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Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In 2014 voters re-elected Dilma Rousseff as president in elections widely considered free and fair. On August 31, Rousseff was impeached, and Vice President Michel Temer assumed the presidency as required by the constitution.

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

The most significant human rights abuses included excessive force and unlawful killings by state police, poor and at times life-threatening conditions in some prisons, and corruption.

Other human rights problems included beatings, abuse, and torture of detainees and inmates by police and prison security forces; prolonged pretrial detention and inordinate delays of trials; judicial censorship of media; violence and discrimination against women and girls; violence against children, including sexual abuse; sex trafficking, including of children; social conflict between indigenous communities and private landowners that occasionally led to violence; discrimination against indigenous persons and minorities; violence and social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; violence against environmentalists and rural workers; exploitative working conditions, including forced labor and child labor in the informal economy and in parts of the formal economy; and inadequate enforcement of labor laws.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as survivors.

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

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

There were no reports the federal government or its agents committed politically motivated killings, but unlawful killings by state police occurred. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, as comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians (lawfully or unlawfully) in encounters each year. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 473 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State. Most of the deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against drug-trafficking gangs in the city of Rio de Janeiro’s approximately 760 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, contending police continued to employ repressive methods. In April police conducted an operation in Acari, a favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro, that resulted in the deaths of five civilians. Official reports showed the casualties took place during an intense shootout, but residents of the community claimed police summarily executed the victims. Residents also reported problems of excessive use of force by police during the operation. As of November the case was under investigation. A report by the NGO Amnesty International, A Legacy of Violence–Killings by Police and Repression of Protests at Rio 2016, noted violent police operations took place throughout the Olympic Games (August 5-21) in several poor communities of Rio de Janeiro, resulting in the deaths of at least eight persons. On August 11, a 19-year-old man was killed during a joint operation involving civil and military police agents, the army, and the National Security Force in the favela of Complexo da Mare. On the same day, police officers from the Riot Police Unit killed two children ages 14 and 15 and a man age 22 in the Bandeira 2 favela, in the neighborhood of Del Castilho. On August 15, officers from the Pacification Police Unit killed a man in the favela of Cantagalo, in Ipanema. The next day civil police killed three men during an operation in the favela of Complexo da Mare.

In February, nine officers from the Bahia state military police Special Patrolling Group were implicated in the killing of 12 young Afro-Brazilians in Cabula, a neighborhood in the state capital of Salvador. Police and autopsy reports indicated the victims were unarmed and offered no resistance. Nevertheless, in July, Judge Marivalda Almeida Moutinho acquitted the nine of all charges, ruling the officers acted in self-defense.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such treatment and provides severe legal penalties for conviction of its use. There were, nevertheless, cases of degrading treatment such as those documented by Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, who visited the country in August 2015 and published his findings in January. Credible testimony from inmates–women, men, girls, and boys chosen at random in various detention facilities–pointed to the frequent use of torture and mistreatment, varying in methods and the severity of the pain and suffering inflicted. The incidents occurred during arrest and interrogation by police and also while inmates were in the custody of prison personnel. The inmates reported police and prison personnel engaged in severe kicking, beating (sometimes with sticks and truncheons), and suffocation. Inmates also reported police and prison personnel used Taser guns, pepper spray, tear gas, noise bombs, and rubber bullets, as well as profuse verbal abuse and threats.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards, including sexual abuse, continued at many facilities, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, as of November the prison population was 711,463 prisoners (including house arrests); the official capacity of the prison system was 376,669 prisoners. According to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, in some states women were occasionally held with men, although in separate cells. Prisoners who committed petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required holding convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. Many prisons, including in the Federal District, attempted to separate violent offenders from nonviolent ones and to keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. In July criminal organizations organized prison riots and violent acts throughout prison facilities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte after the state government announced it would install cell-phone jammers at prison facilities. Authorities deployed more than 1,000 army troops after 107 prisoners escaped and burned several public buses. In October prison clashes between rival gangs killed at least 18 inmates in two penitentiaries in the states of Roraima and Rondonia, according to press reports.

The press reported on multiple riots and escapes in the Curado prison complex in the state of Pernambuco. In June judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited the Curado prison (previously named the Anibal Bruno prison) in relation to a case brought against the state of Pernambuco regarding alleged human rights violations. As part of the Inter-American Court case, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs cited inadequate sanitary conditions. HIV and tuberculosis rates in prisons were far higher than rates for the general population. The prevalence of tuberculosis in Pernambuco’s prisons was reportedly 37 times that of the general population.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and Organization of American States.

Improvements: In the Pedrinhas complex in the state of Maranhao, authorities reduced the level of violence by incarcerating rival gang leaders in separate facilities and professionalizing the prison guards, converting them from private contractors to public employees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or arrested by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, is a small, primarily investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, which is charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces remained a problem.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers often took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services.

According to the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat for Public Security, human rights courses were a mandatory component of training for entry-level military police officers. Officers for the state’s favela pacification program (UPP) received additional human rights training. During the year the military police in Rio de Janeiro provided human rights training to 120 UPP officers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, an arrest cannot be made without a warrant issued by a judicial official. Officials must advise suspects of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may leave the area. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees also were allowed prompt access to family members.

Pretrial Detention: According to the National Council of Justice, prisons held approximately 250,000 persons in preventive detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained may challenge in court the legal basis for their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have ben unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, remained a concern.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to have access to government-held evidence and confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. The law extends these rights to all defendants. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but did not have the right to free interpretation.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and courts often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law requires proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental takings of private property. Rio de Janeiro NGOs nevertheless reported squatters’ rights were not always respected when Rio de Janeiro municipal authorities relocated residents as part of efforts to improve urban mobility and safety in conjunction with the city’s Olympic preparations. According to local NGOs, authorities used eminent domain-type laws to relocate approximately 20,000 families, most of whom lacked a legal title to the properties they occupied. Activists and residents argued many of these removals were unnecessary and were carried out mainly to increase property values. Removals in Vila Autodromo, adjacent to the Olympic Park, were cited as examples of such removals. Some residents reported being pressured to accept inadequate compensation for their property.

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

Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars, residences, and business establishments without warrants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence because of their professional activities. Despite national laws prohibiting politically motivated judicial censorship, some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. NGOs highlighted instances of violence against journalists. Most were perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs in the context of massive demonstrations, but at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. According to Reporters without Borders, four journalists were killed in the country through September. On August 16, Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, was killed in Belo Horizonte, the state capital of Minas Gerais. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection.

In February the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, based in the state of Parana, published a list of “super salaries” containing the names of judges, public prosecutors, and civil servants who earned more than the maximum salary allowed by law when government benefits were included in the calculation. In response judges and public prosecutors in Parana initiated 37 lawsuits against the newspaper and its employees. In July, Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lucia suspended the lawsuit spending a decision on the proper jurisdiction for the cases. The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the lawsuits as “judicial harassment.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

In theory the 2014 landmark Marco Civil law–considered an internet “bill of rights”–enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Several legal and judicial rulings citing Marco Civil nevertheless had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, the Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and the Money Laundering Act.

Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. During the year there were at least three instances of messaging applications such as WhatsApp being temporarily blocked for users throughout the country due to judicial decisions related to criminal investigations. A Supreme Federal Court judge overturned the WhatsApp shutdown within hours, citing it as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 51 percent of households had access to the internet in 2015 and 58 percent of the population used the internet. The government promoted digital inclusion by providing free satellite internet access to remote areas; broadband access to municipal governments, schools, and health centers; computers to selected populations; and other assistance targeting vulnerable communities.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected rights of freedom of assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests. In January in the city of Sao Paulo, for instance, military police used tear gas and stun grenades to keep Free Pass Movement (MPL) protesters opposing increases in bus and transit fares from marching on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Local authorities stated MPL leaders had not informed police of the planned route of the march, and therefore police took action to prevent protesters from damaging property, such as banks that were vandalized in previous protests. NGOs reported both the police and MPL played a part in the escalation of events. Some noted police were not consistent in informing demonstrators how far in advance notification of the protest march was required; others noted that during the demonstrations the MPL had tolerated violence perpetrated by groups not affiliated with their organization.

There were a series of large-scale, national protests in March, April, and August calling for the impeachment of President Rousseff and an end to corruption. Police reported no serious security incidents during these protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for this right, the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services.

Temporary Protection: The government provided assistance to Haitian migrants who entered the country in hope of securing employment and relief from economic conditions in Haiti. To reduce the number of Haitians seeking to enter Brazil via dangerous irregular migration routes, the government extended through October 2017 its policy of issuing humanitarian visas through its embassy in Haiti. The visas entitle the recipients to receive health care and social assistance and grant them the right to work. According to the government, 85,000 Haitian migrants had migrated to the country since 2012.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2014, Dilma Rousseff won a second four-year term as president. Observers considered the elections free and fair. On August 31, congress impeached Rousseff for having violated budget laws, and Vice President Michel Temer assumed the presidency as required by the constitution.

In October voters participated in nationwide municipal elections widely considered free and fair. In the period preceding the municipal elections, however, the Superior Electoral Court and federal police reported that as many as 20 candidates or politicians were killed in violence attributed to organized crime networks. Fifteen of the killings occurred in Rio de Janeiro State, and one high-profile incident occurred in the state of Goias, when the candidate for mayor, Jose Gomes da Rocha, was shot and killed while campaigning. In response to the rise in violence, the federal government deployed tens of thousands of troops to more than 400 municipalities to increase security and guard the transport of ballot boxes and the voting stations. There were no reports of violence on election day.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process. According to the Secretariat of Women’s Policies, women made up 9 percent of national-level legislators in congress, and persons of African descent made up 8.5 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilians or Brazilian entities overseas, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and delays in judicial proceedings against those accused of corruption often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible. In response to a series of high-profile corruption investigations, millions of citizens participated in anticorruption street protests throughout the country during the year.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or “Lava Jato”), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors, and to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched a widening net of new investigations. In September federal investigators executed more than 100 search warrants and froze 8.75 billion reais ($2.5 billion) in four of the largest state-run pension funds in an operation called Operation Greenfield. There were also parallel corruption investigations at the federal and state levels that indicated greater anticorruption scrutiny, ranging from federal parastatal entities to contracts with local governments.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Asset declarations are not made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to unclassified government information. The list of exceptions is sufficiently narrow and includes personal information; information that affects public safety or health, national security, or international relations; and sensitive military and intelligence information. The only fees charged are the costs of printing, copying, and mailing documentation. The government has 20 days to respond to requests and may request an additional 10 days, for a maximum of 30 days, after receiving the request.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced these laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Labor implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring that race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry, including unemployment insurance.

According to local NGO Reporter Brasil, Haitian workers reported being victims of employment discrimination. The Ministry of Labor published and distributed a workers’ rights manual in Portuguese and Haitian Creole, but workers–especially in the construction business–complained some employers displayed racist behavior and would not disclose the rights Haitians had under law, including social security benefits.

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June 2014 voters re-elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair. On August 24, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, reached agreement on a final peace accord covering rural reform; political participation; illicit drugs; victims (including transitional justice); end of conflict; and implementation, verification, and public approval. The parties signed the accord September 26. In an October 2 plebiscite, however, the public narrowly rejected the agreement, resulting in the initiation of an inclusive national dialogue aimed at reaching a revised accord. The government and the FARC announced November 12 a revised peace accord, which drew from a national dialogue convoked by President Juan Manuel Santos following the October 2 vote. The Colombian congress approved the revised peace accord November 30.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

The three most prevalent human rights problems in the country were impunity, forced displacement, and societal discrimination. An inefficient justice system, with a judiciary in which officials were subjected to threats and intimidation, limited the government’s ability to prosecute effectively many individuals accused of human rights abuses, including high-level state agents and former members of paramilitary groups. The presence of drug traffickers, guerrilla fighters, and other illegal armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations. Violence and societal discrimination against women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; indigenous persons; and Afro-Colombians often restricted the ability of these groups to exercise their rights.

Other significant human rights problems continued, including extrajudicial and unlawful killings; unauthorized military collaboration with members of illegal armed groups; forced disappearances; overcrowded and insecure prisons; harassment and attacks against human rights groups and activists, including death threats and killings; violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons; and illegal child labor.

The government continued efforts to prosecute and punish perpetrators of abuses, including members of the security services. It increased resources for the Attorney General’s Office, devoted significant resources to human rights cases, and employed a contextual analysis strategy to analyze human rights and other cases systematically. Nonetheless, the system struggled to close out cases quickly and efficiently.

Despite peace negotiations with the FARC, illegal armed groups–including the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as organized crime groups (some of which contained former paramilitary members)–continued to commit numerous human rights abuses, including the following: political killings; killings of members of the public security forces and local officials; widespread use of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs); kidnappings and forced disappearances; sexual and gender-based violence; subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers; and killings, harassment, and intimidation of human rights activists, teachers, and trade unionists. Illegal armed groups continued to be responsible for most instances of forced displacement in the country.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).

There was a reduction in violence due to progress in the peace process between the government and the FARC, including the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire August 29. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2015 annual report stated the peace negotiations “prevented many human rights violations.” During the year the Conflict Analysis Research Center (CERAC) reported levels of violence in the country fell to their lowest in 52 years in terms of the number of victims, combatants killed and injured, and the number of violent acts. According to CERAC, offensive actions against the FARC fell 98 percent, combat between the armed forces and the FARC dropped by 91 percent, overall civilian casualties fell by 98 percent, and overall combatant deaths dropped by 94 percent. The OHCHR and CERAC attributed these trends to confidence-building measures, such as the unilateral ceasefire by the FARC, and the high level of compliance with the bilateral ceasefire.

In February members of the army allegedly killed Gilberto de Jesus Quintero in the department of Antioquia. Security forces claimed that Quintero was a suspected member of the ELN, according to media. As of October 20, the government had failed to investigate the case.

From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered 291 new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 393 members of the security forces and arrested 445 for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 45 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2015.

There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive cases, in which thousands of civilians were allegedly killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. In February Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, convicted and sentenced in 2015 to a total of 67 years in prison and a fine of more than 1.8 billion Colombian Pesos (COP) ($6 million) for the unlawful killing of 34 civilians presented as “false positives,” was sentenced to an additional 37 years and six months in prison for the deaths of Javier Moreno and Janio Sepulveda in 2007 in Caldas Department.

Investigations of generals allegedly implicated in false positive cases continued. In April 2015 the former attorney general stated publicly that his office was investigating 22 generals for alleged involvement in false positives cases. In August the Attorney General’s Office subsequently clarified that the number of investigations against generals (including retired generals) involving homicides was actually 15, rather than 22. As of August the Attorney General’s Office stated 12 cases involving generals were in the preliminary investigation phase, and investigations against three generals had been closed.

On March 28, the Attorney General’s Office announced General Henry William Torres Escalante and former army commander general Mario Montoya Uribe would be formally charged for their alleged connections to false positive cases. The attorney general found that General Torres Escalante was pivotal in the homicide of Daniel Torres Arciniegas and his son Roque Julio Torres, who were falsely presented as FARC members killed in combat in 2007. On March 28, authorities arrested Torres Escalante, which marked the first instance an active-duty general faced criminal charges related to the false positives scandal. He was called to trial in August.

General Montoya faced charges in connection with his alleged involvement in seven false positive cases and awaited arraignment as of mid-October. He was accused of supporting paramilitary groups and actions in operations such as Operation Orion, a 2002 military offensive against guerrillas in Medellin.

On June 1, Commander of the Armed Forces General Mejia and Minister of Defense Villegas publicly honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leadership to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

The OHCHR reported it registered seven possible cases of “illegal deprivation of the right to life” alleged to have been committed by security force members from January 1 through July 31. In several cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of the FARC, while community members claimed the victim was not a combatant. In other cases military officials stated the killings were military mistakes.

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and officers, of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, during the year through September 30, authorities arrested and charged 24 government employees, including 23 members of the National Police, with having links to illegal armed groups, mainly the group known as Gulf Clan, previously known as Clan Usuga or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

On January 17, in Caceres, Antioquia Department, Melisa Espitia Mazo, a pregnant 14-year-old, was killed during a military operation against criminal groups. The army recognized its responsibility in Espitia’s death and apologized for what it stated was a military error. The Antioquia branch of the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation to clarify the circumstances of the death; as of October, there were no arrests or charges related to the case.

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that during the year through July, it obtained 117 new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), 161 new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 191 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members.

On March 16, two former paramilitary members, Dalson Lopez Simanca and Jose Luis Conrado Perez, were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in the 1995 El Aracatazzo massacre, in the municipality of Chigorodo, in which members of the military, along with members of paramilitary groups, allegedly tortured and killed 18 civilians.

On March 1, the Justice and Peace Tribunal, following an investigation begun in 2014, forwarded evidence to the Attorney General’s Office to initiate investigations against retired generals Oscar Botero Cardona and German Morantes Hernandez for human rights violations.

The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered organized criminal bands to be a continuation of former paramilitary groups and in some cases accused elements of the government of collaborating with those groups to commit human rights violations. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in organized criminal gangs but noted the gangs lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The NGOs also included killings by these groups in their definition of “unlawful killings” (see section 1.g.).

According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nonstate actors, particularly the ELN, planted IEDs and land mines (see section 1.g.).

Guerrillas, notably the ELN, committed unlawful killings. Organized criminal groups (some of which included former members of paramilitary groups) committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas under dispute with guerrillas or without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

The investigation into the killing in 2012 of land restitution leader Manuel Ruiz and his son, Samir, continued under the direction of the Office of the Attorney General’s National Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. On May 4, Manuel’s and Samir’s bodies were exhumed in coordination with the Justice and Peace Commission, international observers, and local leaders.

b. Disappearance

Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Although the exact number of people disappeared remained unknown, there were at least 100,000 cases of disappearances during the half-century of conflict, according to the National Search Commission. From January 1 through the end of July, 48 victims of forced disappearances were found alive and 20 were found dead. The government did not provide information on the number of disappearances and forced disappearances registered.

The Attorney General’s Office did not provide information on the number of new convictions in forced disappearance cases involving members of the security forces.

There were developments in efforts to provide reparations to families of disappeared victims of the 1985 military occupation of the Justice Palace in Bogota. In October the Attorney General’s Office returned the remains of William Arturo Almonacid and Cristina del Pilar Guarin, two of the disappeared victims, to their families. The State Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay compensation to the family of disappeared victim Gloria Anzola de Lanao, in the amount of nearly COP 1.6 billion ($5,500,000). Lanao’s body remained missing.

As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in October 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings, and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons (see section 1.g.). On February 4, the ELN kidnapped Jair de Jesus Villar, a military official, at a power plant in Antioquia Department. Villar was released in March, along with civilian Ramon Jose Cabrales, who was kidnapped in September 2015. In April former representative Odin Sanchez offered himself as a hostage to the ELN in exchange for the release of his brother, former Choco governor Patrocino Sanchez, who had been in ELN custody since 2014; however, as of November 7, Sanchez remained in custody. Between May 21 and May 24, the ELN abducted three journalists in Catatumbo. They were released May 27.

The Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty–military and police entities formed to combat kidnapping and extortion–and other security force elements freed 33 hostages in the first seven months of the year. The government reported that two kidnapping victims died in captivity during the year through July. During that period nine kidnapping victims escaped from their captors, and 70 were released by their captors.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police, military personnel, and prison guards sometimes committed abuses. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that during the year through September 9, security forces were allegedly involved in 13 cases of torture.

From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office charged 25 members of the security forces (23 police and two military members) with torture; 14 of the cases occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office reported 12 convictions of members of the armed forces and no convictions of members of illegal armed groups in cases of torture during the year through June.

CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for eight documented cases of torture through September 9. In nine other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.

According to NGOs working with the prison community, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic facilities. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The national prisons had a design capacity of 78,055 prisoners but held 121,157 inmates (112,927 men and 8,230 women). Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails.

On August 23, the Constitutional Court ordered the Bogota Metropolitan Police to cease using buses, parks, and other public spaces as temporary detention centers. The court also ordered INPEC to treat inmates and detainees in a dignified manner.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred.

The Superior Judiciary Council stated that the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often not carried out.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In April the Constitutional Court ruled all suspects jailed longer than the legally allowed period without being tried should be released on July 7. In June Congress approved a provisional bill extending the legal time a crime suspect could be held in jail, preventing the release from prison of approximately 20,000 crime suspects.

The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. Through September it conducted 125 investigations, 71 of which concluded and 54 of which remained in the investigation phase.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities. In May, INPEC and Justice Minister Jorge Londono declared an emergency in the country’s prisons due to the deterioration of health-care conditions. The ministry explained that the state of emergency would enable the implementation of an action plan to address deficiencies in health care for prisoners, to include the creation of health brigades and the prompt execution of maintenance projects related to health-care provision.

INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: INPEC used a centrally managed electronic database with regular updates, and each prison also had its own local database. Foreign diplomatic observers, however, found that the information in both systems often was not well coordinated, resulting in delays in locating foreign detainees, especially dual nationals who had both Colombian and foreign citizenships.

Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups that exercised a high degree of independence. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

Improvements: INPEC launched a new 2016 Anticorruption and Citizen Services Plan with the goal of creating a culture of legality and transparency and promoting new institutional practices, such as the concept of shared responsibility and self-regulation among public servants, citizens, and prison stakeholder groups. INPEC continued a campaign to raise awareness and strengthen a culture of human rights within the institution. Through August 12, a total of 221 prison officials received human rights training. The government also continued a pilot program with local universities and other organizations to provide distance learning for inmates. More than 1,000 inmates participated in the program through July.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 176 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces during the year through September 9 (six committed by the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI), 22 by the armed forces, and 148 by police).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the CTI. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses by security forces. Of these alleged abuses, extrajudicial killings were the highest profile and most controversial. The CTI, which consists of civilian authorities under the Attorney General’s Office, typically investigated deaths resulting from action by security forces when there were allegations of foul play. In some cases the first responders were CNP members, who then investigated the death. Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play.

The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but NGO claims continued of impunity for security force members. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system, and a lack of resources for investigations. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial were also significant obstacles.

The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for the recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by CNP judicial police investigators.

The Attorney General’s Office continued investigations into numerous generals and field-grade officers for involvement in alleged false positive cases and other abuses (see section 1.a.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Bail is generally available except for serious accusations, such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. No information was available on the percent of detainees in pretrial detention or the average length of time detainees spent in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence that corresponded to their charges.

Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Article 30 of the constitution guarantees habeas corpus review for all detainees. Such reviews must be completed within 36 hours. In the case of an illegal deprivation of freedom or illegal detention, Article 90 of the constitution provides for the government to compensate the victim.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning. The Attorney General’s Office had a witness protection program for criminal cases, but some of those who did not enter the program allegedly remained vulnerable to intimidation, and many refused to testify.

