According to the NGO UNIR Bolivia Foundation, on average there were approximately three different types of protests per day throughout the country between January and March. These demonstrations, radical protest actions, and confrontations with police resulted in one person dead and more than 100 injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not consistently respect this right. NGOs continued to be targets of government officials, including the president, vice president, and government ministers, if they operated in a manner perceived as adversarial to the government. Some NGOs alleged government registration mechanisms were purposefully stringent in order to deter an active civil society.

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote. A number of opposition politicians with legal cases against them were prohibited from leaving the country and were required to turn in their passports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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 through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.

Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists and media outlets increased in the period leading up to the October general elections, while the majority of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws provide for a high level of freedom of expression, but the irregular and in some instances incorrect implementation and application of the laws seriously undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions.

According to data from the BiH Journalists Association (BiH Journalists) covering the period from 2006 to 2018, authorities prosecuted approximately 30 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists and investigated more than one-third of all cases alleging violation of journalists’ rights.

Political and financial pressure on media outlets continued. Some media outlets noted that allegations of tax evasion and elaborate financial controls continued to be powerful tools in attempts to silence outlets. A number of physical attacks against journalists occurred during the year. The trend of politicians and other leaders accusing the media of treason in response to criticism intensified. In June, RS President Milorad Dodik accused pro-opposition BNTV journalists Suzana Radjen Todoric and Zeljko Raljic of working against the RS. Using the fact that they went to London to attend a media course and linking this to his earlier conspiracy theory about British spies planning a coup in the RS, Dodik asserted that the journalists received special training in the UK, adding that it was understood what purpose this “training” would serve. The Banja Luka Journalists Club, BiH Journalists, and the British Embassy strongly condemned the allegations, noting they jeopardized the work of the free press and the physical safety of the two journalists.

Professional media organizations also noted that gender-based attacks against female journalists increased during the year. A representative case occurred in late 2017 when the deputy secretary of the BiH Presidency harshly insulted two female journalists on his Facebook page, commenting on their television appearance and using discriminatory language. BiH Journalists called the comments a misogynistic act and demanded that the institution punish the behavior. As of mid-September, the BiH Presidency had not taken action regarding the incident.

Reporting on war crimes continued to provoke strong negative reactions, as was the case in late 2017 with journalists Sanel Kajan from al-Jazeera, Stefica Galic from the tacno.net portal, Arijana Saracevic Helac from RTV FBIH, and Lejla Turcilo from the Faculty of Political Sciences Sarajevo. These journalists received numerous threats, including death threats, due to their positions and reporting on the verdict of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on the war crimes case against six wartime military and political Croat officials.

In 2017 the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) won more institutional and organizational independence and was subjected to less direct government control after it was exempted from the Law on Ministries and other administrative agencies. The CRA’s financial independence continued to be of concern, however, since it was still subject to the Law on Budget and Salaries.

As of July the CRA had received 13 complaints alleging hate speech. Twelve complaints were related to the program Cyrillic, which was produced in Serbia but also aired live on ATV, a private station based in Banja Luka. All the cases were under review.

As of October the self-regulated BiH Press Council had received 198 complaints, 33 of which were related to hate speech. Two of the 33 cases were determined to be examples of incitement and the spreading of hate speech, while 18 were under review. Almost all reported cases of hate speech occurred in online media and in the comments section of online publications. The BiH Press Council noted that nearly all hate speech cases related to ethnic issues and concluded that online groups were involved in initiating intolerant speech. In the second half of the year, the Press Council has noticed an increase in hate speech towards women and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. It has yet to be enforced. In addition, the BiH constitution, the constitutions of the entities, and the Statute of the Brcko District guarantee freedom of expression. Implementation and enforcement of these legal protections, however, remained sporadic.

Data from the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) indicated that courts continued to fail to differentiate between different media genres (in particular, between news and commentary), while long court procedures and legal and financial battles were financially exhausting to journalists and outlets. The FMHL concluded that years of incorrectly implementing the law had caused direct pressure against journalists and media and that such pressure jeopardized journalists’ right to freedom of expression. While numerous outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets remained subject to excessive influence from government, political parties, and private interest groups.

Authorities increased pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability and their dependence on politically controlled funding sources. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The Public Broadcasting System consists of three broadcasters: nationwide radio and television (BHRT) and the entity radio and television broadcasters RTRS and RTV FBiH. Public broadcasters continued to be in a difficult financial situation, primarily due to the lack of an efficient and stable system of financing.