The military justice system may investigate and prosecute active-duty military and police personnel for crimes “related to acts of military service.” According to the Ministry of Defense, human rights abuses are not considered acts related to military service. The military penal code specifically excludes civilians from military jurisdiction, and civilian courts must try retired military and police personnel, but military courts are responsible for service-related acts committed prior to retirement.

According to domestic NGOs, more than 10 initiatives for military justice reform were presented in the previous five years, but few were enacted, due to removal from the legislative process because of procedural problems or rejection by the Constitutional Court. In 2015 the government dropped proposed jurisdictional adjustments from its proposed military justice reform legislation to address concerns that the legislation could lead to some human rights cases being heard by military courts. Despite explicit declarations from officials to the contrary, some NGOs remained concerned that military justice reform efforts may allow certain human rights cases to fall within the military justice system’s jurisdiction.

According to the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that settles jurisdictional questions between the military and civilian justice systems, from January 1 to July, authorities assigned to the civilian justice system 61 of 74 homicide cases reviewed for jurisdiction. During the same period, they assigned four cases to the military justice system. The magistrates abstained from ruling on the proper jurisdiction in the remaining nine cases, in which they determined that they either did not have enough information to rule or that a conflict of interest with the case prevented them from ruling.

The military penal code denies commanders the power to impose military justice discipline on, and extends legal protection to, service members who refuse to obey orders to commit human rights abuses. The army also has discretionary authority to dismiss personnel implicated in human rights abuses.

The Inspector General’s Office investigates allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. As of July 31, the Inspector General’s Office opened 21 disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for human rights offenses, resulting in 12 preliminary investigations and nine disciplinary investigations, to which 59 members of the army and one member of the National Police were linked. Additionally, the Office of Delegated Disciplinary Inspector General for the Armed Forces reported that through August, it initiated 13 disciplinary investigations for alleged offenses. Thirty-four individuals were linked to these cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and has the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against him, present his own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and may access government-held evidence during the trial stage. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less-commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is an investigating magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact-finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners. Authorities did hold some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment tactics against human rights advocates. The government did not provide information on the number of detainees in prisons, jails, or under house arrest who were accused or convicted of rebellion or aiding and abetting the insurgency. The government provided the ICRC regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continues to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of the government, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. The Victims’ Unit of the DPS has the governmental lead on attention to victims. From 2011 through August 1, 2016, a total of 7,844,527 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit. Of these, 6,883,513 were victims of forced displacement, with 17,976 registered during the year through August 1. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. There were 340 registered cases of collective reparations. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law, however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. As of August 19, the government received 93,686 land restitution claims, of which more than 50,903 claims fell within the government’s target areas for restitution and went into active review. The government reported as of the same date, courts handed down 1,948 decisions on land restitution, corresponding to affirmative decisions in 3,980 cases with 23,085 beneficiaries. The Inspector General’s Office intervened to support land claimants in 679 cases through July, providing support in the administrative, judicial, and post-ruling phases in order to ensure the effective implementation of victims’ right to integral reparation.

Through July the Land Restitution Unit approved three requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories or individual restitution claims, corresponding to 130,972 acres benefitting 2,473 families and 12,365 persons. Of the 93,686 individual cases received through July, 2,888 belonged to individuals self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,624 to individuals self-identified as indigenous, and 638 to individuals self-identified as pertaining to other ethnic groups.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or e-mail, or monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization, but evidence obtained in such a manner may not be used in court.

During the year through July, the Attorney General’s Office initiated three new criminal investigations of government agents for illegal monitoring activities. During the year through September, the Inspector General’s Office reported it had not initiated any disciplinary investigations of public servants accused of illegal monitoring activities.

In February the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation into journalist Vicky Davila’s accusations that police had been monitoring her communications, including trailing and wiretapping her and her reporting team, since 2014.

An investigation continued into abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit, known by its code name “Andromeda.” Semana magazine alleged that the unit illegally wiretapped personal telephones of peace negotiators belonging to both the government and FARC negotiating teams. General Mauricio Forero, former head of the military’s intelligence center, left the army on April 1 for alleged connections to Andromeda. As of October he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.

On March 10, the Attorney General’s Office pressed charges against David Parra Amin, a police sergeant assigned to the Section of Criminal Investigations in Bogota, for his alleged role as the liaison between Andres Sepulveda, convicted in 2015 for tapping into communications of peace negotiating teams and government officials, and the Bogota Metropolitan Police.

On August 29, attorneys for Martha Ines Leal, former director of operations of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS); Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights allegations that the Attorney General’s Office placed undue pressure on them in order to coerce them into testifying in the DAS illegal surveillance case. The DAS allegedly engaged in illegal surveillance of high court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency.

In its annual report published in March, the OHCHR registered 80 complaints of illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and social activists in 2015. While statistics for 2016 were unavailable as of October, NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.

The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the Comptroller General’s Office strictly regulated payments to such informants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), during the year through August 29, there were 144 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. FLIP reported 52 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported that one journalist was detained, 33 journalists were physically attacked, and 17 were stigmatized due to their work; however, no journalists had been killed as of September. According to FLIP, the government did not bring a single case to trial for violence against journalists, although investigations continued.

As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 37 active cases of crimes against journalists and had convicted 43 persons for such crimes.

On May 21, the ELN kidnapped RCN journalists Salud Hernandez, Diego D’Pablos, and Carlos Melo. They were released on May 27.

The investigation into the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, shot and killed in 2015, proceeded despite some delays. The accused material author of the crime, Juan Camilo Ortiz, arrested in September 2015, remained in detention, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. After the preliminary hearing was suspended three times, the prosecution in a September 2 preliminary hearing presented evidence against Ortiz, including 93 elements of proof and legal evidence. The preliminary hearing was suspended again and resumed September 19, according to media reports. Oral proceedings in the case were scheduled for November.

On May 10, the Attorney General’s Office called three former DAS employees–former DAS director in Antioquia Emiro Rojas Granados, existing CTI telematics director William Alberto Merchan, and former DAS intelligence group detective Juan Carlos Sastoque–to testify in the case regarding threats and harassment against journalist Claudia Julieta Duque.

In September the Council of the State, the highest court for legal processes involving the state, ruled the state was responsible for the death of Jaime Garzon, a journalist and satirist shot and killed by motorcycle gunmen in Bogota in 1999. The court sentenced the state, represented by the Ministry of Defense, the army, and the National Police, noting the responsibility of DAS agents. According to the Council of the State, Jose Miguel Narvaez, the former deputy director of intelligence of the DAS, and the former chief of intelligence of Brigade 13 of the army, colonel Jorge Eliecer Plazas Acevedo, carried out illegal wiretaps on Garzon and shared the information with the former commander of the AUC, Carlos Castano, to whom they suggested the murder. The court ordered the state to pay more than COP 700 million ($235,000) to Garzon’s family for damages. Plazas Acevedo and Narvaez were being prosecuted for the crime of aggravated homicide. There was only one conviction to date in Garzon’s murder; in 2004 Carlos Castano was convicted in absentia of being the mastermind of the murder, and sentenced to 38 years in prison.

As of July the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 132 journalists. On September 23, the NPU presented a new Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, established with the stated goal of meeting the particular needs of this group and providing more robust risk studies.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged that some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific legislation for slander against public officials. The government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, sued journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported three new cases against journalists for libel or slander were filed from January 1 to August 26. FLIP also noted as of August 26, four cases of journalists being prosecuted for libel or slander continued from previous years.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported that local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

In March a judge sentenced Mario Jaime Mejia to 28 years and Alejandro Cardenas to 11 years in prison for their roles in the aggravated kidnapping, torture, and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya in 2000. In August the Superior Court of Bogota ruled that neither man was eligible for the alternative benefits provided by the Justice and Peace law because they lied about their participation in and knowledge of the facts in the case.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and has no onerous legislation or policies censoring online content.

The investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit known as “Andromeda” (see also section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated 53 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. In view of the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. There was evidence, however, that guerrillas maintained a presence on many university campuses to generate political support for their respective causes and undermine support for their enemies through both violent and nonviolent means.

Organized criminal gangs and guerrilla groups killed, threatened, and displaced educators and their families for political and financial reasons, often because teachers represented the only government presence in the remote areas where the killings occurred.

According to the Colombian Federation of Educators, three educators were killed during the year through August 29. Threats and harassment caused many educators and students to adopt lower profiles and avoid discussing controversial topics.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions (see section 1.g.). Some NGOs alleged that riot police used excessive force to break up demonstrations. During a two-week national agrarian strike that began May 30 and concluded with the signing of an accord with the government June 12, local social and human rights organizations accused the armed forces and National Police Anti-Riot Squad of using excessive force and alleged that at least 179 demonstrators were injured and three killed. The government stated the protests had not remained peaceful and noted 54 members of the security forces were also injured.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as the FARC, the ELN, and illegal armed groups, was illegal.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

The government 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 (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized criminal gangs and ELN guerrillas continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads, particularly in the departments of Putumayo, Arauca, Antioquia, and Norte de Santander.

International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, monitoring in the departments where it operated, between January 2015 and August 15, 2016, more than 5.35 million persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents, protests, and geographical factors. The departments most affected were Cordoba, Caqueta, Cauca, and Narino. Of the more than five million persons in those areas, 4.1 million suffered mobility restrictions due to events related to armed violence. The restrictions were generally limited in duration.

On April 1, the Gulf Clan illegal armed group conducted an armed strike in 36 municipalities, killing five persons, blocking five roads, and burning eight trucks. CERAC reported that while four of the killings targeted members of the CNP and army, the majority of the strike activities targeted the civilian population.

Exile: The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it. Historically, many persons went into self-imposed exile because of threats from organized criminal gangs and FARC and ELN guerrillas.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation between and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs, and forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment were also drivers of displacement. Some NGOs asserted that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement.

The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reported 8,669 persons displaced in mass displacement events (displacement of 50 or more persons) from January through August and indicated the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Choco (5,407 displacements), Antioquia (1,250 displacements), Norte de Santander (923 displacements), and Narino (347 displacements). CODHES also reported that eight land-rights leaders were killed from January 1 through August, one land-rights claimant and two employees of the land restitution unit were killed, 10 land rights leaders received individual or collective threats, and eight members of a land rights and human rights organizations were threatened.

As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 300 land restitution leaders.

As of August 1, the government reported the Victims’ Unit listed 6,883,513 displaced in the Single Victims Registry, with registrants dating back since 1985. Of those, 17,976 were due to displacements that occurred during the year. Victims’ Unit statistics showed that new displacements occurred primarily in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months. International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents sometimes forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against government efforts to eradicate illicit crops and forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intra-urban displacement. The ICRC and UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups. Through August 1, the government registered 171,634 IDPs (including those displaced during years before 2014) who identified themselves as indigenous and 698,642 who identified themselves as Afro-Colombian. Of those displaced in 2016, 1,025 persons self-identified as indigenous and 2,869 self-identified as Afro-Colombian.

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system.

The local NGO Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs repeatedly expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

Fifty-two government agencies are responsible by law for assisting registered IDPs. International organizations and NGOs maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, housing, and income generation need strengthening. Emergency response capacity at the local level was weak, and IDPs continued to experience prolonged periods of vulnerability while waiting for assistance.

A specialized unit of the Attorney General’s Office–established through an agreement with the government’s former social agency, Social Action (which the DPS replaced), the Attorney General’s Office, and the CNP–investigated and prosecuted cases of forced displacement and disappearances.

Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Program, the ICRC, and the Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

The Victims’ Unit and other government agencies improved their response to mass displacement events throughout the year and were assisted by international organizations such as UNHCR and the ICRC. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Intense fighting and insecurity in conflict zones, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country, municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Local elections in October 2015 resulted in new mayors and municipal officials, many of whom were inexperienced in displacement issues. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, and employment.

Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders due to the internal armed conflict. UNHCR stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombian refugees in Ecuador who returned to Colombia.

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. According to the government, it approved 77 of the 1,263 applications for refugee status received since 2009. Between January 1 and August 19, the government reported it received 334 new applications for refugee status, of which it approved eight and rejected 55. As of August 19, the government reported it had not received any complaints of discrimination against the civil rights of refugees.

The government reported a continuing rise in the smuggling of migrants from outside the region through Colombia en route to the United States and Canada. According to UNHCR and Colombian migration officials, most of the undocumented migrants were Cubans and Haitians, followed by Africans and Asians, and most entered through Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for such persons who requested international protection, many abandoned their applications and continued on the migration route.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

As part of the peace accord announced on August 24, the government and the FARC agreed to take steps formally to register former FARC members as a political party or political movement after the FARC fully disarm. These features were maintained in the revised accord announced November 12 and approved by the Colombian congress November 30. The revised accord included guaranteed seats for FARC representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives in the 2018 and 2022 elections. It also included security guarantees for the new political party or political movement, guaranteed state financing for the new party or movement’s 2018 and 2022 Senate and presidential campaigns, and guarantees regarding access to media under the same conditions as other political parties and movements.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held departmental and local elections, involving 110,000 candidates running to be one of the country’s 32 governors, 1,100 mayors, and more than 12,000 local council-seat holders. According to the NGO Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation, during the election period, seven candidates were killed, four were attacked, and 28 were threatened. In October the country voted in a national plebiscite on the peace accord announced by the government and FARC in a contest both the Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation and the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) reported was generally free, fair, and violence free.

According to MOE, electoral fraud remained a serious concern. The NGO reported that parties paid voters to register and vote in municipalities in which they were not resident. In advance of the 2015 elections, NGOs estimated this occurred in more than 600 municipalities. According to the Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation, the areas with the highest proportion of irregular voters were the departments of Boyaca, Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Narino, and Bolivar. The government continued the use of a new finance tool to provide transparency of campaign funds, disqualified candidates with pending criminal investigations, and canceled the national identification cards of voters who could not demonstrate residence or employment in the municipality where they were registered to vote. The Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation claimed 11 parties’ rosters for elections included candidates with financial ties to illegal groups.

Former La Guajira governor Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez Cerchar was tried for his alleged involvement in death threats made in 2014 against four persons investigating political party corruption and ties to illegal armed groups, for links to former paramilitary groups, and for involvement in various killings. On November 17, he was convicted of crimes including aggravated homicide, attempted murder, and trafficking of weapons in connection with the killings of political leader Yandra Brito, her husband Henry Ustariz, and driver Wilfredo Fonseca.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized criminal gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). Some local officials resigned because of threats from the FARC. As of August 22, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, provided protection to 282 mayors, 22 governors, and 2,581 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. During the 2014 legislative elections, two persons who were allegedly not of Afro-Colombian descent, Maria del Socorro Bustamante and Moises Orozco Vicuna, were elected to the two seats in the House of Representatives reserved for representatives of Afro-Colombian communities. Legal challenges following the election kept the individuals from assuming their seats. One of the candidates, Bustamante, died of natural causes in 2015. In October the Superior Court of Cundinamarca validated the appointment of Heriberto Arrechea to fill Orozco Vicuna’s seat.

The number of women elected to public office increased in general in the October 2015 elections, according to UN Women’s 2014-15 report. As a result of the elections, the percentage of women holding local public office rose from 13 percent to 15.5 percent. Five of 32 elected governors and 133 of 1,109 mayors were women. Additionally, women constitute 20 percent of the House of Representatives and 23 percent of the Senate, compared with 12.7 percent of the House and 16.7 percent of the Senate in 2010. In the plenary chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, three of the 22 justices were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: In January media reported 12 persons were arrested for alleged corruption related to ICBF contracts, including the former ICBF regional director in Barranquilla Department and an active CNP officer. According to media reporting, an estimated COP 1.755 trillion ($600 million) was embezzled. Additionally, two ICBF officials were arrested in August for their alleged involvement in a corruption scandal related to contracts worth millions of dollars for the care of minors and pregnant women within the ICBF’s “Cero a Siempre” strategy. The two officials faced charges for crimes, including embezzlement, procedural fraud, forgery of private documents, falsifying a public document, and malfeasance.

A special investigative unit of the Supreme Court of Justice, charged with investigating members of congress and senior government officials, reported that since January 1, it opened one investigation against a former senator; the investigation. During the same period, the unit opened 59 investigations against former governors and 28 against sitting governors but won no convictions in the cases.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that for the year through September, it had investigated 19 attorneys, one comptroller, and 16 other senior government officials. In addition, as of August 25, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 75 cases of corruption, of which 71 were in the preliminary investigation phase and four had been brought to trial.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. The information is not made public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the government for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income, as well as information on their private economic activity. The Administrative Department of Public Service is in charge of preparing the required forms, and the human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members could voluntarily post their financial information.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provided this access. There were reports that some low-level officials insisted on bribes to expedite access to information.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in respect to employment or occupation regarding race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women. They faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. According to DANE, only 55.8 percent of working age women were engaged in economic activity compared with 76.5 percent of men. Sisma Mujer reported on average women were paid 20.2 percent less than men. Among employees with a university education, women on average received between 11 and 23 percent less than the average wages of their male counterparts. A senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is a constitutional republic governed by a president and a unicameral legislative assembly directly elected in multiparty elections every four years. In April 2014 voters elected Luis Guillermo Solis of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) during a second round of elections. In simultaneous legislative elections in 2014, the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party gained seats and formed a coalition that gave them control of the legislature. The National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the largest number of seats but did not achieve the required majority. In May the PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. All elections were generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Principal human rights abuses included overcrowded prisons, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and infringement on the rights of indigenous people.

Other human rights concerns included trafficking in persons, particularly sex trafficking of children. Domestic violence against women and children was also an area of societal concern.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses.

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

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. The Inspection Tribunal of the Judicial Branch acquitted nine Judicial Investigative Organization (OIJ) officers of responsibility for the death of an OIJ officer who died during an unauthorized training exercise in May 2015.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The Ombudsman’s Office received 107 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatment during the first six months of the year. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 41 percent as of June. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons, and drug abuse was common. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 76 complaints of deficient conditions in prisons, including the migrant detention centers, during the first six months of the year. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

As of June 30, the San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, Cartago, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 1,281 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 668. On April 5, the Ministry of Justice freed 380 prisoners from the Gerardo Rodriguez prison and included them in a prison alternative program after a judge on March 17 ordered the ministry to relocate prisoners to reduce overcrowding. On July 20, also to reduce overcrowding, a judge issued a resolution ordering authorities to close the San Sebastian prison over a period of 18 months. On August 4, to reduce overcrowding a judge ordered authorities either to transfer 200 prisoners from La Reforma prison to other prisons or to include them in an alternative program where they are required to spend only some nights in prison.

The detention center for undocumented migrants in Hatillo, a suburb of San Jose, was poorly ventilated and overcrowded at times, and it had no recreation area. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 17 deaths in closed regime centers from January to April. Four of these deaths were homicides and two were suicides; the remainder were from natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. If complaints were not processed, prisoners could submit them to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level. The Ombudsman’s Office, through the national prevention mechanism against torture, periodically inspected all detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers, including representatives from the Ombudsman’s Office. Human rights observers could speak to prisoners and prison employees in confidence and without the presence of prison staff or other third parties.

Improvements: On April 29, the Ministry of Justice inaugurated a new prison module at the Pococi prison, a Quonset-type steel-framed building with tin roofing and siding; however, prisoners complained of high temperature conditions in the facility. In August the Ministry of Justice reported maintenance and minor repairs in all of the country’s prison centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office of the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. The number of licensed private security services was significantly greater than the number of police (27,625 agents compared to 13,459 uniformed police officers). There were no reports of impunity involving the private security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for up to one year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to two years in especially complex cases. The law requires a court review every three months of cases of suspects in pretrial detention to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. If a judge declares a case is related to organized crime, special procedural rules require that the period of pretrial detention not exceed 24 months (although the court of appeals may grant one extension not to exceed an additional 12 months). Authorities frequently used pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of March 31, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 18 percent of the prison population. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The legal system faced many challenges, including significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner, or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides detainees and attorneys access to government-held evidence, and during the trial defendants can confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants, citizens and noncitizens alike. Fast-track courts, which prosecute cases when suspects are arrested on the spot for alleged transgressions, provide the same protections and rights as other courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On July 11, a daily newspaper complained of pressures from a state-owned bank for publishing critical articles. The bank withdrew official advertising from the newspaper allegedly to influence the newspaper’s content.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2015, 60 percent of individuals used the internet and 60 percent of households had internet access.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 10 months.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased nearly 300 percent over previous years. The refugee unit received 2,075 asylum applications from January to June, mainly from El Salvador and Colombia, compared with 2,198 in all of 2015 and 1,373 in all of 2014.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim. Few asylum seekers took advantage of this right, largely because they were unaware of their eligibility. The refugee unit failed to process claims in a timely manner or effectively educate employers about this right. The Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, as of August had a backlog of 1,000 cases. The tribunal estimated it could resolve these cases by December by significantly increasing staff with additional funding from UNHCR, but since it anticipated hundreds of new cases in coming months, it expected a reduced backlog to remain.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was approximately two months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other Costa Rican identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many Costa Rican citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 37,400 colones ($68), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: In July the government agreed to a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process. In the September Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the United Nations, President Solis highlighted commitments by the government to improve processing and conditions for refugees.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 26 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from El Salvador, Colombia, and Venezuela; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperated with UNHCR efforts on statelessness with indigenous populations and reported no cases of the recognition of one person’s status as stateless during the first six months of the year. There were no reports of stateless persons who were also refugees. There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican plantations and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. As of June authorities identified 1,783 individuals, confirmed the nationality of 748, registered 79, and began the registration process for 119 individuals.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws 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 April 2014 voters elected PAC’s Luis Guillermo Solis president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections the National Liberation Party gained the most seats, but three parties–the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)–gained enough seats in the 57-member legislative assembly to form a coalition that gave them control of the legislature in 2014. On May 1, PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. In municipal elections on February 7, PLN and PUSC parties gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections generally free and fair. The Organization of American States team that observed the elections noted that for the first time the election process included citizens voting from abroad.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women and persons of African descent were represented in government, but indigenous people were not. On May 23, the supreme elections tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity has to extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On March 15, the labor minister resigned for violating a code of ethics that he had helped to promote, after he hired his niece at the ministry. On August 10, a former OIJ secretary general was sentenced to 12 years in prison for embezzlement charges from 2009.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws that require senior officials to submit sworn declarations of income, assets, and liabilities. The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. The content of the declarations is not made available to the public. The law stipulates administrative sanctions for noncompliance and identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Officials are required to file a declaration annually and upon entering and leaving office.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally implemented the law effectively, providing access for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. Authorities have 10 days to disclose or respond to a request for access. There are no processing fees or sanctions for noncompliance, although requesters can file a petition if their request is denied. Government institutions published reports that detailed their activities during the year. The Public Ethics Solicitor’s Office provided regular training to public employees on public access to information. The Ombudsman’s Office operated a webpage dedicated to enhancing transparency by improving citizens’ access to public information.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 27 cases of discrimination during the first six months of the year. The ministry began incorporating a gender equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred. With regard to discrimination in employment or occupation, the Ombudsman’s Office considered the most vulnerable sectors to be migrants, women with disabilities, Afro-descendants, and foreign domestic workers.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In 2013 voters re-elected President Rafael Correa and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair. In December 2015 the National Assembly approved 16 amendments to the constitution, including one that would eliminate term limits for the presidency and other elected positions, starting after the 2017 national elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The main human rights abuses were lack of independence in the judicial sector; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; and corruption. Government regulatory bodies established under the 2013 communications law issued a series of sanctions, fines, and forced corrections and retractions, primarily against independent media and journalists. President Correa and his administration continued to engage in verbal and legal attacks against media and civil society. The government used presidential decrees to dissolve civil society organizations on broad and ambiguous grounds. Limits on freedom of assembly continued, particularly affecting environmental activists and indigenous groups protesting laws affecting their lands.

Other human rights problems continued: excessive force and isolated unlawful killings by security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; and delays and denial of due process. Violence and discrimination against women, children, minority groups, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community; trafficking in persons; and child labor persisted.

The government sometimes took steps to prosecute or punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed abuses, although in cases of public interest, political interference often resulted in impunity.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary killings. Credible reports continued that security forces, particularly police units, used excessive force and committed isolated unlawful killings.

In November 2015 Francisco Cajigas, a Colombian citizen, was found dead, two weeks after the police detained him outside his house in Ibarra for allegedly breaking a car’s mirror. After the autopsy and investigation process, Cajigas’ family received his body with his cranium missing. On May 26, Vice Minister of Interior Diego Fuentes stated that an investigation was underway to determine possible police responsibility. In June the director of the Truth and Human Rights Commission of the Prosecutor’s Office stated that an investigation was in progress due to allegations that Cajigas was a victim of an extrajudicial execution. According to local human rights activists, the prosecutor in charge failed to perform a thorough forensic examination at the start of the investigation. On October 10, the Attorney General’s Office conducted a crime scene reconstruction.

A Quito-based human rights organization reported that an investigation continued into the death of John Jairo Urrutia Guaman, a 15-year-old who died in December 2015 while in police custody. As of December 7, the investigation remained in progress.

Human rights organizations reported additional alleged unlawful killings by security forces in Guayaquil and Carapungo, but no additional public information was available regarding law enforcement investigations.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

While the constitution and laws prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, some police officers reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners, at times with impunity.

On May 31, approximately 80 police officers from the Maintenance of Order Unit (UMO) and Intervention and Rescue Group carried out an operation in the medium-security wing of the Turi Rehabilitation Center. Prisoners and human rights groups reported that UMO agents attacked prisoners with tear gas, batons, electric shocks, and kicks. On June 22, 13 prisoners filed a habeas corpus petition. On June 30, a judge in the Family, Woman, Children, and Adolescence judicial unit ruled in favor of the prisoners and ordered their transfer to another detention facility, respect for existing protocols and guarantees in all future operations carried out in the Turi center, and a public apology issued by the National Police. On July 25, the civil and commercial division of the court of Azuay nullified the process to adopt the habeas corpus petition, claiming the judge did not have the purview to rule on the petition. A second hearing on the habeas corpus petition took place on September 7. On September 28, a judge ruled that the inmates suffered cruel and degrading treatment. The judge ordered the inmates’ transfer to other detention centers in the country, as well as medical and psychological care. The police officers involved in the operation were prohibited from entering any prison in the country. In addition, the judge ordered the Ministries of Justice and of Interior to offer a public apology and provide human rights training to prison authorities around the country on May 31, 2017, the first anniversary of the operation. Public Defender Ernesto Pazmino stated that the aggression against prisoners in Turi constituted “torture.” Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called on the government to improve human rights training for police officers and prison authorities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: While government authorities announced that the expanded prison capacity had reduced overcrowding, gross overcrowding continued in some prisons. On July 26, El Universo newspaper reported that 79 inmates from the Social Rehabilitation Center in Ibarra were transferred to a prison in Latacunga following a fire. According to the article, the Ibarra prison held 540 inmates, although its operating capacity was only 140 inmates.

Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together in some detention facilities. Despite the opening of new prisons with more modern amenities, prisoners and human rights activists complained about a lack of resources for inmates, which meant that prisoners or their families were expected to provide many basic supplies, including mattresses, clothing, toiletries, and medicines. In some facilities the health measures provided remained sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and that they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, the poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water. A human rights lawyer reported lack of access to potable water in certain prisons.

Reports continued that prison guards ordered female relatives of prisoners to remove their clothing prior to visits, and in some cases they subjected the relatives to inappropriate touching during security body searches. On June 28, government representatives told the UN Human Rights Committee that a protocol prohibits bodily searches and uses body scanners to search visitors.

Vulnerabilities in security remained a problem. Official information was unavailable concerning the national prevalence of deaths in prisons. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making their complaints public.

On May 16, television station Teleamazonas reported that a fight between prisoners in the maximum-security wing of the Turi prison in Cuenca left one prisoner dead and seven injured.

Police conducted searches and raids in prisons throughout the year and discovered guns, grenades, ammunition, and drugs. They also continued to take action against criminal gangs operating within prisons, which sometimes involved prison authorities. On July 28, the newspaper El Telegrafo reported that law enforcement officials dismantled an extortion network operating in the Cotopaxi Social Rehabilitation Center. The network included a prison guard and an employee from a food services contractor. On November 24, El Comercio reported that a Guayas criminal court sentenced 10 individuals, including seven employees at a Guayaquil prison, to five years in prison for their role in allowing drugs and other prohibited items to enter the prison.

Administration: Despite improvements in recordkeeping in the new prison centers, upon completing their sentences some prisoners remained incarcerated due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, lack of recordkeeping on the length of their sentence or incarceration, and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.

Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Prisoners have the right to submit complaints to local and national human rights ombudsmen. Human rights activists stated that independent authorities did not sufficiently investigate allegations of poor prison conditions.

Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga reported that procedures existed for transferring prisoners to different locations outside of prison centers. Media, however, reported that in several provinces, police did not have enough official vehicles, and there were reports police officers used taxis to accompany prisoners to medical checkups and other outside visits.

Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who can visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prohibited independent monitors from accessing prisons.

Improvements: In newer prison facilities, prisoners may acquire goods through a biometric system, limiting the flow of cash currency among prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both the police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the Public Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Corruption, insufficient training, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although some problems with impunity existed. According to official figures published on February 28, the National Police expelled 866 officials from its ranks between 2013 and 2016, including 83 during the first two months of the year. In late December 2015, media reported the arrests of 19 police officers involved in a corruption scheme that sold “passes” (workplace transfers) to other officers for $1,500 to $2,000 per pass (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar). On May 30, El Universonewspaper reported that 27 former police officers were initially linked to the process. Four individuals were convicted, the prosecutors dropped charges against five individuals, and court proceedings continued against 17 other former police officers. On September 5, 15 police officers–including the former commandant of the National Police, Fausto Tamayo–and a civilian participated in a hearing held at the National Court of Justice. On October 31, the Provincial Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced Tamayo and Lieutenant Alexis Cifuentes to 13 years and three months in prison for organized delinquency. On December 3, state-owned media outlet El Telegraforeported that the Provincial Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced nine defendants to nine years and three months in prison, while other individuals received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years.

Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. There were reports that police officers complained to local nonprofit groups about the lack of knowledge and preparation of police instructors teaching human rights in the academy. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently. The government continued to improve the preparedness of police, including increasing funding, raising salaries, and purchasing equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Indigents have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the autonomous Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption; a lack of resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges; and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. On June 28, a government delegation stated during its presentation to the UN Human Rights Committee that 30 percent of the 26,421 persons in detention had not received sentences.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detained persons may challenge the legality of their detention through an appeal to any judge in the locality where the detention took place, and there is no time limit in which such an appeal must be filed. The detainee may also request bail or other alternatives (for example, house arrest or probation) to pretrial detention. Such alternatives are allowed only in cases of crimes punishable with prison terms of less than five years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), the judicial watchdog Observatorio de Derechos y Justicia, issued a report in June arguing that government officials implicated in a corruption scandal at state-owned company PetroEcuador received preferential treatment (see section 4), whereas persons critical of the government, including students and indigenous leaders, were subject to “disproportionate sanctions” for minor crimes or without evidence of any infraction. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protectionary measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protectionary measures against the government.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, although delays occurred frequently. By law defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges.

The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided, and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. They also have the right to be present at their trial and to access evidence held by police or public prosecutors. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or, in some cases, the payment of bribes. There were reported delays of up to a year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in summary proceedings against defendants with few if any due process protections.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups continued judge members independently for violations occurred in indigenous territory.

From June 6 to July 13, 121 Cuban citizens were deported because they did not have legal status in Ecuador. Authorities placed some Cuban citizens in a temporary detention center and a local jail prior to deporting them. Human rights lawyers argued the deportations violated the migrants’ human rights because they did not receive due legal process. They also claimed that 40 Haitian citizens were deported without due legal process. Government authorities stated the migrants received due process in deportation hearings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongs by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.

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

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

Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Generally, individuals could discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued that the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 communications law, media outlets are also legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. Independent of this law, it is illegal for citizens to threaten or insult the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months to two years’ imprisonment or a fine from $16 to $77.

Article 176 of the criminal code that went into effect in August 2015 establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedoms: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 491 “attacks on freedom of expression” during the year, compared with 499 attacks in 2015. These included 168 sanctions of media outlets under the communications law; 94 cases of restrictions on digital rights, including censorship on the internet and cyber threats; and 88 cases of “abusive use of state power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. President Correa continued to criticize private media outlets and accused them of spreading lies and showing bias against his administration. During his October 22 national weekly address, Correa referred to private television station Teleamazonas as the “corrupt press,” and he stated that he regretted his participation in a Teleamazonas news program on October 16. Regulatory bodies created under the 2013 communications law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions.

Independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government, although many analysts and journalists noted the 2013 law had led to self-censorship in private media, pointing to a decrease in investigative reporting.

Provisions in the law limit the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability. Some analysts viewed this as a warning to the media in their reporting on the country’s financial problems. Media outlets reported privately that they refrained from some financial reporting due to concern over the possible legal consequences.

The government owned or operated an estimated 27 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. The government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. Various media outlets also reported pressure from the government to broadcast “voluntary” advertisements or face the risk of losing their broadcast frequencies. According to Fundamedios, many local and indigenous community radio stations stated that their contracts required them to broadcast the president’s weekly address and send to Secom their daily programming list in advance.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. The government asserted in public statements that information was a public service rather than a right and that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. During the year the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) and the Council of Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Cordicom) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. Media directors stated that the government had either directly or indirectly threatened revocation of their frequencies unless they limited critical coverage of the government. Fundamedios expressed concerns about a perceived lack of independence of Arcotel and Cordicom and a lack of citizen oversight. The NGO also noted that Arcotel planned to announce the results of the frequency competition in December, just a few months before the February 2017 elections, which Fundamedios argued would encourage self-censorship by media outlets. On July 11, Fundamedios called again for the suspension of the contest, noting that the number of applications for frequencies did not reach the number of available frequencies. On August 9, Fundamedios reported that Arcotel denied its request for information and the possibility of citizen oversight. On November 10, opposition legislator Lourdes Tiban called for the suspension of the frequency adjudication process due to allegations of corruption related to the adjudication of a frequency for a private media outlet in Manabi. During a December 2 hearing at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, press freedom watchdog organizations stated that the frequency adjudication process suffered from a “lack of transparency” and other “irregularities.”

Violence and Harassment: During public appearances and his weekly television and radio address, President Correa regularly questioned journalists’ competence and professionalism and accused the private media of bias. He continued to cite individual journalists by name and encouraged both government officials and private individuals to raise complaints against the media. On September 15, Correa tweeted “cowards” in reference to journalists from the online news site 4Pelagatos, following its publication of a column about Correa’s daughter and an editorial she wrote for state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo. Other Twitter users published threats and the telephone numbers, addresses, and photographs of 4Pelagatos columnists Martin Pallares, Roberto Aguilar, Jose Hernandez, and Gabriel Gonzalez. NGOs, journalists, and international human rights organizations reported continued pressure from authorities against the media that resulted in threats against journalists and sanctions under the communications law. The Inter American Press Association reported that government-produced spots “discredit, harass, and persecute journalists, politicians, and media outlets.”

On June 30, the Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy, and Development (PIDHDD) reported that unknown officials charged with enforcing the law temporarily detained journalist and human rights activist Mayra Caiza as she was taking photographs near the Turi detention center in Cuenca, as part of her investigation into the alleged torture against prisoners during a police operation on May 31. During her brief detention, the officials interrogated Caiza and deleted her photographs, including those not related to the Turi case. The PIDHDD requested further information about Caiza’s detention from the interior and justice ministries and the Attorney General’s Office. As of August 31, no further information was publicly available on any actions taken by the government.

On October 20, police stopped Ramiro Cueva, director of Ecotel TV, in Loja while he was in his vehicle. Video footage showed transit agents and police pushing Cueva to the ground and then a police officer placing his knee in Cueva’s groin while Cueva lay on the ground. Transit agents stated that Cueva’s vehicle was stopped because the vehicle’s inspection was not up to date. According to Cueva, the deadline for the inspection was December 31, and his car’s registration ran through 2019. Following the police operation, individuals at the scene placed Cueva in an ambulance so he could receive medical treatment. In December 2015 police and telecommunications regulators raided Ecotel TV and seized transmission equipment. According to Ecotel administrators, the government’s actions were in response to Ecotel’s late payment of a $151 licensing fee in 2002. The raid on Ecotel occurred just three days after President Correa attacked Cueva during a public address. Correa accused Cueva of lies and “politics masked as journalism” for an Ecotel report claiming that authorities covertly transported desks and furniture from one school to a new school the government inaugurated.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship and stated that President Correa’s attacks caused them to practice self-censorship.

The communications law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. The superintendent of information and communications decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. After opposition politicians claimed that state-owned Ecuador TV’s coverage of ruling party Alianza PAIS’ political convention on October 1 violated election laws for an alleged use of public resources, Nadia Ruiz, acting director of RTV Ecuador Empresa Publica, stated that coverage of the convention was of “public interest.” She noted that Ecuador TV did not transmit the conventions for two opposition movements because they “only confirmed the precandidates for the presidency.” Oscar Bonilla, Alianza PAIS secretary of political action, claimed that covering the convention was “a responsible exercise of communication,” but private media “sought to diminish” the event.

The communications law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

The government remained the largest single advertiser in the country. Media watchdog organizations argued that the government used advertising contracts to reward or punish media companies.

Private media outlets reported that the government continued to use tax and labor inspections to harass outlets that published reports critical of the government. These investigations forced the outlets to undertake time-consuming and costly legal defenses.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms.

On January 4, Judge Oswaldo Saritama Naula sentenced Loja municipal council member Jeannine del Cisne Cruz Vaca to 30 days in prison for discrediting the honor of Loja mayor Jose Bolivar Castillo. On September 21, Cruz had tweeted, “Mayor Jose Bolivar Castillo… all we ask…is that you stop lying and stealing.” On February 1, a criminal court in Loja ratified the 30-day prison sentence against Cruz.

On September 5, Quito vice mayor Eduardo del Pozo received a 15-day prison sentence for “discrediting the honor” of President Correa. According to Caupolican Ochoa, President Correa’s lawyer, during a June 10 radio interview, Del Pozo had accused Correa of manipulating legal cases to obtain money, not paying taxes, and moving money to tax havens, which damaged Correa’s honor and dignity. Del Pozo claimed the decision by Judge Maximo Ortega was “political persecution for thinking differently.”

The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. The superintendent of information and communication has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions.

On August 8, the Superintendency of Information and Communications (Supercom) sanctioned television station Teleamazonas and journalist Janet Hinostroza on the basis of “media lynching” for distributing “damaging information to the prestige and credibility” of the National Public Procurement Service (SERCOP). The Supercom resolution indicated that two news programs released “concerted and repeated information on a reverse auction process of medicines, generating the perception that the process did not consider the quality of the pharmaceuticals” and did not allow for sufficient participation of SERCOP sources. Supercom ordered Teleamazonas to issue public apologies on the news programs, while Hinostroza received a written warning. The National Union of Journalists (UNP) criticized the Supercom decision as “another violation against freedom of expression.” The UNP noted that the Supercom action occurred two days after President Correa called Teleamazonas’ coverage “clear media lynching” during his August 6 national weekly address. In a subsequent interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, Hinostroza stated that the ruling “demonstrates that in Ecuador it is not possible to do [investigative journalism],” adding that the communications law’s intent is “to silence journalists that make [the government] uncomfortable.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. A regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 49 percent of the public used the internet in 2015.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some NGOs and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated, since they occurred during coverage of antigovernment protests and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On January 29, the Human Rights Foundation released a public statement condemning multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Fundamedios, days after the NGO launched a website that compiled alleged government attacks on independent media during 2015. On October 15, the Inter American Press Association reported that online portals Focus EcuadorMil HojasPlan V, and 4Pelagatos suffered cyberattacks during the year.

Various local press outlets reported on the government’s relationship with a Spanish antipiracy firm named Ares Rights that targeted internet websites, YouTube, and Twitter accounts critical of President Correa or of his government and forced these sites to take down content based on the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). The National Secretariat of Communication and Ares Rights sent DMCA takedown notices on behalf of several government officials, targeting documentaries, tweets, and search results that included images of those officials, alleging copyright infringement. On August 8, Fundamedios reported 806 complaints against 292 Twitter accounts between April 18 and July 21. According to Fundamedios, multiple complaints against certain Twitter accounts were directed at users who were critical of the government and had a high number of followers.

The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification card) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government respected this right, with some exceptions. Public rallies required prior government permits that usually were granted. The government often deployed a large security presence at demonstrations. Security forces generally respected the rights of participants, but some exceptions occurred. On May 30, the criminal court in Loja sentenced Luisa Lozano and Servio Angamarca, members of the Saraguro indigenous nationality, to four years in prison for obstructing public services during a highway blockade in Loja Province in August 2015. According to the criminal code, obstructing public services is a crime punishable by one to three years in prison, but the judge added an additional year to their sentence due to “aggravating circumstances.” The two persons were part of a group of 35 Saraguros that police detained during the blockade. Human rights organizations reported that police beat several Saraguros, including a pregnant woman, while clearing the blockade. The court absolved eight other defendants, while a case continued against a second group of 12 individuals. The defendants’ lawyer claimed the conviction violated Lozano and Angamarca’s constitutional rights, since an indigenous justice process had already declared the two individuals innocent on the premise that they were peacefully exercising their right to resistance. On October 20, the Criminal Sala of the Loja Court of Justice ratified the four-year prison sentence against Lozano and Angamarca. According to media reports and local human rights organizations, the court also sentenced three additional Saraguro members for obstructing public services, even though these members had been found not guilty by a lower court on May 30.

On May 31, Public Defender Ernesto Pazmino stated in a press release his concern about “disproportionate charges registered across the country.” In subsequent media interviews, Pazmino called attention to the elevated sentences of the two Saraguro defendants. Pazmino proposed reforming the criminal code so that the blocking of public spaces during protests would no longer be subject to criminal penalties. In a July 7 interview with El Universo, Minister of Justice Ledy Zuniga accused Pazmino of lying due to political ambitions and urged him to resign.

A local human rights organization stated that police officers mistreated high school students during confrontations with the police that took place as part of an antigovernment protest on February 15-16. CEDHU and local media stated that police detained 20 students. A local newspaper reported that judges from the Judicial Unit of Young Offenders freed 14 minors on February 17 after sentencing each of them to pay a $50 fine and perform two hours of community service per week for three months. No public information was available on the judicial decisions for the six adult students.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, but the government took steps to limit this right. Presidential Decree 16, released in 2013, requires all social organizations (including NGOs) to reregister in a new online registration system within one year or face dissolution. In 2014 the National Secretariat for Policy Management announced that all NGOs registered in the old system would automatically be incorporated into the new system established under the decree. On June 29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that 77,160 social organizations were registered in the Unified System of Social Organizations. As of November, three challenges to the decree remained pending before the Constitutional Court.

In 2015 President Correa issued a decree to reform Decree 16. The changes, codified in Decree 739, eliminate a requirement that NGOs report their levels of foreign financing and removed their obligation to have assets worth at least $4,000 before registering as an NGO, while also placing foreign NGOs under the decree’s regulations. Government officials argued that Decree 739 made it easier for NGOs to register, by eliminating the minimum equity requirement and standardizing the registration process so that the same requirements bind religious, community, and other organizations.

The decree provides the government discretion to dissolve organizations (including civil society, foundations, and churches) on multiple grounds, including compromising the interests of the government, engaging in partisan political activity, threatening public peace, deviating from the organization’s stated purpose, or not providing access to information requested by the government. Provisions limit the ability of organizations to choose their members.

On July 20, the Ministry of Education initiated dissolution proceedings against the National Union of Educators (UNE), the largest teachers’ union. UNE representatives stated the dissolution document did not cite specific wrongdoing but vaguely argued that UNE had violated the law and the union’s charter (see section 7.a.).

On December 20, the Ministry of Environment initiated a process to dissolve environmental NGO Accion Ecologica, based upon a claim by the Ministry of Interior that the NGO had made social media posts that rejected mining activities in Morana Santiago Province and supported the “violent” acts committed by the Shuar protestors, that resulted in the death of a police officer at a mining camp on December 14. The government argued that the NGO had deviated from its stated purpose and negatively affected “internal state security” and “public peace” in violation of Presidential Decrees 16 and 739. As of December 31, the case against Accion Ecologica remained open.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, especially women and children, experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children remained susceptible to violence and labor exploitation. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents on the northern border, particularly by organized criminal gangs that also operated in Colombia.

The government cooperated with 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.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Following an earthquake on April 16 that struck the Pacific coast, the government declared a “state of emergency” in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santo Domingo, and Santa Elena. According to the final status report from the Secretariat of Risk Management on May 18, the earthquake claimed 663 lives and injured 6,274 persons. More than 40,000 persons were internally displaced following the earthquake, and approximately 29,000 were sheltered in public spaces, including sports stadiums. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of October 21, at least 12,000 persons remained in official and informal shelters.