The institutional instability of the governing structures of RTV FBiH was further illustrated by its continued failure to elect a steering board and organizational management, leaving it open to political influence. As a result, RTV FBiH continued to demonstrate political bias and a selective approach to news.

The RS government continued to control directly the RTRS, which campaigned for the ruling political parties in the RS and attacked their political opponents. Coverage of conspiracy theories and so-called “analysis” that directly supported the ruling narrative increased in the election year. The BHRT, which had a reputation of being balanced and nonbiased, in a few instances caved to increased political pressure and censored its own reporting. In March, BiH Journalists called on the management and the steering board to put an end to pressure and censorship directed at BHRT journalists. Authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists increased during the year in connection with the approaching October elections. Cases of violence against journalists were recorded as well. Intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for their unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities also continued. As of September the Free Media Help Line recorded 42 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or death threats and physical assaults.

A series of physical attacks against journalists, included incidents involving a group of veterans assaulting journalists from the Klix.baweb portal and al-Jazeera Balkans during protests in Sarajevo and verbal attacks against a BHRT film crew covering separate protests in Tuzla, culminated in two masked assailants violently attacking a journalist from the pro-opposition BNTV, which was based in the RS. Vladimir Kovacevic, a BNTV journalist based in Banja Luka, was severely beaten as he came home after covering a protest. He sustained severe injuries and was hospitalized. The attack was condemned by journalists, government officials, and media organizations, including a number of journalists who protested in front of the RS president’s office in Banja Luka to demand that officials stop fostering a hostile press environment. Peaceful protests by journalists followed in major cities throughout BiH. The Banja Luka district prosecutor treated the assault as an attempted murder. Numerous outlets criticized the police investigation, stressing that it was actually Kovacevic’s father, not the police, who found the first piece of evidence. RS police arrested the first suspected attacker on September 10. Although police officials emphasized that the suspect remained silent and did not cooperate, the RS minister of interior, Dragan Lukac, immediately asserted that the government was not behind the attack, but that other political forces could be. Members of the press saw these as biased actions. The police have identified the second suspect in the attack and issued a warrant for his arrest, but he remains at large.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: While the country has decriminalized defamation, a large number of complaints continued to be brought against journalists, often resulting in extremely high monetary fines. Noteworthy court decisions against journalists included temporary bans on the posting or publication of certain information, as well as very high compensatory payments citing “mental anguish.”

In May, RS minister of the interior Lukac, spoke at an RS National Assembly special session on the unsolved murder of 21-year-old David Dragicevic. Minister Lukac repeatedly accused blogger Slobodan Vaskovic of manipulating the mourning father, Davor Dragicevic, with the goal of undermining and discrediting the RS and its police. Minister Lukac accused Vaskovic of alleged anti-RS activities, claiming that a foreign embassy in the country protected the blogger. The minister stated he would file a slander complaint against Davor Dragicevic after Vaskovic claimed in his blog that the minister was protecting the perpetrators of the murder, an accusation that Davor Dragicevic repeated. RS opposition politicians, intellectuals, and journalists condemned Minister Lukac’s speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law prohibits expression of racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, which includes hate speech. Authorities, however, did not enforce these prohibitions for online media.

While access to the internet is not explicitly listed as a legal right, constitutional and legal protections have been interpreted to also apply to the internet. In the RS, the law declares that internet-based social networks are part of the public domain and provides fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, although not clearly defined, published on the internet. Independent analysts considered this provision to be an attempt to control online activism and social media, noting that the law broadens police authority. RS authorities have not implemented the law, having initially met strong negative reaction from journalists, NGOs, opposition political parties, and the international community.

Many news portals were not registered officially and did not list contact information, making it difficult to reach them. The vast majority of registered hate speech cases in the country occurred online.

According to International Telecommunications Union statistics, 69.5 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The cantons of Tuzla and Sarajevo have laws that could restrict the independence and academic freedom of universities within their jurisdiction by allowing elected municipal authorities to hire and fire university personnel, including academics, at their discretion. Under the pretext that it is mandated by the law, Sarajevo University in June drafted a “code of conduct and dress” that stirred intense debate among students, academics, and members of the public, all of whom asserted the proposed dress code would be open to abuse and would violate the students’ and professors’ right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the constitution.