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 law establishes a two-step procedure for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status with a right to appeal rejections in the second stage of the process. The government limits applications for asylum to persons who enter the country within the previous 90 days. While an improvement over the previous 15-day time limit, experts noted that the admissibility procedure and a lack of qualified staff still hampered the granting of protection to deserving cases and remained the main challenges to refugee protection in the country.

The decree on refugee admissions establishes a timeframe of four months for the application process, but UNHCR and NGOs estimated the procedure lasted years in some instances. The decree establishes a timeframe of two months for decisions by the minister of foreign affairs and human mobility on administrative appeals, but decisions often took six months to a year. During the application process, an applicant receives an asylum-seeker card, renewable every two months, which grants the applicant the right to work until refugee status is adjudicated and all appeals are exhausted. A grant of refugee status is valid for two years but can be renewed.

Employment: Asylum seekers with family ties to Ecuadorian citizens can obtain a “dependent’s visa,” which offers permanent residence and full access to legal rights. UNCHR reported that a growing number of refugees renounced the refugee visa in order to obtain the dependent’s visa.

Access to Basic Services: Forty percent of refugees and asylum seekers resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs providing social services to refugees, refugees continued to encounter widespread discrimination in employment and housing. On September 15, UNHCR and the Civil Registry signed an agreement that would enable recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate their access to education, employment, banking, and other public services.

Durable Solutions: Societal stereotypes and media reports portraying refugees as criminals and prostitutes affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population. Few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status, due to the expensive and lengthy legal process required. The main durable solution remained local integration, even though there were many obstacles to achieve sustainable local integration.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to refugees recorded as having crossed the border during the year. Most government assistance ended after denial of official refugee status.

As an associate member of Mercosur, Ecuador issues the Mercosur temporary visa to citizens of the countries parties to or associated with the trade bloc. The agreement covers citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, and the government waived the visa application fee (normally $230) for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the Mercosur visa does not provide any safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for the visa, since it is faster than the refugee process and carries less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for a period of two years. The visa is renewable, but the requisites for such renewal were unclear to refugee advocates.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In December 2015 the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits for all elected positions, including the president, starting after the 2017 national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the government held elections for national offices, including the presidency and the multiparty National Assembly. The Organization of American States (OAS), Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, Union of South American Nations, and domestic observers judged the elections open, free, and well organized, despite some recurring and limited local irregularities. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no major fraud, some reports of missing or marked ballots and of counting and vote-tabulation irregularities resulted in challenges filed with the National Electoral Council (CNE) and Electoral Contentious Court (TCE), the appeals body for electoral matters. Opposition candidates claimed the CNE and TCE did not address irregularities transparently. The OAS reported the precampaign period featured “differential access and exposure of the contenders in the media.” Furthermore, during the campaign period, there was unequal coverage of parties and candidates in news reports, depending on the ownership of the media. According to media monitoring by the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana, President Correa and his political supporters had a significantly greater presence in both public and private media than other candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Electoral laws require political parties to register with the CNE. In order to receive authorization to participate in elections, parties and movements need to show the support of at least 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls by collecting voters’ signatures. The law requires registered parties to obtain minimum levels of voter support to maintain registration. Voters are restricted to registering with only one political group.

On September 26, the CNE signed an agreement with Participacion Ciudadana that would enable the civil society organization to conduct a “quick count” of the February 2017 national elections.

Opposition alternate legislator Henry Llanes presented a complaint against President Correa, Vice President Glas, and several state-owned media outlets over alleged electoral infractions related to the live transmission of Alianza PAIS’ political convention on October 1. On November 11, TCE judge Patricia Zambrano ruled against Llanes’ complaint. Zambrano subsequently tweeted a message of gratitude to Alianza Pais (AP) supporters who accompanied the ruling party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates’ registration at the CNE on November 16. Following complaints that Zambrano’s tweet demonstrated political partisanship, the TCE accepted Zambrano’s resignation on November 24.

On November 11, Fernando Villavicencio registered his candidacy for a National Assembly seat in the province of Pichincha with the CREO (Creating Opportunities) opposition party. On November 14, Gustavo Baroja, prefect of Pichincha and provincial leader of ruling party AP, objected to Villavicencio’s candidacy, noting that electoral law requires a candidate to resign from any political party 90 days before registering as a candidate for a separate party, unless the candidate receives authorization from the party to which he belongs. On November 17, the CNE accepted Baroja’s objection, based on Baroja’s argument that Villavicencio was affiliated with the Pachakutik party. On November 21, Villavicencio appealed the decision to the TCE, arguing that a document dated November 10 from Pachakutik’s coordinator authorized him to register as a candidate for CREO. Villavicencio also claimed that the decision to bar him from running was politically motivated, citing his public denunciations of corruption in state-owned oil company PetroEcuador. As of November 25, the TCE had not issued a ruling. In 2013 Villavicencio received an 18-month prison sentence for defamation of President Correa, although Villavicencio went into hiding and the sentence was subsequently reduced to 12 months and then vacated. As of late November, legal proceedings continued against Villavicencio over his alleged publication of private emails from senior government officials.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution provides for government-promoted, gender-balanced representation in the public sector, including in the lists of political parties’ candidates for the National Assembly and other representative institutions. The electoral law mandates that electoral lists be gender balanced and structured in an alternating male-female (or vice versa) pattern for both primary and alternative candidates.

As of late September, the president’s cabinet included eight women out of 36 ministers and national secretaries. The National Assembly featured 59 women among the 137 legislators, including three women in the principal leadership positions. In the February 2014 local elections, two of the 23 elected prefects were women. According to a report by El Comercio, three women were elected mayors in a sample of 30 provincial capitals and other large cities.

Minorities were underrepresented in political positions at the local and national levels in proportion to their representation in the overall population.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government took some steps to address official corruption. It continued a process to reform the judiciary, which improved the judiciary’s ability to remove corrupt or ineffective judges. Many civil society activists noted, however, that judges on the higher courts appeared more closely aligned with the current administration, and many questioned the independence of those courts, especially in politicized cases. Media reports alleged police corruption and corruption in public contracts and procurement, including in state-owned companies. Labor leaders and business owners reported corruption among labor inspectors.

Corruption: On May 16, police arrested Alex Bravo, the manager of public oil company PetroEcuador, for influence peddling. On August 10, the Attorney General’s Office modified Bravo’s charges by including the charge of illicit enrichment; later, charges were further expanded to include acceptance of bribes from the company Oil Services & Solutions. On October 5, Alexis Mera, President Correa’s legal secretary, announced that Bravo received $12 million in bribes and kickbacks during his tenure at PetroEcuador. The Attorney General’s Office charged 17 individuals, including Bravo, former minister of hydrocarbons Carlos Pareja, and their relatives in connection with the PetroEcuador corruption case. A Quito criminal court held a preliminary hearing to review evidence on October 21. The judge ordered pretrial detention for nine suspects and prohibited the other suspects from departing the country. According to media reports, 14 of the 17 suspects, including former minister Pareja, had already fled the country. On October 23, the justice and interior ministers announced that the government had requested that Interpol issue “Red Notices” for eight suspects outside of Ecuador. On November 23, prosecutors added charges of illicit enrichment against Pareja, Bravo, and other defendants. On December 2, El Comercio reported that criminal investigations related to money laundering, illicit enrichment, bribery, and organized crime remained in process against 80 individuals, with six under arrest and 24 facing criminal charges. As of December the case remained in progress.

On December 21, unnamed Ecuadorian officials were cited among those taking bribes from the Brazilian construction and engineering company Odebrecht. Odebrecht admitted to making more than $33.5 million in corrupt payments to government officials in Ecuador between 2007 and 2016. The company realized benefits of more than $116 million as a result. As of December 31 an investigation into corruption claims related to public works projects managed by Odebrecht remained in progress.

There were other reported instances of corruption involving lower-level government officials, judges, and police officers. In April the Center for the Study of Bribery and Extortion Situations issued a report that described several cases of extortion experienced by rural women, including monetary demands from police officers and sexual and monetary demands from government officials in rural parishes.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and if requested during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information annually. The constitution requires civil servants to present a sworn statement regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term of office, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. All declarations are filed in the offices of public notaries and are entered as a public document. The comptroller general’s website contains a section where the public can conduct a search on officials to see if the officials complied with the income and asset disclosure requirement. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, except for the inability to assume office. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, even when changes occur in their holdings.

Following the May 2015 arrests of a National Assembly member and two other public officials on corruption charges, National Assembly president Gabriela Rivadeneira requested that the comptroller general investigate the declared assets of all 137 lawmakers. In May 2016 media reported that six legislators remained under investigation due to possible evidence of criminal liability. As of November 1, the Office of the Comptroller General had not made public the results of the investigation.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and other regulations provide for the right of public access to government information, but authorities did not effectively implement the law. The law requires all public and private organizations that receive public funds to respond to written requests for information, publish specific information on their website, and submit an annual report to the Ombudsman’s Office that details their compliance with the transparency law. Because of this legislation, government agencies increasingly included budget information, functions, organizational information, lists of government officers, and official notices on the internet in addition to responding to written requests. Nevertheless, the government did not always grant requests for information, and the government made exceptions, stating that the requested information was not available. Judges did not enforce the legislation requiring the government to release information.

Opposition legislators complained that although the law allows them to request information directly from government institutions, President Correa instructed government ministers to respond only to requests for information channeled through the president of the National Assembly.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. In March 2015 the Inter-American Development Bank reported the average income of women was 14 percent lower than that of men, although other studies indicated that women represented 56 percent of the university population and worked an average of 17 hours more per week. The female underemployment rate was 59 percent, 7 percent higher than the national underemployment rate and 10 points more than male underemployment. Afro-Ecuadorians reported that employers often would not interview persons whose job applications carried Afro-Ecuadorian photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/12/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. On January 14, Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN) party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

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

Principal human rights abuses included widespread institutional corruption, particularly in the police and judicial sectors; security force involvement in serious crimes, such as kidnapping, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, and extortion; and societal violence, including lethal violence against women.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary or unlawful killings, abuse and mistreatment by National Civil Police (PNC) members; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; failure of the judicial system to conduct full and timely investigations and fair trials; government failure to fully protect judicial officials, witnesses, and civil society representatives from intimidation and threats; and internal displacement of persons. In addition, there was sexual harassment and discrimination against women; child abuse, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children; discrimination and abuse of persons with disabilities; and trafficking in persons and human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children. Other problems included marginalization of indigenous communities and ineffective mechanisms to address land conflicts; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and ineffective enforcement of labor and child labor laws.

The government cooperated with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to strengthen the rule of law and prosecute officials who committed abuses. Impunity continued to be widespread. Gangs, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking organizations committed numerous acts of violence; corruption and inadequate investigation made prosecution difficult.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the PNC and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), however, reported one complaint of murder, and the Attorney General’s Office, commonly known as the Public Ministry, reported one case of homicide, three cases of manslaughter, and one case of premeditated murder by PNC officers through August. Local media reported that a PNC officer killed a grocery store owner on January 4 in Santiago Atitlan, Solola. The trial was pending at year’s end.

On October 9, authorities arrested 13 members of the military from the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez in December 2015. According to media reports, the soldiers accused Contreras of consuming marijuana and proceeded to beat him unconscious. Forensics report later found no evidence of the victim being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The case was under Public Ministry investigation at year’s end.

On January 6, the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial executions during the internal armed conflict (1990-96) at former Military Zone 21, a site currently known as the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ) in Coban, Verapaz. The CREOMPAZ case was assigned to a high-risk court, a special court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that pose a serious risk to the judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. On June 7, the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial. On September 14, the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial date had not been confirmed.

Retrial proceedings restarted on March 16 against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his intelligence chief, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. Proceedings had been suspended after the First Court of Appeals ruled that Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez should be tried separately. Rios Montt had been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and was originally sentenced to 80 years in prison. Later the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to a different court for rehearing. In 2015 a high-risk court determined that Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered that the trial continue behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled that any verdict could be used only for the application of corrective measures on behalf of the victims and that Rios Montt cannot be sentenced to prison.

On November 16, in a different case against Rios Montt, a high-risk court dismissed a motion by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The court was scheduled to rule on February 9, 2017, on whether to send Rios Montt to trial. At year’s end the retrial dates had not been set for either case.

As of December the government had paid $14.2 million in reparations to families affected by the Chixoy Hydro-Electric Dam. During the dam’s construction (1975-85), more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay $156 million over 15 years in individual and community reparations to those who were affected.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period (1960-96). On January 6, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. On August 22, the Attorney General’s Office presented new charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. On October 25, a high-risk court found sufficient evidence to charge Lucas Garcia with illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence, and it accepted new charges of aggravated sexual assault for the other four defendants. The court was to determine whether all five defendants would go to trial on January 13, 2017.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

In October preliminary hearings, a court ordered the trial of PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in April 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City. As of November the case was in the evidentiary phase, during which the Public Ministry presents all available evidence in advance of the trial.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding continued to place prisoners at significant risk. On July 18, prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain, was killed, along with 12 others, inside the Pavon prison. Lima Oliva was serving a 20-year sentence for the 1998 murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi and had alleged ties to political corruption and narcotics-trafficking networks. At year’s end CICIG was investigating the case.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a problem. According to the prison system registry, as of September 6, there were 20,743 inmates, including 1,974 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,742 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use continued to be widespread. Prison officials continued to report a loss of safety and control, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners continued to direct criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through September 5, at least 55 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children below age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children, and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups alleged that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals under custody. The Ministry of Government approved treatment standards for LGBTI prisoners in 2015, and NGOs trained authorities on their implementation during the year, although NGOs considered the improvements to be minimal. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male and female detainees together.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. In October a judge ordered the closing of the annex of one of the detention centers for one year and mandated reform of the facilities.

Administration: The government’s independent Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), whose responsibilities include prisoner rights, received complaints and conducted oversight of the prison system. The PDH and the NOPT can submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, had a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Recordkeeping remained inadequate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States (OAS), public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing, as required by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Despite a 5 percent increase in its operating budget, the PNC remained understaffed, inadequately trained, and insufficiently funded, all of which substantially impeded its effectiveness.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 272 police officials through August, similar to the previous year’s rate. A Police Reform Commission, established under a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform the police forces. Under this framework the commission developed software to improve PNC information systems, including through a new automated victim support system that consolidates information from victims as soon as they interact with PNC at the police station; created a professional school for officers and a formal education policy; and provided almost all of the country’s 54 Victim Support Offices with improved facilities and upgraded information systems.

During the year there were 747 complaints of police extortion and 206 for abuse of authority, compared with 31 and 856, respectively, in 2015. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating and punishing them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. Security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

On March 3, a soldier, Guilber Josue Barrios, allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil-military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense. The suspect absconded, which prevented his trial from moving forward. A number of NGOs asserted that the Ministry of Defense demonstrated a lack of effective collaboration with civilian authorities to prevent this type of incident.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. In the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,462 complaints alleging misconduct by police personnel.

All new PNC and military soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense elevated its Office of Human Rights to a directorate, providing it direct access to the minister; more than doubled its personnel; and conducted active outreach to human rights organizations.

The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual abuse from the internal armed conflict period. On February 26, retired army officers Esteelmer Reyes and Heriberto Valdez were sentenced to 120 and 240 years of prison, respectively, for sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery involving 15 indigenous women in Sepur Zarco in 1982-83.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation and file a case in court or seek a formal extension of the detention period. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges can order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions, although most accounts indicated that police continued to ignore writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood anti-gang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of September 6, prison system records indicated 46 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a three-month limit for pretrial detention but authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release is not immediate and usually takes several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug-trafficking organizations. By the end of September, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 192 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 202 for the same period in 2015.

CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to seek the suspension of judges and to conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. The Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,178 complaints of wrongdoing against judges, technicians, and judiciary administrative staff through October, held hearings on 570 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case and may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On July 22, a high-risk court released seven community leaders from Huehuetenango because kidnapping charges against them could not be substantiated. The seven had been arrested in 2015 for detaining 11 hydroelectric company workers in 2013 and had been held in preventive prison for 18 months. The court confirmed that the prisoners were community leaders or indigenous authorities mediating between the community and the hydroelectric company and expressed concern over criminalization of the rights to assemble and protest. Specifically, the presiding judge stated, “attempting to mediate a community conflict is not a crime.”

Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders registered 68 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders through October. Charges included defamation, legal complaint, and arbitrary detention.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On September 5, President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the Public Ministry was investigating their suspected involvement in the illegal monitoring of journalists, human rights defenders, business owners, and politicians. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and current member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry, but he continued to serve in congress and had not been formally charged.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but freedom of expression advocates noted that difficulty obtaining licenses to operate community radio stations and obtaining some judicial information limited press freedom.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report that violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability. Guatemala City mayor (and former Guatemalan president) Alvaro Arzu made the following comment in a high-profile public forum on July 27, “A former president of Mexico once said that the press is either bribed or beaten. I prefer the second option.”

On June 25 in Coatepeque, unidentified assailants shot and killed Alvaro Alfredo Aceytuno Lopez, a radio journalist who often reported on local governance issues. One month later, his daughter, Lindaura Aceytuno, was shot and killed in an attack that also left his 13-year-old granddaughter injured. No arrests were made, but the investigation continued at year’s end.

According to the Public Ministry, 87 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and eight journalists were killed through the middle of November, compared with 133 complaints and four killings in all of 2015. Civil society analysts attributed the increase in killings chiefly to the general state of violence in the country. The decrease in attacks or threats against journalists was also partially attributed to 2015 being a general election year and a time of significant political instability. On November 22, a Mazatenango court convicted two men and sentenced each of them to 25 years in prison for the murder of journalist Guido Armando Geovani Villatoro Ramos in March 2015.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.

Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based upon whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.

In September a videographer for the media outlet Nuevo Mundo was fired after he took pictures of President Morales apparently sleeping at a government event. The outlet claimed it fired him because he shared the pictures without editorial permission, but the videographer claimed to have evidence to the contrary. The PDH was investigating the motives for the videographer’s dismissal.

Libel/Slander Laws: In June reporter Pavel Vega from the daily newspaper El Periodico attempted to interview Viviana Quinonez Paiz, legal representative of TVQ–a public relations firm with close ties to the local Guatemala City government–regarding municipal contracts TVQ received as the lone bidder. She refused the interview and accused Vega of psychological harassment, citing the Law Against Femicide and Other Violence Against Women (Femicide Law). A judge subsequently issued a restraining order against the reporter for three months, prohibiting him from approaching Quinonez. The human rights ombudsman stated the harassment charges should never have been given credence in view of the lack of relationship between the two, as well as the fact that the reporter’s only action was to call Quinonez’ office to ask for an interview. On July 5, Quinonez filed charges against the reporter for slander and defamation for his articles related to municipal contracts awarded to TVQ. The case was pending at year’s end. Journalist associations stated that use of the Femicide Law to infringe upon press freedoms set a dangerous precedent but also noted that there were relatively few cases of the law being used in this manner.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government 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.

Journalists expressed concern that government officials may have used twitter accounts to harass those critical of the administration and its policies. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. In September the government issued a 15-day emergency decree that gave it the power to dissolve groups, meetings, protests, and media coverage that “contributed to or incited” disruption of public order. The decree was rescinded two days later after harsh reactions from many sectors of society, including the president of congress and the human rights ombudsman. The NGO Center for Legal Action on Environment (CALAS) and the National Unity of Hope party charged the executive branch with violating the constitution and abuse of power. The Supreme Court dismissed the charges on November 2; CALAS planned to appeal the decision.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. A migration law passed in September overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The process for creating new migration regulations to implement the law, which would contain greater detail on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.

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, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern about the internal displacement of persons in the country due to violence, and strengthened its presence to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. Despite the fact that it did not officially recognize them as IDPs, the government provided food aid and several plots of land for the resettlement of some victims of forced displacement in the Polochic region. Civil society organizations criticized the quality of the food aid.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 42 refugee applications from January through August. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.

UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote. Electoral Law reforms enacted during the year would permit absentee and overseas voting in subsequent elections, but funding for implementation had not been budgeted.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 Jimmy Morales of the FCN party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres by 67.4 to 32.3 percent in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president on January 14. An OAS international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections. The Supreme Electoral Court cancelled former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon’s party, LIDER (Democratic Liberty Renewed), in February for campaign law violations. LIDER was appealing the decision.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The law provides the rights of women and minorities to vote, run for office, serve as electoral monitors, and otherwise participate in political life. Traditional and cultural practices, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

Twenty-four women served in the 158-seat Congress, and there were two women in the 14-member cabinet. Seven women served on the 13-member Supreme Court, and five women served on the 10-member Constitutional Court–the most women in either court’s history.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous member in the cabinet, one on the Constitutional Court, and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling 113 of the 333 mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry and CICIG investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.

Corruption: The Comptroller General’s Office and the Public Ministry are responsible for combating corruption. The comptroller general’s mandate is to monitor public spending, and the attorney general’s mandate is to prosecute related crimes. Although both agencies actively collaborated with civil society and were relatively independent, they lacked adequate resources, which affected their ability to carry out their mandates.

On June 2, the Public Ministry accused former president Otto Perez Molina and former vice president Roxana Baldetti of money laundering and illegal political party financing. The Public Ministry/CICIG investigation eventually linked the case to additional charges against the former ministers of defense, government, energy and mines, and communications for using illicit funds to provide lavish gifts to Perez Molina and Baldetti. The government issued approximately 70 arrest warrants targeting former government officials and the highest levels of the banking, state procurement, telecommunications, media, construction, agricultural, and pharmaceutical sectors. On August 4, a high-risk court sent 28 defendants who were deemed a flight risk to pretrial detention and ordered house arrest for 19 more. Perez Molina and Baldetti were in pretrial detention since 2015.

On September 13, President Morales announced that his son Jose Manuel Morales and brother Sammy Morales would cooperate in a corruption investigation based on the allegation that they procured false invoices in 2013. The case involved former public registrar Anabella de Leon, who allegedly used these invoices in a corruption scheme that defrauded the government through phony contracts.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzals ($1,064) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for the right of citizens to access public information and establishes fines for government agencies that obstruct such access. The disclosure law contains exceptions for national security, sets reasonably short timelines for disclosure, and allows for a reasonable processing fee. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The government granted access to public information for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media, although at times in a slow and incomplete manner. Human rights groups criticized the delay by the Ministry of Defense in releasing information related to transitional justice cases. While there was no formal mechanism to appeal denials of requests, petitioners often successfully appealed to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman for assistance relating to a government denial of public information.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November 2013. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term that began in January 2014. International observers generally recognized the elections as transparent, credible, and reflecting the will of the electorate. The National Congress elected a new 15-member Supreme Court for a seven-year term in February.

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

Pervasive societal violence persisted, although the state made efforts to reduce it. The March murder of environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres underscored state institutions’ lack of effective measures to protect activists. Violence and land-rights disputes involving indigenous people, agricultural workers, landowners, the extractive industry, and development projects continued in rural areas, including the Bajo Aguan region. Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

Other serious human rights problems were widespread impunity due to corruption and institutional weaknesses in the investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial systems, and excessive use of force and criminal actions by members of the security forces. Additional, human rights problems included harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; threats and violence by criminals directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and members of vulnerable populations; violence against and harassment of women; child abuse; trafficking in persons, including child prostitution; human smuggling, including of unaccompanied children; failure to conduct free and informed consultations with indigenous communities prior to the authorization of development projects; discrimination against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; violence against and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, including arresting and prosecuting members of congress, judges, prosecutors, police officers, mayors, and other local authorities. Civilian authorities arrested and investigated members of the security forces alleged to have committed human rights abuses. Some prosecutions of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moved too slowly or failed to convict the responsible parties.

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

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

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

Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.

On March 3, environmental and indigenous activist, Berta Caceres, was killed in her home in Intibuca Department (see also section 6, Indigenous People). In early May the Public Ministry arrested five individuals implicated in her killing, including an active duty Honduran Special Forces officer and a manager at a hydroelectric project that Caceres had actively opposed. Law enforcement authorities arrested a sixth suspect in September. As of November a judge had remanded all six to custody pending trial, and their defense lawyer had submitted a request for dismissal of the charges, which was still pending. The Public Ministry continued its investigation into whether others were involved in planning the crime. The Honduran Armed Forces dishonorably discharged the Special Forces officer implicated in Caceres’ death.

Also in March local and international media reported that corrupt senior police officials working for drug traffickers were responsible for the killings of senior antinarcotics officials Julian Gonzalez in 2009 and Alfredo Landaverde in 2011, and the murder of senior anti-money-laundering prosecutor Orlan Chavez in 2013. According to media reports, other senior police and Ministry of Security officials covered up the crimes or failed to take action to bring those responsible to justice. Subsequently, the government passed legislative decree 21-2016, which created the Special Commission in Charge of Purging and Restructuring the Honduran National Police (HNP), comprising the minister of security, a former president of the Supreme Court, and two prominent members of civil society, to review systematically the performance and integrity of all police officials. As of December 19, the commission had reviewed the personnel files of 3,004 officials and dismissed 1,835 officers, while allowing 256 officers to retire voluntarily, for a total of 2,091 police officers dismissed from the HNP. In February a three-judge tribunal acquitted all senior military officials previously accused of covering up the 2012 killing of 15-year-old Ebed Jassiel Yanes Caceres.

On May 19, Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) soldier, Jose Alonzo Miranda Almendarez, shot and killed Alexis Alberto Avila Ramirez when Avila and his brother fled from the PMOP squad executing arrest warrants against them in the city of Danli, El Paraiso Department. A judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Miranda on a charge of abuse of authority and manslaughter pending a trial; his defense requested a dismissal of the charges, and an appeals court was reviewing the appeal as of October. Miranda’s PMOP patrol was participating in a joint operation directed by the National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA), but it reported to the 110th Infantry Brigade.

In August the trial of four armed forces intelligence personnel implicated in the 2014 killings of siblings Ramon Eduardo Diaz Rodriguez and Zenia Maritza Diaz Rodriguez was scheduled to begin in February 2017.

In February a judge issued a warrant for the arrest of PMOP members involved in the shooting of 11-year-old Yoslin Isaac Martinez Rivera in November 2015. As of October the individuals had not been arrested.

Authorities arrested HNP officer, Donis Joel Figueroa Reyes, for the November 2015 torture of three detainees and murder of detainee Jose Armando Gomez Sanchez. The three individuals had been detained for public intoxication but allegedly attempted to escape detention, after which they were handcuffed to the ceiling in the police station and beaten by Figueroa, resulting in Gomez’s death. Figueroa was originally detained in November 2015 but had escaped from custody.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. On October 18, Jose Angel Flores, president of the Unified Farm Workers Movement of the Aguan (MUCA) and his colleague Silmer Dionicio George, were killed after leaving a meeting of MUCA leaders. On November 21, the Public Ministry announced arrest warrants for two individuals–Osvin Nahun Caballero and Wilmer Giovanni Fuentes–believed to be involved in the October 18 attack; the ministry stated that the murders appeared to be related to the continuing land conflict. No members of the security forces or private security guards were reported to have been responsible for deaths related to the land conflict. One private security guard of an agricultural company, however, was reportedly killed due to land conflict, and agricultural workers reported at least one other violent encounter between private security guards and agricultural workers as of August.

Organized criminal elements, including narcotics traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed murders, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and acts of intimidation against police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. Media reported that as of September 7,176 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed during the year, often for failing to make extortion payments. The Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported that 290 workers from the transportation sector were killed in 2015, a 40 percent increase from 2014.

On May 27, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions recognized that the government had taken steps to reduce the homicide rate, but urged authorities to do more to protect the right to life and reduce violence. According to the UNAH Violence Observatory, there was no significant change in the overall annual homicide rate in the first six months of the year compared with 2015, which remained at approximately 60 per 100,000 after several years of steep decline. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

b. Disappearance

The HNP reported 40 kidnappings in 2015, a 48 percent decrease from 2014. As of October the HNP projected a further 65 percent decrease in kidnappings during the year. The HNP reported that in 2015 it rescued 28 victims. Nine more were freed through negotiations and partial payment. Kidnappers killed three others. As of October the HNP had rescued 16 victims. The HNP estimated that it prevented 80 million lempiras ($3.2 million) in ransom payments to criminals in 2015. Court cases took on average two years. In one case from 2014, the HNP rescued the victim within 24 hours and arrested a suspect. Further investigation led to two additional arrests. On July 21, all three were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) received complaints of abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. On August 10, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over numerous reports of human rights violations, including torture, by members of the security forces. As of September the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) reported 221 complaints implicating members of the security forces or other government officials in torture or other cruel or inhuman treatment, whereas the quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported 70 complaints against government officials for human rights violations, the majority relating to detention conditions. The Public Ministry had 49 active torture cases against members of police and military as of October.

In April agents from the Public Ministry’s Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations arrested nine prison guards in Danli, El Paraiso Department, for allegedly torturing an inmate. Media reported that the alleged victim, Carlos Lenin Meza Navas, had lodged a complaint against a guard on February 6 for not permitting him to make an authorized telephone call. The guard and eight of his colleagues subsequently assaulted Navas in his cell, beating him unconscious.

There were reports that criminal gangs tortured individuals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening because of pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.

Following a 2014 fire in the Comayagua prison that killed 361 inmates, the National Congress approved the National Prison System Act in 2015, which modified the organization of prisons and mandated the professionalization of police charged with prison administration. In February the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that the country’s prisons still suffered from many of the same problems that contributed to the 2014 Comayagua tragedy. These problems included the delegation of internal controls to prisoners themselves and a corresponding lack of responsible management by prison authorities; overcrowding and deplorable incarceration conditions; and a failure to segregate men and women fully in most prisons.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of August the total prison population was 17,253 in 27 prisons, an 8 percent increase over September 2015. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 12, 16 inmates had died in prison, 14 from natural causes and two from suicide. Seven inmates were killed outside prison while receiving medical care or on conditional home release. In contrast, CONAPREV reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness.

As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 75 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located on the installations of the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases; however, the military neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.

Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious abuses, including rape by other inmates. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical wellbeing of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel.

Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year. Inmates killed several prison guards, including the deputy director of the San Pedro Sula prison, either inside prison facilities or by giving orders that criminal associates on the outside carried out on their behalf.

There were credible reports from human rights organizations that, in addition to subjecting prisoners to isolation and threats, prison officials used excessive force, such as beatings, to control prisoners.

The government held approximately one-half of its female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to the age of three could stay with their mothers in prison. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

As of August the NGO Casa Alianza said juvenile detention staff reported there were 438 minors (394 boys and 44 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. CONAPREV, however, reported that 542 boys resided in two juvenile detention centers and the COBRAS pretrial detention center as of August. According to the Directorate of Childhood and Family, 304 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system between January 2015 and August (see section 6, Institutionalized Children).

Administration: The INP, an autonomous agency, managed the country’s adult prisons. The minister of human rights, justice, governance, and decentralization, together with the minister of security, an NGO representative, and a representative of the National Municipal Association formed a committee that supervised the INP. Public defenders and judges sought alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders as a means to alleviate prison overcrowding. Flawed recordkeeping procedures meant that some inmates served more time in prison than their sentences specified.

Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions directly to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. CONADEH also took complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (also see section 1.c.).

The 2015 Law of Obligatory Labor for Prisoners stipulates that prison populations must engage in at least 400 hours of community service per individual. Officials had not implemented the law, however, with the exception of some minor farming initiatives at the Comayagua prison (also see section 7.b.).

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Faith-based organizations such as the San Pedro Sula-based Roman Catholic Penitentiary Pastoral engaged in small-scale rehabilitation and vocational programs with willing inmates. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization made inspection visits to pretrial detention centers. The Human Rights Protection Unit of the INP made routine inspections of prison facilities and pretrial detention centers. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August.

Improvements: In late 2015 the government launched an initiative to reduce prison overcrowding. After reviewing a list of cases recommended by prison administrators, at the end of 2015, the government released approximately 2,000 inmates who had completed their sentences or had already been in pretrial detention for longer than the maximum sentences for their alleged crimes. The government opened two new prisons, with a capacity of 2,300 prisoners.

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of July, it had trained 1,100 prisoners in five prisons on human rights, a culture of peace, and their responsibilities under the 2015 National Prison System Act. The Human Rights Protection Unit trained an additional 600 prisoners on their human rights and national and international standards applicable to prisoners.

The INP trained 250 staff members on human rights for prisoners; nondiscrimination; the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; minimum standards for treatment of prisoners; national and international standards applicable to prisoners; and the appropriate use of lethal and nonlethal force.

Antiretroviral treatment programs expanded significantly throughout the prison system, and many HIV-positive patients who were not previously receiving treatment began a course of medication. Testing programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and diabetes improved. On April 27, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization and INP signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health to improve prison health services. As of August the government had hired 18 doctors to staff prisons. CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel available to assist prisoners, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights NGOs reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these prohibitions effectively. CONADEH reported 12 cases of arbitrary arrest as of September. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras reported 23 illegal or arbitrary arrests: five by the PMOP, 13 by the HNP, and five by municipal police.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. The Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations at the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s Office) has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of August the PMOP had approximately 3,000 personnel organized into six battalions and was present in all 18 departments. In 2015 a total of 2,400 members of the PMOP received human rights training. FUSINA coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigated allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of police committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations.

On April 11, in response to media reports that high-ranking HNP officers had ordered the killing of senior antinarcotics and anti-money-laundering officials in 2009, 2011, and 2013, the president approved a decree creating the Special Commission in Charge of Purging and Restructuring the HNP. The minister of security heads the commission and oversees the work of three prominent members of civil society and a small group of advisors. The commission has authority to: determine the suitability of HNP officials and dismiss officers without cause, implement a mechanism to follow-up and supervise the evaluation and dismissal processes, pass the personnel records of dismissed police officers suspected of criminal activity to the Public Ministry and the Supreme Auditing Tribunal for review and possible prosecution, and report progress to the president and National Congress on a quarterly basis.

As of mid-December the commission reported that it had evaluated 3,004 HNP officers. The commission recommended that 887 of these be retained, 1,835 dismissed, 256 voluntarily retired, 15 suspended pending further review, and another 11 retained pending further evaluation; many of those dismissed were high-ranking officers. The commission referred 23 of these officers to the Public Ministry for possible criminal prosecution. At the commission’s request, the attorney general formed a special unit to investigate cases that the commission referred to it. The process has led to more dismissals than the previous five efforts undertaken since 1998 combined. The commission still needed to evaluate rank-and-file members of the HNP. The commission said the personnel it recommended for retention remained subject to continued suitability evaluations.

The Human Rights Office of the Honduran Armed Forces reported that as of August, more than 4,500 service members had received human rights training. The Honduran Armed Forces and various NGOs provided the training. The Honduran Armed Forces Cadet Leadership Development course trained approximately 220 cadets on human rights in 2015-16.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor then has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them; however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled during the year that when a trial is delayed excessively, prisoners may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 35 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. As of August according to the UNAH’s Institute for Democracy, Peace, and Security, 53 percent of the country’s prison population had not been convicted. For crimes with minimum sentences of six years, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge the legal basis or assert the arbitrary nature of their arrest or detention. Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings, however, and excessively protracted legal processes were a serious problem.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

In March the president of the Supreme Court disbanded the National Judicial Council, created in 2013 to implement an evaluation system for judges, for corruption and incompetence. The council had allegedly committed contracting irregularities, nepotism, overvalued travel expenses, and other irregular acts. Prosecutors had already charged the vice president of the council with influence peddling for pressuring a judge to drop money-laundering charges against his cousin. He and other members of the council resigned before the president of the Supreme Court formally disbanded the council.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, to consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, to have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and to request an appeal. Defendants can receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law grants the right to a fair public trial, permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense, and grants defendants access to government evidence relevant to their case. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, and an ineffective witness protection program (some protected witnesses were killed during the year).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

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

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous people from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected these rights. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

CONADEH reported that the government closed 21 media outlets that failed to renew their operating licenses, including major opposition channel Globo TV. Some of these channels were already defunct, while others were attempting to renew their broadcast licenses. Many of the affected journalists continued their reporting at other media outlets. Civil society organizations expressed concerns about the allegedly arbitrary nature of the closures.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (defined as persons not employed as journalists who served as bloggers or conducted public outreach for NGOs). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported no killings of journalists during the first six months of the year, unlike in the previous year, when nine journalists and social communicators were killed. CONADEH, which used a broader definition than UNAH, reported that 64 journalists, social commentators, and owners and employees of media outlets were killed between 2014 and August. Perpetrators were convicted in three of these cases, and 10 cases were being prosecuted. There were many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were simply products of generalized violence. For example, reporter Felix Molina was shot and wounded in the second of two apparent attempts to rob him on May 2.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. The killing of Berta Caceres in March (see section 1.a.) was the most emblematic of these cases. Other organizations, including the Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz, as well as civil society members of the Special Commission reviewing the HNP, and the leadership of the National Anticorruption Council, reported threats linked to their activities. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders (also see section 7.a.).

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization worked to implement the May 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators but was hampered by weaknesses in the new protection mechanism, including a lack of staff and other resources. On July 11, the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern that some of the new law’s provisions did not assure effective protection for human rights defenders, and that the resources allocated to the protection mechanism were insufficient to ensure the law’s effective implementation. NGOs generally criticized the measures as ineffective, based on the small number of persons protected, an overreliance on protective measures provided by police (who many protected persons did not trust), and the limited resources provided to protected persons. Civil society also criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists adequately.

The HNP’s Human Rights Office continued to implement protective measures for journalists, social communicators, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and other activists receiving threats. On July 19, the government announced it would allocate an additional 10 million lempiras ($434,000) for protection services, essentially doubling the current budget. During the first six months of the year, the government worked with NGO Freedom House to develop and strengthen implementation of the law. As of July 29, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization had received 39 requests for protection since the law’s approval in April 2015 and accepted 30, which were being processed. The other nine requests were from persons who were already beneficiaries of IACHR-mandated protection measures that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. The Ministry of Security planned to transfer these cases to the protection mechanism once the government established a formal protocol for doing so. The IACHR had 66 outstanding orders for protection in the country. According to NGO ACI Participa, 49 orders between 2006 and 2015 benefited 426 individuals, including 59 indigenous persons, 27 members of the LGBTI community, 28 environmentalists, and 72 journalists.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. In 2015-16, the VCTF investigated the killings of seven journalists and arrested three suspects in these cases. It also arrested a suspect for the death of a journalist in a prior year, helped bring two other cases to trial, and secured one conviction for the murder of a journalist.

Civil society organizations, including agricultural workers groups and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest. The government charged some members of these groups with trespassing after they occupied disputed land and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. As of November 3, journalists Julio Ernesto Alvarado and David Romero Ellner remained free and continued to practice their profession, despite being convicted of slander in 2015 and ordered to stop practicing journalism temporarily. Alvarado paid a fine to avoid jail time; in December 2015 to comply with a 2014 order from the IACHR, the government rescinded the order that he stop practicing journalism. Romero Ellner received a 10-year prison sentence in March, and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court denied his final appeal on August 19.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In August the Organization of American States’ Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and the semiautonomous Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) called for the law’s revision.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to estimates compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 20 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some local and international civil society organizations, including the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up demonstrations. On several occasions police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent protesters. Authorities temporarily detained protesters wielding rocks, machetes, and other dangerous items but usually released them without pressing charges. Many civil society leaders and organizations condemned a decision by UNAH leaders authorizing police to break up a two-month student sit-in in July. Police briefly detained approximately two dozen protest leaders, and university officials then brought criminal charges against them. As of early December, student protesters and UNAH leadership remained in discussions to address the concerns of all parties, including the judicial proceedings and administrative actions that university officials took against protest leaders.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The penal code prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,300 to $2,600) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In practical terms there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR reported that as of August approximately 280 indigenous persons displaced from Nicaragua remained along the international border in Gracias a Dios Department. The government provided some assistance to this community.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

On April 5, the special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons welcomed the government’s recognition that internal displacement existed in the country and its acknowledgement that the challenges it presents require research and concerted action to tackle its root causes. UNHCR remained concerned about forced displacement caused by high levels of violence, national and transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling. The government maintained an interinstitutional commission to address the problem of persons displaced by violence. UNHCR reported that it collaborated extensively with the commission, which monitored displacement and developed policies and programs to prevent displacement and to provide protection to displaced persons, focusing on the most vulnerable persons affected by organized crime and other situations of violence. A 2015 UNHCR report estimated there were between 174,000 and 182,000 internally displaced persons in the country. There were no official numbers for forced displacement in the country, in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children). Media reported in March that gangs ordered residents of two communities, one in San Pedro Sula and one in Tegucigalpa, to vacate their homes; the government responded by increasing law enforcement operations and presence in the affected neighborhoods. Several communities along the border with El Salvador reported that gangs displaced them by moving into their communities, following increased police action in El Salvador. On July 10, authorities lifted a one-month curfew in the town of Mapulaca, in Lempira Department near the border with El Salvador, after increasing security force activities in the area.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The law does not permit active members of the military or the civilian security forces to vote. The constitution prohibits practicing clergy from running for office or participating in political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party won a four-year presidential term in elections that were generally transparent and credible. Some NGOs reported irregularities, including the distribution of cards offering retail discounts issued near voting stations operated by the National Party, in addition to problems with voter rolls, the buying and selling of electoral workers’ credentials, and lack of transparency in campaign financing. International observers acknowledged some of these problems but reported that they were not systematic or widespread enough to affect the outcome of the election. Observers noted several significant improvements in the election’s transparency, including electronic scanning and transmission of vote tally sheets and the distribution of national identification cards by the National Registry of Persons rather than by political parties.

In February, Congress elected a new 15-member Supreme Court for a seven-year term. Observers generally recognized the court’s election as the most thorough and transparent such process to date.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. The law requires a gender balance among each party’s candidates running for congress. The National Congress had one representative from the Miskito community. There were no indigenous or Afro-Honduran cabinet members.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties on public officials for corruption, but authorities did not implement the law effectively. Government institutions were subject to corruption and political influence, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Insufficient internal controls and lack of training in public resource management contributed to the corruption and lack of transparency. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress, judges, prosecutors, current and former senior officials, including presidential staffers from previous administrations, mayors and other local authorities, and police officers.

Following large-scale public protests in the spring of 2015 against government corruption, in January the government signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to install the MACCIH. The MACCIH began operations in the country on April 19, with an initial focus on police reform, electoral reform, and emblematic cases of public sector corruption networks.

Former president Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero (1990-94) was among 16 persons accused of corruption in 2015 for actions related to the International Federation of Association Football scandal. Callejas surrendered to foreign authorities in December 2015, and on March 28, he pled guilty in a foreign court to eight charges of organized crime, fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Corruption: Prosecutions of public-sector corruption predominantly targeted low-level officials and focused on charges of abuse of authority and misconduct in public office, which were easier to prove but carried lower penalties than illicit enrichment, fraud, and money laundering. Since the 2014 indictment of the entire board of directors of the Social Security Institute (IHSS), however, there was an increase in indictments of higher-level officials. Since 2014 prosecutors had filed charges against 54 persons in the IHSS scandal, including former ministers, business executives, and labor leaders; prosecutors charged many in multiple cases. As of December 20, there had been five convictions related to the IHSS scandal, including prominent business executive Jose Bertetty. Courts issued three of these convictions during the year. Many cases were in the appeals stage (a case can be appealed before it goes to trial). In June 2015 the government brought charges against public officials at the Ministry of Health and employees of the private company Astropharma, including then vice president of the National Congress, Lena Gutierrez, and three members of her family. In August the court of appeals ruled that the case could continue to trial. On August 8, the Financial Crimes Task Force executed a search warrant at LAIN (International Labs) and seized evidence to support a new line of investigation in the Astropharma case. Trial court judges were selected on September 7. On December 16, former IHSS director Mario Zelaya was convicted on firearms charges; he faced trial on seven additional charges including bribery and money laundering.

There were reports that the government’s anticorruption institutions did not take sufficient steps to contain high-level corruption and were unwilling or lacked the professional capacity and resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved. The civil society organization National Anticorruption Council has an investigative unit of 15 persons. The council receives government funding, which obliges it to disclose the names of its investigators, making them more vulnerable to reprisals. NGOs reported that some individuals who reported public corruption received threats.

In August the domestic NGO (and chapter of Transparency-International), Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) published a report reviewing public corruption in the country for the seven years prior to 2015. The report revealed that during those years the Public Ministry received 3,471 complaints about public corruption and issued 283 indictments. The ASJ tried to review the case files of 165 of the indictments, but it was unable to find 55 case files in the court system. Of the cases it reviewed, nine had resulted in convictions, 29 were resolved without a conviction, and 14 had been open for more than three years without resolution, which the ASJ defined as impunity. In 2015 there were 28 convictions for public-sector corruption, and as of August, there had been 19 such convictions. Among those convicted during the year were two members of Congress, a former government minister, a judge, current and former mayors, and two individuals associated with the IHSS scandal.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and published the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure laws.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and the government generally implemented this law effectively. In 2014, however, the National Congress passed a controversial law giving the National Security and Defense Council the authority to classify information that puts national security or defense at risk. NGOs and some members of Congress criticized both the breadth of the law and the manner in which it was approved.