The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curricula, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors reportedly on occasion used prejudicial language in their lectures, while the selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. In December, however, the RS Ministry of Interior banned a group of citizens from holding peaceful protests in Banja Luka. Prior to the ban, the “Justice for David” movement had been seeking justice in the case of 21 year-old David Dragicevic, whose murder has yet to be solved. Dragicevic’s family has mobilized thousands of citizens in support of their search for the truth and their efforts to demand justice for all. The RS government justified its decision to ban all public gatherings of the group, including protests, with claims the movement failed to fully respect the law during previous rallies. The RS police interrupted a December 25 gathering, in the process arresting 20 supporters of Justice for David, including two members of the Party for Democratic Progress (PDP) – President Borislav Borenovic and delegate in the RS National Assembly Drasko Stanivukovic. Some journalists and protestors have alleged that during the arrests police used excessive force on protesters, and have produced photographs that appear to support their claims. There are 10 laws governing this right in different parts of the country, all of which were generally assessed to be overly restrictive. Examples include the prohibition of public assembly in front of numerous public institutions in the RS, while some cantonal laws in the Federation (e.g., in Central Bosnia Canton) prescribe criminal liability for failing to fulfill administrative procedures for holding a peaceful assembly. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities manipulated and controlled the process of granting the right to assembly to civil society groups in both entities on several occasions in 2017.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Under the law, NGOs can register at the state, entity, and cantonal levels in a generally streamlined and simple administrative process. Cooperation between the government and civil society organizations at the state and entity levels, however, remained weak, while government support for civil society organizations remained nontransparent, particularly regarding the allocation of funds.

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

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees statistics indicated that 96,830 persons still held IDP status resulting from the 1992-95 conflict. The majority of Bosniaks and Croats fled the RS, while Serbs fled the Federation. At the beginning of the year, UNHCR was directly providing protection, or assistance, or both to 10,484 IDPs. According to UNHCR, an estimated 7,000 persons, including IDPs, continued to live in collective accommodations throughout the country. While the accommodations were meant to be temporary, some have been living in the accommodations for 20 or more years. A substantial number of IDPs and returnees lived in substandard conditions that affected their livelihoods.

The country’s constitution and laws provide for the voluntary return or local integration of IDPs consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The government has actively promoted the safe return and resettlement or local integration of refugees and IDPs, depending on their choice. The government allocated funding for returns and participated in internationally funded programs for return. Isolated attacks against minority returnees continued but were generally not investigated or prosecuted adequately. Minority returnees continued to face obstacles in exercising their rights in places of return.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims. Provision of adequate accommodation was one of the biggest challenges in the first half of the year due to increased arrivals of asylum seekers. It was common practice for some migrants to apply for asylum in order to gain access to temporary benefits and services, even if they had no plans to remain in BiH. The increase of arrivals delayed registration procedures and access to rights and services, including legal, medical, and basic needs such as food and basic hygiene facilities and items, which were tied directly to the accommodation facilities. In official centers, international organizations, NGOs, volunteers, or local actors provided services on an ad hoc basis. On May 18, an additional facility, the Salakovac Refugee Reception Center, was opened for the accommodation of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision once their cases reach the court. The system for providing protection to refugees seeking asylum continued to suffer from a lack of transparency.

Authorities appeared to have stopped their previous practice of placing foreigners with irregular status or without documentation in immigration detention centers and issuing expulsion orders without giving asylum seekers the ability to present applications. The change came with the increase of new arrivals during the year. In the past, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs held asylum seekers for 90 days, the maximum initial holding period prescribed by law. Detention decisions were issued in the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian languages while, according to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, individuals were informed of the content of the decision orally with the assistance of an interpreter. A foreigner may appeal a decision on detention within three days from the date it is issued. Many asylum seekers did not receive legal aid within this timeframe, and they subsequently told UNHCR that they were not informed of this possible remedy.

UNHCR paid ad hoc visits to the Immigration Center of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, where foreigners were detained. The center accommodated 60-80 irregular migrants per day and had an area to accommodate families. UNHCR’s main concern with regard to the center was the difficulty experienced by legal aid NGOs that wanted to access it on a regular basis and the fact that authorities detained children there.

According to UNHCR, authorities held 57 individuals seeking asylum at the Immigration Center during the first eight months of the year. Information on the right to seek asylum was not readily available to potential asylum seekers in the center. UNHCR expressed concern that foreigners in detention may not have access to asylum procedures and that authorities may prematurely return some potential asylum seekers under readmission agreements before they have been afforded due opportunity to file a claim for asylum. UNHCR reported that applicants for refugee status did not have sufficient legal assistance; that there were no clear standards of proof or methods of assessing the credibility of claims, including country of origin; and that guidelines for determining whether there was a risk of persecution were unduly strict.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Under this provision, authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit without risking refoulement.

Durable Solutions: The laws provide a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from the country. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples.

Temporary Protection: The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first seven months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to 11 individuals and extended existing subsidiary protection to 18 others.

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