All institutions receiving public funding are required to disclose their expenditures and present an annual report of their activities in the prior year to the National Congress 40 days after the end of the fiscal year. IAIP operated a website through which citizens could request information from government agencies. IAIP is responsible for verifying that government institutions comply with transparency rules and practices for access to public information. In June IAIP reviewed 133 government entities, to include municipalities, on their compliance with transparency regulations. IAIP rated 35 percent of these entities “excellent,” 10 percent “good,” 12 percent “bad,” and 48 percent received its lowest rating of “deficient.” IAIP reported that it sanctioned the entities deemed deficient with fines of up to five minimum salaries ($2,000). In July, IAIP also asked the government to suspend 10 officials without pay for five days whose organizations received deficient ratings, including nine mayors, and the Minister of Education, Marlon Escoto, due to his role as rector of the National Agricultural University.

If a government agency denies a request for public information, the denied party can submit a claim to IAIP, which has the authority to fine entities for failing to comply with legitimate requests.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; violators are subject to a 5,000 lempira ($220) fine. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Many employers discriminated against women. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Women, employers paid women an average of 16 percent less than they paid men for comparable work. Female workers in the textile export industry continued to report being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (also see section 6, Children). As of August the STSS reported that it had received no formal complaints of work discrimination. The International Solidarity Center reported that the STSS had received 12 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 4/07/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

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

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights-related problems included involvement by police and military in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances. Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems. Organized criminal groups killed, kidnapped, extorted, and intimidated citizens, migrants, journalists, and human rights defenders.

The following additional problems persisted: poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence against migrants; violence against women; domestic violence; abuse of persons with disabilities; threats and violence against some members of the indigenous population; threats against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including forced labor by children.

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

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

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

There were many reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, often acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 27 complaints for “deprivation of life” between January and November.

On August 2, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Arreygue, the mayor of the municipality of Alvaro Obregon, and four police officers, including a commander, in connection with the killing of 10 persons detained by police on July 29. According to news reports, Alvaro Obregon police under instructions from the mayor, detained the civilians and executed them, later burning their bodies. The criminal investigation into the case continued at year’s end.

In April a federal court charged the commander of the 97th Infantry Battalion and three other military officers for the July 2015 illegal detention and extrajudicial killing of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

On August 18, the CNDH released a report that accused federal police of executing 22 persons after a gunfight in May 2015 near Tanhuato, Michoacan, and of tampering with evidence. The CNDH report concluded that two of the men killed were tortured and 13 were killed after they had been detained. One police officer was killed in the incident. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia claimed the officers acted in self-defense. In response to the CNDH report, President Enrique Pena Nieto removed Federal Police Chief Enrique Galindo from his position to allow for “an agile and transparent investigation.” No federal police agents were charged, and the federal investigation continued at year’s end.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the January 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

In May a civilian federal judge acquitted and dismissed all charges against the remaining members of the military with pending charges in relation to the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict. In April the press reported that in October 2015 the Sixth Military Court dropped the charges against six soldiers and convicted one soldier, sentencing him to time served. In a report released in October 2015 before the verdicts, the CNDH determined that authorities arbitrarily deprived at least 12 to 15 of the civilians of life and tortured some of the witnesses. In July authorities of the State of Mexico declared they intended to fire nine state-level investigators from the General Prosecutor’s Office and suspend 21 others for misconduct related to the case. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

Former military corporal, Juan Ortiz Bermudez, appealed his 2015 conviction to 18 years’ imprisonment for intentional homicide in the 2010 killing of two unarmed civilians in Nuevo Leon. Authorities had not scheduled a hearing at year’s end.

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country. For example, from July 9 to 15, criminal gangs executed several families in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in what media reported as a war among drug-trafficking organizations. Criminals also targeted mayors (at least six killed this year) and other public officials. From 2006 to the middle of the year, 82 mayors were killed in the country.

News reports and NGO sources noted that from January 2015 to August, authorities discovered more than 724 bodies in several hundred clandestine graves throughout the country, the majority of killings were suspected to have been carried out by criminal organizations.

b. Disappearance

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from murder or kidnapping. Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of disappearance remained rare. The CNDH reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that as of October 2015, authorities opened 95 investigations at the state level for forced disappearances in nine states, resulting in four indictments but no convictions.

There were many reports of forced disappearances by security forces. There were numerous cases of disappearances related to organized criminal groups. In its data collection, the government often merged disappeared persons with missing persons, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

The CNDH registered 16 cases of alleged forced disappearances through the end of October.

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) revamped its Special Unit for Disappeared Persons in 2015, establishing expanded authorities and transferring 846 open cases from the predecessor PGR unit. The unit employed approximately 30 prosecutors and, as of May, was investigating the cases of 1,050 missing or disappeared persons. In June the attorney general appointed a prosecutor to lead the unit.

Authorities arrested 13 persons, including eight state police officers; they faced charges for the January 11 disappearance of five youths from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. On February 8, federal authorities located the remains of two of the youths on a property reportedly used by drug traffickers after one officer admitted to the abduction and transfer of the youths to a local criminal gang. Several containers found there contained human remains estimated to belong to hundreds of victims killed over a period of several years.

On April 28, a 17-year-old boy disappeared in the state of Veracruz, with the alleged participation of the Veracruz state police called “Fuerza Civil.” International NGOs reported that the boy’s mother had difficulty filing the disappearance report with the state attorney general’s office.

On November 10, the IACHR launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism that follows up the work of the group of independent experts who supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims from March 2015 to April 30. At the end of their mandate in April, the experts released a final report strongly critical of the government’s handling of the case.

According to information provided by the PGR in November, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from Cocula and Iguala and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization, Guerreros Unidos. Representatives of civil society organizations and the IACHR-affiliated experts noted that authorities held many of those arrested on charges such as participation in a criminal organization but not on involvement in the students’ disappearances. A CNDH report implicated federal police and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco. In October authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. Both federal and state authorities continued at year’s end to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

Kidnappings remained a serious problem for persons at all socioeconomic levels, and there were credible reports of instances of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, often at the state and local level. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting for kidnapping may be even higher.

Coahuila state authorities issued arrest warrants in June for 15 individuals–10 of whom were former police–for forced disappearances in the border state of Coahuila. According to state authorities, from 2009 to 2012, the Zetas transnational criminal organization, allegedly in collusion with local police, carried out mass disappearances in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. Elements of the organization allegedly killed some of the victims and disposed of their remains in Piedras Negras’ state prison.

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

The law prohibits such practices and stipulates confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

There is no national registry of torture cases, and a lack of data on torture cases at the state level.

As of October 31, the CNDH registered 206 complaints of alleged torture and 451 cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

News reports indicated that the PGR was examining 4,000 cases of torture in the first nine months of the year. The reports indicated that judges issued 14 arrest warrants for torture, including five arrest warrants for army and federal police members.

In June a report by Amnesty International accused security officials of using sexual and other types of torture to secure confessions from women.

On April 14, a video was posted on social media showing a woman being tortured by two soldiers and members of the Federal Police in an incident that took place in February 2015 in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, state of Guerrero. The secretary of defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, made an unprecedented public apology. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales also offered a public apology. In January authorities detained two of the soldiers allegedly implicated, and they faced civilian charges of torture as well as military charges of disobeying orders. Authorities suspended members of the Federal Police for their involvement.

On January 20, a federal court in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua sentenced army Colonel Elfego Jose Lujan Ruiz (the former commander of the 35th Infantry Battalion in Nuevo Casas Grandes) to 33 years in prison for the 2009 torture, homicide, and clandestine burial of two men. Authorities also sentenced five other convicted former soldiers of the 35th Infantry Battalion; three to 33 years in prison for the same crimes and two to 39 months in prison for torture.

In April authorities sentenced army General Manuel Moreno Avina to 52 years’ imprisonment for the torture, homicide, and destruction of human remains of a man in Chihuahua in 2008. The federal judge also ordered the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) to offer a public apology and accept responsibility for killing the man. Media reported that, as of October 31, authorities sentenced 21 soldiers who were under Moreno’s command on charges related to torture, homicide, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening due to corruption, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, and lack of security and control.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some detention centers.

Physical Conditions: In a report published during the year, the IACHR noted that federal and state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of real opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and lack of effective grievance mechanisms.”

There were numerous cases of corruption in the penitentiary system, including allegations of high-level corruption related to the July 2015 escape of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The IACHR reported that 200 of the 388 penitentiary centers in the country were overcrowded. News reports indicated that Hidalgo State had the most overcrowded prisons and identified the district jail in Tepeaca, Puebla, as the most overcrowded (329 inmates in a jail designed for 49); 239 of the prisoners were awaiting their sentences. In April the CNDH reported that overcrowding in prisons was the main factor in lack of social rehabilitation. Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons often were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners often had to bribe guards to acquire food, medicine, and other necessities. In some cases prisoners reportedly had to pay a fee to be permitted to visit with family members. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted a lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners, particularly for women who lived with their children in prison, were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. There were reports women who lived with their children in prison did not receive extra food or assistance.

The CNDH reported 52 homicides and 23 suicides in state and district prisons in 2015. The CNDH noted in its 2015 report on prisons that 86 prisons did not have a suicide prevention system. On February 11, 49 inmates were killed in the deadliest prison riot in history at the Nuevo Leon state prison of Topo Chico. In June, three prisoners were killed and 14 injured in another riot at the same prison. A senior Nuevo Leon state official cited poor prison conditions and a lack of funding as primary contributing factors for continued violence at the prison.

Administration: At some state prisons, recordkeeping remained inadequate. While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not publicly release the results of investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve prison conditions.

Improvements: In June a new law allowed women to have full custody of their children while in prison until the children reached three years of age.

On June 16, the National Criminal Enforcement Act went into effect, which defines the guiding principles of the prison system to be dignity, equality, legality, due process, transparency, confidentiality, and social reinsertion. The law points out that women require different accommodations than men and identifies the important role community contact plays in successful social reintegration.

Both federal and state facilities sought international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of September 1, 12 additional correctional facilities achieved association accreditation, bringing the total number of accredited facilities to 42.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government often failed to observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Committee, state police are under the authority of each of the 32 governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA, which oversees the army and air force, and the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR), which oversees the navy and marines, also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry (SEGOB), is the administrative body responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. The INM’s 5,400 agents worked at ports of entry, checkpoints, and detention centers, conducting migrant apprehension operations in coordination with the federal police.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to the civilian justice system under the jurisdiction of the PGR. If the victim is a member of the military, alleged perpetrators remain subject to the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

According to the Office of the Attorney General of Military Justice, as of April 18, the military had transferred to the civilian Attorney General’s Office prosecutorial jurisdiction for more than 1,273 military personnel accused of human rights violations in 558 criminal cases, 257 homicide cases, 229 torture cases, and 72 forced disappearance cases. As of June SEDENA reported there were no cases before military courts that involved a civilian victim.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The country had extremely low rates of prosecution, and prosecutions could take years to complete.

There were new developments in the 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State during which two individuals were killed and more than 47 women were taken into custody with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court acquitted the only individual previously convicted in the case, and in September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case, but no date has been set.

By law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution, including for corruption, while they hold a public office, although state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an elected official’s immunity.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations or to take independent judicial action.

In May the code of military justice was reformed to establish procedures for the conduct of military oral trials, in accordance with the transition to an adversarial justice system. On June 15, the CNDH published and submitted to the Supreme Court a “Report of Unconstitutionality” in which it claimed aspects of the recently revised code of military justice and military code of criminal procedures (military code or CMPP) violated constitutional guarantees, including against unreasonable searches and seizures. The CNDH based its claims on provisions of the military code that allow military prosecutors to request permission from civilian prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to intercept communications and search premises during the investigation of military personnel for ties to organized crime, murder, and weapons violations. The CNDH criticized the ability of a military judge to call a civilian to testify in military court, the requirement that authorities must conduct all procedural acts in Spanish, and the expanded roles given to the Military Ministerial Police (the top-level investigative entity of the military).

In February, SEMAR expanded its human rights program to include a weeklong course (from the previous one-day course), an intensive program for commanding officers, and a human rights diploma program, among others.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. Bail exists, except for persons held in connection with drug trafficking or other forms of organized crime. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge, and for authorities to provide sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, within 48 hours of arrest, but there were violations of the 48-hour provision. In cases involving three or more parties to a conspiracy to commit certain crimes, authorities may hold suspects for up to 96 hours before being presented to a judge.

Only the federal judicial system may prosecute cases involving organized crime. Under a procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established), certain suspects may, with a judge’s approval, be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Human rights NGOs claimed arraigo allowed some corrupt officials to extort detainees, detain someone, and then seek reasons to justify the detention, or obtain confessions using torture. In the absence of formal charges, persons detained under arraigo are often denied legal representation and are not eligible to receive credit for time served if convicted.

Some detainees complained about lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally provided impoverished detainees counsel only during trials and not during arrests or investigations as provided for by law. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention leading to other human rights abuses.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to an IACHR report, SEGOB figures as of August 2015 noted that 107,441 of 254,469 individuals detained were in pretrial detention. According to an international NGO, more than 40 percent of prisoners were awaiting their trial at the end of 2015. The law provides time limits within which authorities must try an accused person. Authorities generally disregarded time limits on pretrial detention since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through the Juicio de Amparo. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process; suffered a human rights abuse; or that authorities infringed upon basic constitutional rights. By law individuals should obtain prompt release and compensation if found to be unlawfully detained, but the authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and at the state and local levels, arrest warrants were sometimes ignored.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

As of June the civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. While observers expected the new system would take several years to implement fully, the federal government and all of the states began to adopt it. In some states implementing the accusatory system, alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the new system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, although the law allows the government to keep elements of an investigation confidential until the presentation of evidence in court. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes.

The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. Attorneys are required to meet legal qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders had preparation and training to serve adequately on the defendants’ behalf, and often the state public defender system was not adequate to meet demand. Public defender services functioned either in the judicial or executive branch. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE), most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after they came under judicial authority, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Although required by law, interpretation and translation services from Spanish to indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were allegedly required to sign.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. On August 13, authorities released antilogging activist Ildefonso Zamora from prison after a court dropped burglary charges against him. Human rights NGOs had criticized his 2015 arrest as politically motivated due to his antilogging activism.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue. Media monopolies, especially on a local level, constrained freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting. Perpetrators of violence against journalists continued to act with impunity with few reports of successful investigation, arrest, or prosecution of suspects. Observers believed organized crime to be behind some of these cases, but NGOs asserted there were significant instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned these acts. The international NGO Article 19 analyzed complaints of violence or harassment registered with their organization and reported that 47 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in the prior seven years originated from public officials.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, 14 journalists were killed between January and mid-December. During the first half of the year, Article 19 registered 218 cases of aggression against journalists, including assaults, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and threats; in 2015 there were 397 such cases.

On February 8, armed assailants kidnapped journalist Anabel Flores in her home in Veracruz. Authorities found her body the following day in neighboring Puebla State. NGOs asserted that moving her across state lines was meant to obstruct investigation of her death.

On June 20, unknown assailants shot and killed Elidio Ramos Zarate, a reporter for local Oaxaca newspaper El Sur, as he covered a demonstration allegedly led by teachers that included blockades. The victim and other reporters had received threats from masked individuals at the blockades. Article 19 had previously noted the vulnerability of reporters covering demonstrations, who were subject to attacks from both police and protesters. Two other journalists were killed in the state of Oaxaca.

On July 20, journalist Pedro Tamayo was killed outside his home in Veracruz–the third journalist killed in Veracruz between January and July. Tamayo had received threats previously; he had fled the state and was placed under police protection upon his return.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and media facilities, false charges for publishing undesirable news, and threats or retributions against family, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: Federal laws against defamation and slander were removed but remain on the books at the local level in some states. In April a Mexico City judge ruled against Sanjuana Martinez, a reporter who wrote an expose of politicians who allegedly patronized prostitutes. A politician named in the article sued Martinez for libel. Martinez was not notified of the lawsuit as required by law until a court ruled against her in April and ordered her to pay restitution.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical and digital violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence as that faced by traditional journalists.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: Since its creation in late 2012 through September, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (“the mechanism”) had accepted 367 cases–208 of them from journalists–out of 443 requests. NGOs noted that in the same period there were more than 1,800 attacks against journalists. SEGOB stated that since the establishment of the mechanism, there had not been a murder or forced disappearance of anyone protected under the mechanism. Separately, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, part of the PGR, reported it continued training public servants and journalists on the importance of freedom of expression. During the year it did not prosecute any crimes committed against journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. According to Freedom House, however, the government increased requests to social media companies to remove content. Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom of the Net Report categorized the country’s internet as partly free.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing security agents to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions.

An estimated 45 percent of citizens–approximately 58 million persons–used the internet as of July.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, 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 providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications over the previous year. A reported 2,100 migrants requested refugee status in the first four months of the year, compared with a total of 3,424 in 2015.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City and other detention centers, including in Chiapas, men were kept separate from women and children, and there were special living quarters for LGBTI individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals for any urgent cases free of charge. Those from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. The National Refugee Commission (COMAR) and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. The INM and Children and Family Services’ officials took trafficking and other victims to designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, by police and immigration officers and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. On March 3, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General’s Office to allow the families access to the files of the 2010 killings of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Since August 2014 the INM had turned over to state and federal prosecution authorities approximately 1,110 individuals suspected of having committed a crime against migrants.

In March the government began operating the Crimes Investigation Unit for Migrants and the Mexican Foreign Support Mechanism of Search and Investigation. The International Organization for Migration collaborated with municipal governments to establish offices along the border with Guatemala to track and assist migrants.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that as of December 2015, there were at least 287,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), which resulted primarily from several displacement events that forced persons to flee their homes and communities in response to criminal, political, and religious violence as well as natural disasters. In May the CNDH released a report stating that 35,433 IDPs were displaced due to drug trafficking violence, religious conflicts, and land disputes. Tamaulipas reportedly had the highest number of IDPs at approximately 20,000, followed by Guerrero with 2,165, and Chihuahua with 2,008. NGO estimates of IDP numbers were higher: hundreds of thousands of citizens, many fleeing areas of armed conflict among organized criminal groups, or between the government and organized criminal groups, became internally displaced.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. During the year COMAR increased refugee status recognition by 60 percent. In the summer the INM entered into an agreement with UNHCR to relinquish custody to UNHCR those migrants who, while in INM custody, claimed a need for asylum. As of August 31 the INM had turned over approximately 200 persons to UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to assure the free expression of the will of the people.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the June gubernatorial races in 12 states and local races in 13 states and the 2011 and 2015 legislative and 2012 presidential elections to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: A 2014 constitutional reform requires parties to select equal numbers of women and men to run for seats in the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and state congresses. The law also requires that each candidate’s substitute be of the same gender as the candidate to prevent instances of women gaining office and then stepping down so a male substitute can take the position, previously a common practice. Women held approximately 36 percent of Senate seats and 32 percent of federal deputy seats.

No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the process and women and minorities did so. There were no established quotas for increased participation of indigenous groups in the legislative body, and no reliable statistics were available regarding minority participation in government. The law provides for the right of indigenous people to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law rather than federal and state electoral law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials and security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included overpaying for goods and services to provide payment to elected officials and political parties.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass a vetting process upon entry into service and every two years thereafter throughout their careers. According to SEGOB and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal level underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that police who failed vetting remained on duty. The CNDH reported that police, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

During the year the government adopted a new National Anticorruption System that gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for corrupt government officials, provides the Superior Audit Office (ASF) with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. Observers hailed the legislation as a major achievement in the fight against corruption, although some NGOs criticized the provision that allows public servants to opt out of declaring assets.

Corruption: In October the PGR indicted and issued an arrest warrant for the governor of Veracruz who went into hiding. In midyear the ASF filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against 14 state governments for misappropriation of billions of dollars in federal funds. The ASF also investigated several state governors, including the former governors of Chihuahua, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Nuevo Leon. The investigations continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: In July the Congress passed a law requiring all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns, though it is possible to opt-out of making the information available to the public. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, and also require yearly updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless the official petitions for a waiver to keep them private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. Opposition political parties petitioned the Supreme Court in midyear to overturn the section of the law that would allow officials a waiver to keep the disclosures private.

Public Access to Information: A 2015 law grants free public access to government information at the state and federal levels. Authorities implemented the law effectively at the federal level and continued to work on harmonizing state-level laws for implementation in the states. The law includes exceptions to disclosure of government information, including for information that may compromise national security, affect the conduct of foreign relations, harm the country’s financial stability, endanger another person’s life, or for information relating to pending law enforcement investigations. The law also limits disclosure of personal information to third parties.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation regarding “race, nationality age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.” The law provides for labor protection for pregnant women.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua is a multiparty constitutional republic, but actions by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party resulted in de facto concentration of power in a single party, with an authoritarian executive branch exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced in November the re-election of President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the FSLN following an electoral process regarded as deeply flawed by domestic organizations and the international community. The elections also expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. Observers noted serious flaws during the 2012 municipal elections and 2014 regional elections.

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

The principal human rights abuses were restrictions on citizens’ right to vote, biased policies to realize single-party dominance, and increased government harassment and intimidation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations.

Additional significant human rights abuses included arbitrary police arrest and detention of suspects, including abuse during detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions with arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention; obstacles to freedom of speech and press, including government intimidation and harassment of journalists and independent media, as well as increased restriction of access to public information, including national statistics from public offices. There was also widespread corruption, including in the police, CSE, Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and other government organs; societal violence, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous persons and communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and violations of trade union rights.

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

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, many during confrontations with illegal armed groups in the northern part of the country; however, a lack of clear and impartial investigations into deaths made attribution difficult. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated.

On April 18, Andres Cerrato was kidnapped, shot, and killed in the community of San Martin de Daca, in Ayapal, Jinotega. As early as February, Cerrato reportedly experienced repeated harassment by the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and army, which accused him of aiding politically motivated armed groups in the region. Cerrato’s family claimed armed men forcibly took him from his home at or after midnight. His body was found approximately three miles from his home later that day, bearing gunshot wounds and signs of torture. Prior to his death, Cerrato had claimed that soldiers entered his home in March and forcibly coerced him into confessing to having information on members of armed groups, although Cerrato denied any ties to the groups. Following Cerrato’s death, the army stated it did not conduct such operations and did not have information on the case.

Reports of shootings were increasingly common in the area of Jinotega. These shootings were widely believed to be related to the army’s pursuit of what many refer to as armed antigovernment groups in the north central region, although the army claims only the presence of criminals and/or delinquents.

There were no developments in or investigations of the January 2015 killing of Modesto Duarte Altamirano or the 2014 killing of Carlos Garcia, a former Contra and member of the Independent Liberal Party (see also section 1.d., “Role of the Police and Security Apparatus”).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were numerous reports that police abused suspects during arrest, used excessive force, and engaged in degrading treatment. In the first six months of the year, the NGO Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 610 complaints against the NNP for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. CENIDH was able to confirm abuse in 391 of those complaints.

There were numerous claims of torture by agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), a special police investigations unit, especially during arrests related to organized crime. Human rights organizations alleged the directorate operated outside the normal NNP chain of authority and was not accountable to normal NNP internal affairs procedures.

Following their release, two prisoners arrested for involvement in a 2014 attack on an FSLN bus caravan claimed to the press that they were regularly beaten while in the DAJ prison. Additionally, a Mexican student reportedly held in custody at the DAJ prison for nine days appeared for his trial with bloodshot eyes and bruises. Prison officials claimed that the bruising was “self-inflicted” to discredit the government.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. Pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners. Juvenile prisoners shared cells with adults due to overcrowding. Human rights organizations reported police regularly left suspects in holding cells during their trials due to negligence or a lack of funds to transport them to court.

Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. Released prisoners and family members of prisoners reported there was poor ventilation and lighting in the DAJ prison. Family members, churches, and charitable organizations supplemented the national budget of 10 cordobas ($0.35) per prisoner per day for food. There was no budget allocation for health or personal care.

Conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men but were nevertheless overcrowded and unhygienic.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, and the government took no steps to improve it. The problem was particularly serious in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN) and the South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS). In certain instances, the government restricted prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, physicians, and human rights officials. Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur. The government announced in February that it had provided early release to more than 8,000 prisoners since 2014, and in November it further stated that approximately 1,600 additional prisoners serving less than five years for misdemeanors had been released on parole. Due to a lack of consistent national statistics from previous years, it was difficult to estimate the impact of these releases on prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government frequently denied prison visits by local human rights groups as well as the media. The government denied CENIDH access to all prison facilities when it attempted to investigate reports of hazardous conditions. NGOs generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner, due to lack of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government and its agents did not always comply with or enforce the law. Human rights NGOs noted several cases of arbitrary arrests by the NNP and army, including irregular arrests and detentions while the NNP investigated armed opposition groups in the Pacific north of the country.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The constitution establishes the NNP as an apolitical, nonpartisan institution protecting all citizens equally under the law. The NNP Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating complaints and abuses regarding police officers or internal police activities. Many duties previously held by the Ministry of Interior to administer the NNP, with the president as commander in chief, were transferred to the presidency in accordance with changes made to the constitution in 2014. The Ministry of Interior and the NNP each have law enforcement and internal security responsibilities throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior oversees the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigner Services, which works together with the police to oversee topics of migration and border security.

The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic responsibilities, including countering illicit trafficking in narcotics and providing for the transportation of election-related materials, including ballots. Many informed observers in civil society and the independent press regarded the army functionally as an autonomous force responding directly to the president, following a series of constitutional and military code reforms enacted in 2014, which gave the president greater control over the armed forces. The Office of the Inspectorate General is responsible for investigating abuses and corruption in the army, but limited public information was available on its activities.

There were instances in which the government failed to maintain effective control over the NNP, and the government failed to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There continued to be numerous reports of impunity involving security forces.

The NNP Office of Internal Affairs, and to a lesser extent the Office of the Inspector General, are responsible for investigating police abuse; however, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency of the justice system contributed to a public perception of police impunity. According to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in 2015 the NNP received 162 complaints of use of excessive force. Of these, the NNP investigated 127 and found officers guilty in 93. Information on the final disposition of those found guilty was not available. Due to the lack of specificity on the activities of the Office of Internal Affairs and a general lack of access to government information, human rights organizations and experts on security found it difficult to assess how the NNP investigated allegations of human rights violations by its members. The government generally did not take action on complaints against security forces.

NGOs reported that President Ortega had politicized the NNP and led many to question its professionalism. For instance, the president renewed the tenure of the national chief of police for a third consecutive term, making her the longest standing police chief since 1990. The extension was legal under changes to the constitution in 2014, but the president had previously extended her term through a 2011 executive decree that allegedly violated term limits prescribed in law at the time. The extension followed after sweeping changes to the police code granted the president greater power over the NNP. The media also highlighted the NNP’s use of an emblem with President Ortega and Sandino’s shadow as part of the officer’s uniform, and the use of the FSLN red and black party flag painted on select police stations or at police celebrations. NGOs and the press alleged the NNP continued to provide preferential treatment for progovernment and FSLN rallies.

The 2015 Sovereign Security Law significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security and established a National Committee of Sovereign Security (NCSS), an executive-level committee with the enforcement backing of the military. The law defines “sovereign security” as the “existence of permanent peace” within the country and states the government is responsible to protect against “any risk, threat, or conflict that puts itself against sovereign security.” The law includes “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation,” when outlining potential risks and threats to the nation’s sovereign security. The law stipulates the NCSS, made up of representatives from the NNP and the military, has the power to dispatch security forces. Human rights groups continued to express strong concern over the law and its implications on democratic space in the country.

Impunity remained a problem. There were no developments in the 2013 killing of four civilians, including former Contra leader Joaquin Torres Diaz, alias “Cascabel,” or the 2013 killing of Yairon Diaz Pastrana in Pantasma, all allegedly killed by military forces. According to local NGOs, there was no effort to investigate police beatings of and use of excessive force against demonstrators during 2013 protests in front of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The NNP and prosecutors declared they had no official evidence of the event to continue an investigation, despite videos on YouTube and other public media.

Likewise, there were no developments in the 2012 death of former Contra Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (“Pablo Negro”) or in the 2012 case of community leaders Pedro Ramon Castro and Miguel Angel Oliva, who allegedly were killed by four NNP members in the municipality of Pantasma.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours. While the law also stipulates a prosecutor accompany police making an arrest, CENIDH claimed irregularities in arrest procedures led to arbitrary arrest and detentions.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. After the initial 48 hours, the suspect should be allowed family member visits. The detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. In most instances detainees were informed of charges against them, although there were instances when this did not occur, and at other times there were delays. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly. There were numerous reports of the use of the DAJ jail cells for arbitrary arrests for more than the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Many arrests were allegedly made without warrants and without informing family members or legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, especially in the RACN and the RACS, where detainees often waited an average of six months for their cases to be presented to a judge. Observers attributed delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, procedural information for doing so was not publically available. There were reports on the obstacles legal counsels faced when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system did not function independently. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the CSJ, a process unduly affected by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political and economic pressures that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of a delay of justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be fully informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires that defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected. Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to all information and evidence registered with the government, as well as the right to know why and how it was obtained, but only during the discovery and trial phases, not during the pretrial period. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not granted court translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends these rights to all citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, or other status.

Independent press reported the court system had unofficial orders to forego jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. The president of the CSJ did not refute these claims but instead reinforced that judges were free to act independently in these matters, while also referring to issues of overcrowding in prisons and preventive detention facilities. According to reports, this order applied only to domestic violence cases considered mild.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There was no reliable information available on the number or treatment of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court orders.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases because criminal cases were often resolved more quickly. In a number of instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government resolved some property claims during the year, it regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. Enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. The government failed to evict those who illegally took possession of private property.

Several foreign citizens claimed they were arrested and at times sentenced for unrelated–and they claimed untrue–crimes, due to outstanding property disputes with well-placed citizens of the country. In April, Juan Venerio Espinales was found guilty of shooting and killing two men who were part of a group of squatters allegedly attempting to seize his property in Chinandega. He stated that he did so only after authorities failed to take action in the matter.

The Small Business Enterprise Association, several domestic NGOs, and opposition members alleged the government seized minor private property such as laptops, cell phones, and vehicles without due process.

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

While the law prohibits such actions, several domestic NGOs, members of the Catholic Church, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their e-mail and telephone conversations.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACS and the RACN, alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership in order to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of these rights. Although the law provides that the right to information cannot be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing opinions in public on matters of special importance to the ruling party. On February 26, civil society figure Carlos Bonilla and his wife and fellow activist, Gabriela Garcia, both well-known members of the opposition and outspoken critics of the government, received multiple knife wounds and bruises when five men attacked them. The two were on their way to present the CSE with results from a survey conducted by their organization regarding public perception of inefficiency and corruption within the CSE. According to eyewitness reports, neighbors captured and held two of the attackers and presented them to the police. The police never announced an investigation into the attack and never released any information on the whereabouts of the detained.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment but were generally allowed to express a variety of views. The government restricted media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of arbitrary justifications based on pending legislation and alleged national security concerns. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government.

On October 7, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a prominent civil society leader and owner of the leading investigative weekly newspaper Confidencial, said that in September, two workers on his staff were separately approached and intimidated by members of the ruling party and by a military official. In each case the party members questioned the staffers on the internal workings of the newspaper, requested a list of visitors to the offices, access codes to the newspaper website, and descriptions of the security measures protecting their workplace. The military dismissed Chamorro’s accusations.

The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent media outlets, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern that incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and fear of criminal defamation charges created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. Independent news outlets reported that generally they were not permitted to attend official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.

Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the reforms are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner and extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and the media criticized the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation, given that Law 200 regulates routine administrative processes, such as the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting and license adjudication. Furthermore, radio owners reported were afraid of deferring long-term investments due to the lack of updated licenses.

In one example, the transfer of ownership of leading independent radio station Radio Dario in Leon, following the 2014 death of the station’s founder, Juan Toruno, remained unresolved. Toruno’s son, who served as Radio Dario’s general manager, filed documents shortly after his father’s death for the administrative action of transferring ownership. Citing the pending status of Law 200, officials had yet to finalize the process, leaving the station vulnerable to seizure or closure.

The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua (CINCO) reported that control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television increasingly was controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by President Ortega’s family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government.

Generally, media stations owned by the presidential family limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Some independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit their advertising in the independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers.

In January officials, apparently from the Nicaraguan Telecommunications Office, seized the broadcast equipment of independent station Radio Emperador. The individuals overseeing the seizure were not identifiable as public servants and did not present themselves as such, yet they informed officials from the station that the station’s documentation was not in order.

Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, opposition-leaning La Prensa, claimed that government officials and supporters regularly intimidated journalists, actively hindered investigations, and failed to respond to questions on a variety of problems, particularly those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. There were several reported cases of threats against the press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. Additionally, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines structured around the minimum wage. The penalties for slander and libel range from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

The government continued to enforce the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which print media owners and international NGOs claimed restricted the public’s access to independent and opposition newspapers through the establishment of high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite protections in the constitution protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their e-mail without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.

The International Telecommunication Union reported that approximately 20 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.

Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in elementary and secondary public schools to participate in progovernment rallies while schools were in session. Political propaganda for the ruling party was seen on walls inside public schools. Teacher organizations and NGOs alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or children of FSLN members, politicized issuance of scholarships, and the use of pro-FSLN education materials.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law recognizes the right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization but requires demonstrators to obtain permission for a rally or march by registering its planned size and location with the police. CENIDH and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) reported police generally protected or otherwise gave preferential treatment to progovernment FSLN demonstrations while disrupting or denying registration for opposition groups. In many cases police did not protect opposition protesters when progovernment supporters harassed or attacked them.

On November 30, groups opposing the planned construction of an interoceanic canal organized a nationwide protest centered in Managua. Organizers reported that police arbitrarily stopped thousands of protesters and prevented their participation, using tactics that included a heavy deployment of antiriot police at key rural intersections leading to the capital, using heavy machinery to block bridges and roads near communities where protesters lived and threatening to revoke licenses or seize buses and trucks from companies transporting demonstrators. NNP officials seized two vehicles owned by protest organizer and recognized leader of the anti-canal movement, Francisca Ramirez. The vehicles were later returned with significant damage. The NNP reportedly used rubber bullets on protesters, injuring several, and there were reports of traffic backups of up to 12 miles on highways leading into the capital due to checkpoints.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to organize or affiliate with political parties; however, the CSE and National Assembly used their accreditation powers for political purposes. National Assembly accreditation is mandatory for NGOs to receive donations. Domestic NGOs complained the Ortega administration’s control of access to funding from foreign donors reduced their ability to operate.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens and the government generally respected these rights. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government enforced strict controls for migrants seeking to cross the country from Costa Rica. The government reported the drowning deaths of at least 10 illegal migrants in Lake Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees had not met since 2015. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that migration authorities generally refused to register any new asylum applications. UNHCR reported that in 2015, 185 new applications for asylum were registered but had not yet been considered. Another 205 claims were reported during the year, but UNHCR did not have further information on government actions regarding these requests. Opposition members noted the contrast between a lack of response to new requests for refugee status and asylum by the government, and the promptness with which former Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes received political asylum status. Without access to official information, it was impossible to know of other requests that were accepted and the swiftness with which they were processed.

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. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution.

Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the government recognized 61 persons for refugee status in 2015.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot; however, the government in previous years restricted the exercise of this ability and took further measures to do so during the reporting year.

January 2014 constitutional reforms allow uniformed military and police officials to hold public office, allow indefinite re-election, and extend the terms of public officers indefinitely if the National Assembly does not name new officers.

The November 6 elections for president, vice president, national assembly members, and representatives for the Central American parliament did not meet the conditions of being free and fair. Domestic observers, business leaders, representatives of the Catholic Church, and many members of society believed that with the lack of accredited national and international observers, the control of the ruling party over most of the societal checks to prove the fairness of the elections, and the ruling party’s use of its control over other branches of government to halt the participation of any significant opposition resulted in an illegitimate electoral process.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The November 6 presidential and legislative elections were marred by allegations of institutional fraud and the absence of independent opposition political parties. National observers and opposition leaders claimed rates of abstention from 60 to 70 percent, contrary to the 68.2 percent voter participation rate posted by the CSE. Opposition party members also reported that government officials transported supporters of the ruling party to voting centers. Opposition party members and observers claimed the ruling party used its control over the CSE to commit fraud. There were reports of public-sector employees being pressured to vote and show proof the next day at work that they had voted. National observers and opposition representatives claimed that opposition poll watchers were denied accreditation, FSLN-affiliated poll watchers posed as opposition poll workers, and votes were not counted in accordance with the law.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The FSLN used state resources for political activities to enhance its electoral advantage in recent elections. The FSLN made party membership mandatory for an increasing number of public sector employees. The CPDH and the Nicaraguan Pro Human Rights Association (ANPDH) reported that employees in various state institutions were required to affiliate with the FSLN, and that to apply for a government position an applicant must receive a written recommendation from the FSLN. The ANPDH also received reports the FSLN automatically deducted party dues from the paychecks of certain state employees.

The FSLN also used its authority to decide who could obtain national identity cards (cedulas). Persons without identity cards had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership. Civil society organizations continued to express concern about the politicized distribution of identity cards, alleging this was how the FSLN attempted to manipulate past elections and that the CSE failed to provide identity cards to opposition members while widely distributing them to party loyalists.

On June 8, the CSJ issued a ruling five years after the filing of a suit over the legal representation of the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI). The CSJ ruled against the PLI’s representative and main opposition coordinator, Eduardo Montealegre, transferring the party to a legal representative widely considered beholden to the FSLN, Pedro Reyes.

As the party receiving the second most votes in the 2011 presidential election, the PLI was constitutionally entitled to designate party representatives to sit on Municipal Electoral Councils (CEMs) and Departmental Electoral Councils (CEDs) along with representatives of the FSLN. The CEMs and CEDs resolve electoral disputes and provide oversight of the electoral process by geographic regions. The timing of the CSJ ruling severely curtailed the PLI’s ability to fill these positions, allowing the FSLN to fill these bodies with its supporters. Observers also noted that these actions, in conjunction with President Ortega’s June 4 announcement that there would be no national or international observation of the elections, left no mechanism for credible, independent oversight during the November elections.

On July 29, at Pedro Reyes’ request, the CSE removed 28 PLI national assembly members from their elected positions because they refused to recognize the new leadership.

On November 18, Pedro Reyes confirmed reports that he had been removed as national president of the PLI, claiming that the CSE informed him that his removal came at the behest of the party’s executive board and was in accordance with PLI party rules. Reyes stated the CSE further advised him that he was blocked from participating in party activities for three years.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Constitutional reforms in 2014 mandated equal representation of men and women in all elected bodies, including councilmembers, mayors and vice mayors, and representatives to the National Assembly. Observers viewed these changes as superficial, noting that women in these positions did not hold significant power or influence within their respective bodies. While the law does not mention the presidential and vice presidential positions specifically, all parties but one presented a man and a woman as their presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively, for the November elections. Some opposition parties expressed fear of being disqualified from the ballot if they did not meet the requirement of equal representation for the presidential ballot, despite this not being an explicit requirement of the law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Executive branch officials continued to disburse economic and developmental assistance funds lent by the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which averaged more than $550 million dollars per year from 2010 to 2013 but has recently plummeted to approximately $200 million in 2016, outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature. The media reported that ALBA-funded contracts were awarded to companies with ties to the Ortega family and noted the funds from Venezuela served as a separate budget tightly controlled by the FSLN, with little public oversight. Cases of mismanagement of these funds by public officials were reportedly handled personally by members of the ruling party, rather than by the government entities in charge of oversight of public funds.

Independent media, human rights groups, and opposition parties reported President Ortega’s administration blurred distinctions between the FSLN and the government through its use of FSLN-led family cabinets (community-based bodies that administer government social programs) and party-controlled Sandinista leadership committees (CLSs). The government administered subsidized food, housing, vaccinations, access to clinics, and other benefits directly through either the family cabinets or CLS system, which reportedly often coerced citizens into FSLN membership and denied services to opposition members. Persons seeking to obtain or retain public sector employment, national identity documents, or voter registration were obliged to obtain recommendation letters from CLS block captains. The government continued to devolve legal responsibilities to family cabinets, specifically regarding mediation processes in cases of domestic violence.

Indigenous leaders, property owners, and civil society organizations continued to request detailed information and express objections to the 2013 100-year concession given to the Hong Kong Nicaraguan Canal Development Investment Company to build and operate an interoceanic canal through the country. A number of organizations, human rights groups, and landowners, collectively known as the National Council for the Defense of our Land, Lake, and National Sovereignty, tried formally to challenge the law that allows the concession in both the National Assembly and the CSJ. Both institutions, however, blocked these requests.

Corruption: Companies reported that bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures, and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities were common. In a survey of 2,500 companies, one-third of all respondents reported arbitrary and illegal actions by government offices that regulate property rights and business establishment.

The courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and other forms of corruption, especially by the FSLN, giving the sense that the FSLN heavily influenced CSJ and lower-level court actions. In February the press reported on the release of more than 8,000 prisoners since 2014 through a program that existed outside the Ministry of Interior and bypassed the legal judicial process that provides judges sole authorization for prisoner releases. The government confirmed the release and justified it as a program to provide for the humanitarian release of prisoners and reunite families. Human rights organizations, however, noted that several prisoners who had previously received court orders for release, issued through the judicial system, remained incarcerated. Private-sector representatives additionally reported an increase in judicial corruption for extorting money.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws. The law requires these declarations be made public and provides for sanctions in cases of noncompliance. In practice few public officers made these declarations public, and there was no public record of sanctions for noncompliance. The Office of the Comptroller is responsible for combating corruption within government agencies and offices. Observers, however, questioned the impartiality of the comptroller, especially concerning the lack of oversight of ALBA funds given directly to the government. Since 2007 the comptroller had not investigated any government office or mandated sanctions due to noncompliance as required by law.

Public Access to Information: Although the law mandates public access to government information and statistics, lack of transparency and access to information remained serious problems. Government budget documents were widely and easily accessible to the general public, but they did not provide a complete picture of revenues and expenditures. For example, the government did not account for the expenditure of significant off-budget assistance from Venezuela (see above), and this assistance was not subject to audit or legislative oversight. Delays and denial of information were common, while appeals mechanisms were overly burdensome and slow. Control of government information is centralized in the Communication and Citizenship Council, headed by First Lady Rosario Murillo, but there is no provision for that office in the law. Media and civil society organizations, such as CINCO and Foundation Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, repeatedly reported that requests for official information without express authorization from the council were often refused. The law provides for exceptions to disclosure in cases related to national security and trade secrets. There are no mandated timelines for compliance with disclosure requests.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, sexual orientation, and gender identity (see section 6).

Panama

Executive Summary

Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In May 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez as president in national elections that international and domestic observers considered generally free and fair. Varela assumed the presidency in July 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights problems were lengthy pretrial detention, harsh prison conditions marked by overcrowding, and widespread, low-level corruption, often practiced with impunity.

Other human rights problems included delayed court proceedings, including a judiciary susceptible to corruption and outside influence; violence against women and children; trafficking in persons; marginalization of indigenous people; societal discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, and disabilities; lengthy refugee processing; and child labor.

The Varela administration and the Public Ministry continued investigations into allegations of corruption against public officials.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh, due primarily to overcrowding, a shortage of prison guards, lack of adequate medical services, and inadequate sanitary conditions. There were no private detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of November the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,174 inmates, held 17,165 prisoners. Pretrial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints. Prison conditions for women were generally better than for men, but conditions for both populations remained poor, with overcrowded facilities, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Some older facilities lacked potable water and adequate ventilation. There were no reports of inadequate lighting.

Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials. There were 1,005 prison guards nationwide, including 176 new guards hired during the year, almost double the 547 guards in 2010. Officials estimated the system required 1,400 guards. In adult prisons, inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that insufficient Panama National Police (PNP) agent coverage limited exercise time for inmates on certain days.

In March, prompted by a motion filed before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), authorities transferred the six high-level gang leaders who were detained in the Punta Coco facility on a Pacific island to the Gran Joya complex on the mainland, leaving the facility vacant. Since Punta Coco’s 2015 opening, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had complained that there was no physician on the island; inmates could receive medical assistance only from the sole National Air Naval Service paramedic stationed there. In September, using public safety as a justification, President Varela ordered the transfer of four high-risk Chorrillo gang members to Punta Coco after they injured a child. The gang members’ lawyer argued that the poor conditions of the detention center, including mosquito infestation, violated the detainees’ human rights. They were transferred to a mainland prison in late November, leaving the facility vacant, and subsequently released pending trial.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that the principal prisoner concern was poor or inadequate medical attention. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses were the most-common diseases among the prison population. Prison medical care was inadequate due to lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August there were 73 medical staff (39 physicians, and 34 nurses and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging for the inmates’ transportation. The penitentiary system did not have an ambulance; inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available. As of September prison medical units continued to lack sufficient medicine. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including PNP members, to bypass the required clearances.

As of October, 25 male inmates had died in custody. Twenty-one of these deaths resulted from chronic illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV, and all but two occurred after inmates had been transferred to medical centers for attention. An additional four individuals died in prison from inmate-on-inmate violence.

Administration: The computerized system installed in 2015 to update and ensure accurate information on all inmates, including biographical data on inmates, their legal status, and information related to rehabilitation programs in which they participated, remained inaccessible to prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Office, legal authorities of the judiciary, and the judicial investigative directorate within the National Police. During the year the penitentiary system’s new Office for Special Projects installed more sophisticated software to allow interagency access, but as of August the software was not fully functional.

The penitentiary system continued to apply a policy of “two-for-one” reduction in time served, in which two days’ work and/or study resulted in a one-day reduction in time remaining on the sentence. Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but authorities did not make the results of such investigations public. The Ombudsman’s Office negotiated and petitioned on behalf of prisoners and received complaints about prison conditions. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to conduct weekly prison visits to prisons in Panama City and Colon and, twice a year, to prisons elsewhere in the country. The government generally did not monitor its meetings with prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The Roman Catholic NGO Justice and Peace visited the two prisons in David, Chiriqui. The NGO reported overcrowding and corrupt behavior by prison officials, which included smuggled weapons, cigarettes, and cell phones for the inmates. Human rights NGOs wishing access to the prisons during fixed visiting hours must send a written request to the National Directorate of the Penitentiary System 15 days in advance.

Improvements: During the year the government reduced overcrowding at juvenile centers, including by employing alternatives to detention. The government also continued to transfer nonviolent prisoners to the La Nueva Joya complex; as of July, 2,283 inmates occupied 48 percent of the complex. By August authorities released 963 inmates throughout the penitentiary system due to sentence reductions and conditional releases. In September the president signed amendments to Law 42, which provides a career path for civilian prison officials, technicians, and administrative personnel within the National Directorate of the Penitentiary System.

In October, 139 prison inmates were the first beneficiaries of a higher learning partnership program between the prison system and Panamanian institutions of higher education.

During the year La Joyita’s 60-bed clinic was remodeled and better equipped, although only available for limited hours.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. The PNP is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order. Civilian authorities in the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency maintained effective control over all police, investigative, border, air, maritime, and migration services in the country. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but information on the process and results of investigations were rarely made public. Due to the lack of prison guards, the PNP was increasingly responsible for security both outside and inside of the prisons. Its leadership expressed concern over insufficient training and equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

There were two judicial systems operating during the year, as the country completed its transition to an accusatory justice system in September, but cases opened prior to September 2 in the country’s largest judicial districts (Panama, Colon, Darien, and Guna Yala continued to be tried under the old inquisitorial system.

Under the inquisitorial system, the prosecutor’s office issues detention orders based on evidence. The law provides for suspects to be brought promptly before a judge. Lack of prompt arraignment continued to be a problem for cases tried under the old system; under the new system, a magistrate must arraign suspects expeditiously.

A functioning bail system existed for a limited number of crimes but was largely unused for most cases tried under the old system. Most bail proceedings are at the discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office and cannot be independently initiated by detainees or their legal counsel.

The law requires arresting officers to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for arrest or detention and of the right to immediate legal counsel. Detainees gained prompt access to legal counsel and family members, and the government provided indigent defendants with a lawyer.

The law prohibits police from detaining adult suspects for more than 48 hours but allows authorities to detain minor suspects for 72 hours.

The preliminary investigation phase of detention under the old system lasted eight days to two months and the follow-up investigation phase lasted two to four months, depending on the number of suspects. In the new system, arrests and detention decisions are made on the basis of probable cause.

Pretrial Detention: The government regularly imprisoned inmates under the inquisitorial system for more than a year before a judge’s pretrial hearing, and in some cases pretrial detention exceeded the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. As of July according to government statistics, 66 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees. Some criticized the judiciary for applying unequal pretrial restrictive measures for individuals facing substantially similar charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption and outside influence, and faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch.

During the year the judiciary hired 931 lawyers to serve as public defenders, judges, and magistrates under the new accusatory system; however, the NGO Pro-Justice Alliance and the National Bar Association complained that the Supreme Court did not comply with Law 53 of 2015, which establishes hiring practices and merit-based promotions in the judiciary. In addition, the NGO alleged that the new hires lacked independence, as some of them previously worked for current Chief Justice Jose Ayu Prado. The Supreme Court hired the 931 new employees on a “temporary” basis allegedly due to insufficient time and budget for permanent staff.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides that all citizens charged with crimes enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary for non-Spanish speaking inmates from the moment charged through all appeals), to a fair trial without undue delay, to counsel of their choice and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to refrain from incriminating themselves or close relatives, and to be tried only once for a given offense. The accused may be present with counsel during the investigative phase of proceedings.

During the year the government completed the transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatory system of justice. In July the judiciary received 9.5 million balboas ($9.5 million) of the 20 million balboas ($20 million) requested in order to implement the new system, an amount the judiciary said, that only covered the salaries of newly hired justice employees, procurement of basic equipment, staff training, and facility costs. The Public Ministry received an additional 10 million balboas ($10 million) funding to implement its requirements under the new accusatory system of justice.

On September 2, the government implemented the accusatory system in the provinces of Panama (including the Special District of San Miguelito), Colon, Darien, and the Guna Yala, Wargandi, Madugandi, and Embera Wounnan comarcas (indigenous regions with a high degree of administrative autonomy). On September 3, a woman received a 60-month prison sentence for drug trafficking–the first conviction under the accusatory system in Panama Province.

Under the accusatory system, trials are open to the public. Judges may order the presence of pretrial detainees for providing or expanding upon statements or for confronting witnesses. Trials are conducted based on evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the judiciary generally enforced them.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear. The penitentiary system cited lack of sufficient PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. As of September amendments to Law 42 give prison officials the authority to provide security during transfers, providing an alternate mechanism to transport inmates for court, medical, and other appointments.

The judiciary continued to promote videoconference hearings. Judges were increasingly receptive to using this tool, and during the year the government added several video conference and hearing rooms to prison facilities.

According to judiciary statistics, judicial response time has decreased since the accusatory justice system was implemented–from 278 days to 86 days in the Second Judicial District (Cocle, Veraguas), from 422 days to 18 days in the Third Judicial District (Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro and Comarca Ngabe Bugle), and from 170 days to 60 days in the Fourth Judicial District (Herrera, Los Santos).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees. Some individuals detained under corruption charges claimed their charges were politically motivated because they had served under former president Ricardo Martinelli’s administration.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, although most do not pursue such lawsuits due to the length of the process. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities often granted them to citizens who followed through with the process. The court can order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured. Individuals or organizations may initiate cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights by submitting petitions to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law also sets forth requirements for conducting wiretap surveillance. It denies prosecutors authority to order wiretaps on their own and requires judicial oversight.

The investigation of the 2015 illegal wiretapping case against former president Martinelli, as well as against Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Perez, two former intelligence directors in his administration, continued during the year. In October the Foreign Ministry announced it had formally sought Martinelli’s extradition from the United States.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. Some journalists complained of harassment, intimidation, and threats when covering stories of impropriety, corruption, or other crimes involving members of the Ministry of Public Security or members of the public security forces.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were reports that the government discouraged journalists from writing stories critical of the administration. According to the Journalists’ Union of Panama, as of September the National College of Journalists received 20 complaints of government pressure against media critics.

The Supreme Court upheld the defamation conviction against two El Panama America journalists, Jean Marcel Chery and Gustavo Aparicio, for reporting on the 2001 construction of a private road using private funds of former magistrate and minister Winston Spadafora. The court ordered the journalists to pay Spadafora 25,000 balboas ($25,000). Journalistic associations and the local media condemned the ruling as having a chilling effect on media’s ability to monitor public servants’ financial activities.

During the year the Thirteenth Civil Court ordered daily La Prensa to pay brothers David and Daniel Ochy 600,000 balboas ($600,000) for a 2012 case on the grounds of “moral damages.” A La Prensa publication had reported the Ministry of Public Works favored the Ochys’ construction company, TRANSCARIBE Trading, with projects worth millions of dollars.

During the year media outlets controlled by political and business leaders facing legal proceedings claimed those proceedings limited their freedoms of expression. The media outlets continued to publish and broadcast freely throughout the year.

Violence and Harassment: In March journalist Ana Sierra from the Metro Libre daily claimed that the security chief of a local hospital intimidated her and forced her to delete photos she had taken of patients she interviewed despite the fact that she had the patients’ permission to take the photographs.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government 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.

Forty-eight percent of the population used the internet. Under Law 59 of 2008, the National Authority for Government Innovation provides free, wireless internet in public spaces that reached 86 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, police at times used force to disperse demonstrators, especially when highways or streets were blocked. The law provides for six to 24 months’ imprisonment for anyone who, through use of violence, impedes the transit of vehicles on public roads or causes damage to public or private property.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, 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 refugees, persons under temporary humanitarian protection (THP), asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

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 process of obtaining refugee status generally took at least a year, but the National Office for the Attention of Refugees (ONPAR) considered expediting cases involving vulnerable applicants, such as pregnant women, minors, and migrants in detention centers.

ONPAR coordinated with the National Migration Service, the Ministry of Labor, UNHCR, the National Civil Registry, and the Colombian embassy to grant legal permanent residency to a Colombian THP group that lived in the Darien region for more than 18 years. The regularization process for those with THP status was completed during the year.

As of September the National Border Protection Force (SENAFRONT) had apprehended 17,306 irregular migrants in the Darien region. While still historically high, apprehensions were down from 31,749 individuals in 2015. Cuban nationals accounted for 5,083 of the migrants. An executive decree allows Cubans who arrive lawfully to receive transit visas without being detained; however, emergency shelters in Paso Canoas housed approximately 3,168 Cuban migrants when Costa Rica closed its border with Panama in February and April. On both occasions, Panama and Mexico reached an agreement to facilitate an “air bridge” for Cuban migrants to fly to Mexico. Cuban migration overland through Panama nearly ended after the government closed its border with Colombia in May.

As of September SENAFRONT also apprehended 7,352 undocumented migrants claiming Congolese nationality whom the government suspected of being Haitian nationals. The government managed camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to the migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from South Asia and Africa. Migration authorities opened two new emergency camps in addition to a Roman Catholic-run shelter, where migrants were held for biometric registration before being transferred to the Costa Rica border.

According to UNHCR and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country might be in need of international protection. These included persons in the asylum process, persons not granted asylum, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by the authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards.

All foreigners seeking a work contract must initiate the process through a lawyer and pay a government fee of 700 balboas ($700) to obtain a work permit that expires upon termination of the labor contract or after one year, whichever comes first.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education, while refusing to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education enforced the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

The government generally permitted freedom of movement for recognized refugees and asylum seekers.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage. The law provides for direct popular election every five years of the president, vice president, legislators, and local representatives. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez, the candidate of the opposition party, The People First Alliance, as president in national elections independent observers considered generally free and fair. Elected at the same time were 71 national legislators, 77 mayors, 648 local representatives, and seven council members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires new political parties to meet strict membership and organizational standards to gain official recognition and participate in national campaigns. The law also requires that political parties obtain the equivalent of 4 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing. The Revolutionary Democratic Party, Panamenista Party, Democratic Change Party, and Popular Party all complied with the requirement. In July the Broad Front for Democracy gathered more than 57,000 petition signatures in support of its registration as a party, short of the 74,000 needed to regain legal recognition following its failure to obtain 4 percent of the vote in the 2014 election. The Electoral Tribunal also oversees internal party elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women participated in political life on the same basis as men. Women represented 12 of 71 members in the National Assembly, 1 of 9 Supreme Court Justices, and 12 of 40 cabinet level officials, including the vice president and vice ministers.

Five seats in the legislature are designated to represent the country’s recognized indigenous regions. Afro-Panamanians make up a majority of the country’s ethnic minorities. There were three Afro-Panamanians on the Supreme Court and nine Afro-Panamanian deputies in the National Assembly; no Afro-Panamanians served in the cabinet or in any other high-level government positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively; however, there were allegations that government officials and members of the previous government administration engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches as well as in the security forces.

Anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower, and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules exist.

Corruption: The National Authority for Transparency and Access to Public Information (ANTAI) combats and investigates government corruption. During the year there were several credible allegations of corruption against current or former members of the government.

In March the government established the High Level Secretariat to Prevent Corruption (SEPRECO) to improve transparency. As a pilot program under ANTAI’s authority, SEPRECO was tasked with preventing corruption in public bids and payment of bribes and protecting foreign investment.

In April, the Tenth District Penal judge sentenced a former Social Security Fund finance and managing director, Alberto Maggiori, to eight years in prison for embezzlement in awarding two linked companies contracts of more than two million dollars in 2011 and 2012. Maggiori also faced criminal charges in a different corruption case.

The anticorruption prosecutor continued the investigation of Panama Canal Authority board member Lourdes Castillo, her business partner Samuel Israel, and his wife Alexandra de Israel, for alleged payment of bribes in 2014 in exchange for a contract with the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP). Former president Martinelli approved a contract for Pele System without its participation in the bidding process. The new administration filed a complaint based on an alleged overpayment of 12 million balboas ($12 million) to Pele System. The anticorruption prosecutor’s investigation found that Pele System made payments to Castillo and the Israel couple’s businesses incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

Corruption and a lack of accountability among the police continued to be a problem, though the government took steps to address violations. Thirty-two agents were dismissed on corruption grounds and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. The agents included a police captain and a lieutenant arrested in August along with 11 others for allegedly falsifying prisoners’ records and altering criminal sentences as well as former civilian agents from the penitentiary system who allegedly charged up to 70,000 balboas ($70,000) to assist gang members to leave prison early.

To address police corruption at the prisons, the 2015 PNP policy requiring members of the PNP who serve as prison guards to rotate to other police functions after two years continued. The policy aims to reduce corrupt behavior by preventing PNP guards from remaining at one prison for an extended period; the PNP also began to provide a monthly bonus of 35 balboas ($35) for each agent assigned to the prisons to reduce incentives for corruption.

The case against former minister of labor Alma Cortes related to charges of illicit enrichment continued. The prosecutor claimed Cortes could not justify how she accrued two million dollars in assets and bank accounts while serving as minister of labor. Cortes was detained in August.

In August, ANTAI opened an investigation regarding AMP Director General Jorge Barakat’s alleged receipt of basketball game tickets valued at more than 1,000 balboas ($1,000) from an AMP contractor; he attended the game during an official trip.

In August the former Agriculture Institute director general under the current administration, Edwin Cardenas, was detained under charges of mismanagement of more than six million dollars of public funds. The fourth anticorruption prosecutor charged Cardenas for wrongdoings from July 2014 through April 2015.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain executive and judiciary officials to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Comptroller General’s Office. The information is not made public unless the official grants permission for access to the public.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to information about public entities, with the exception of cabinet meeting minutes. Public procurement notices are posted online. ANTAI statistics as of July showed 24 of 43 new requests for access to information had been fulfilled; the others remained pending as of August. Citizens can appeal denials of information to the Supreme Court. Deadlines are 30 days, and there are no processing fees. There are sanctions, primarily fines, for noncompliance.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, language, social status, HIV status and other communicable diseases, but they do not do so on the basis of sexual orientation, and/or gender identity.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and HIV-positive status (see section 6). Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred (see section 6).

Peru

Executive Summary

Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, leader of the Peruanos Por el Kambio (Peruvians for Change) Party, won the June national elections in a vote widely considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most serious human rights problems were violence against women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; unlawful killings, and corruption and impunity that undermined the rule of law.

The following human rights problems also occurred: harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, inordinate trial delays, intimidation of media, and threats towards human rights activists. In addition, there was discrimination against women, individuals with disabilities, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, indigenous persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS. Socio-environmental conflicts involving extractive industries and development projects occurred and sometimes turned violent. Other problems were weak labor law enforcement and the use of child labor, particularly in informal sectors. Corruption, human trafficking, and the labor and sexual exploitation of men, women, and children were common at illegal mining sites.

The government took steps to investigate, and in some cases prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of abuses. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

The terrorist organization Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) was responsible for killings and other abuses, including kidnapping and forced recruitment of child soldiers, extortion, and intimidation. The government maintained its active counterterrorism campaign against the Shining Path.

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

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

After taking office on July 28, the Kuczynski administration launched an investigation into allegations that members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) committed the extrajudicial killings of more than 20 criminal suspects from 2012 to 2015 as part of a scheme to receive awards and promotions. These allegations first surfaced in August. According to press and Ministry of Interior accounts, an “irregular” group of nine PNP officers and sub-officers allegedly paid informants to entrap individuals and provide regular police units with false intelligence, setting the stage for deadly confrontations. As of November, the government had produced no evidence that policy-level officials directed the alleged killings or had knowledge of the scheme.

On September 1, a special tribunal found 10 former army officers and enlisted persons guilty of killing 71 villagers, including 23 children, in the 1985 “Accomarca Massacre” that occurred during the conflict with the Shining Path terrorist group. The tribunal sentenced five officers to prison terms ranging from 23 to 25 years, including general Wilfredo Mori, lieutenant colonels Nelson Gonzalez Feria and Carlos Pastor Delgado Medina, and lieutenants Juan Rivera Rondon and Telmo Hurtado. Five low-ranking soldiers also received 10-year sentences. The tribunal acquitted six others, including general Jose Williams Zapata, for lack of sufficient evidence.

The Shining Path conducted several terrorist acts during the year that resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.g.), including an April 9 attack on army officers carrying electoral materials the day before the first round of national elections.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year. The government, however, continued to address disappearances that occurred during the internal conflict of 1980-2000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 15,000 persons disappeared during this period.

The government approved a new law in July that requires the Ministry of Justice to oversee the recovery, identification, and return of the approximately 15,000 “disappeared” human remains from the internal conflict as a humanitarian priority. The law requires the government to simultaneously collect evidence and proceed with criminal investigations.

On September 27, a court found Vladimiro Montesinos, the intelligence chief and chief advisor to former president Alberto Fujimori, guilty of the disappearance and murder of two students and one professor in 1993. Both Fujimori and Montesinos were already serving 25-year prison sentences for human rights abuses. By law the decision did not add additional time to Montesinos’ prison sentence.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, reported that torture remained a problem, primarily within the police force and stated the government did not effectively prevent and punish those who committed such abuses.

According to the local NGO Human Rights Commission, many victims did not file formal complaints about their alleged torture, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh for most of the country’s inmates, due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition and health care, and corruption among guards, which included guards smuggling weapons and drugs into the prisons. Guards received little to no training or supervision.

Physical Conditions: As of June the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) reported that the national penitentiary system had 77,086 prisoners in 67 facilities originally designed for 32,890 prisoners. On July 10, the government opened a new prison in Cochamarca, which was built to hold 1,300 prisoners. As of January, the San Juan de Lurigancho men’s prison held 9,958 prisoners in a facility designed for 3,204. The Sarita Colonia prison in the Callao Region had a designed capacity of 572 persons but held 3,296 in January. Prisons for women also were overcrowded. The Santa Monica women’s prison in Chorrillos was designed for 450 inmates but held 823.

INPE operated 31 of the 68 active prisons, the PNP had jurisdiction over five, the PNP and INPE operated 31 prisons jointly, and INPE and the army jointly operated one prison. The judicial system used pretrial detention centers located at police stations, judiciary buildings, and the Palace of Justice to hold pretrial detainees temporarily.

Prison guards and fellow inmates reportedly abused prisoners, and inmates killed fellow inmates during the year. Inmates had intermittent access to potable water, bathing facilities were inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas for lack of cell space. Prisoners with money had access to cell phones, illegal drugs, and meals prepared outside the prison; prisoners who lacked funds experienced much more difficult conditions.

Most prisons provided access to basic medical care, but there was a shortage of doctors, and inmates complained of having to pay for medical attention. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS reportedly remained at near-epidemic levels. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to report the incidence of tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS infections were significantly higher in prisons than in the general population. The Ombudsman’s Office also reported insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisons lacked specialized medical equipment needed for prisoners with disabilities, such as wheelchairs and transferrable beds. Low accessibility to adequate psychological care for prisoners with mental disabilities was also reported.

Administration: Independent and government authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment in prisons and made the results of their investigations public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights and international humanitarian law observers. Between January and October, International Committee of the Red Cross officials made 12 unannounced visits to inmates in 12 different prisons and detention centers and individually monitored approximately 95 individual prisoners. During the year, the Ombudsman’s Office representatives made 150 visits to Lima and provincial prisons and 30 visits to juvenile detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP, with a force of approximately 114,830 personnel, is responsible for all areas of law enforcement and internal security, including migration and border security. The PNP functioned under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces, with approximately 100,000 personnel, are responsible for external security under the authority of the Ministry of Defense but also have limited domestic security responsibilities, particularly in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone.

Corruption and a high rate of acquittals in civilian courts for military personnel accused of crimes remained serious problems. The Public Ministry conducted investigations, although access to evidence held by the Ministry of Defense was not always forthcoming. The Ombudsman’s Office can also investigate cases and submit conclusions to the Public Ministry for follow-up. The Ministries of Interior and Defense employed internal mechanisms to investigate allegations of security force abuse. The Ministry of Interior’s Office of Inspector General reported that it disciplined approximately 7,400 police officers from January to August.

The Public Ministry is charged with witness protection responsibilities but lacked resources to provide sufficient training to prosecutors and police officers, conceal identities, or furnish logistical support to witnesses.

Police continued operating under a use of force doctrine adopted in 2015. When a police action causes death or injury, the law requires an administrative investigation and notification to the appropriate oversight authorities. The law is applicable to all police force members and defines the principles, rules, situations, and limitations for police use of force and firearms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to detain persons for investigations. The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest, unless authorities apprehend the alleged perpetrator of a crime in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas, arraignment must take place as soon as practicably possible. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. The law requires police to file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours after an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest, and authorities respected this requirement.

Judges have 24 hours to decide whether to release a suspect or continue detention, and the judiciary respected this provision. A functioning bail system exists, but many poor defendants lack the means to post bail. By law detainees are allowed access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. In January authorities had sentenced only 38,198 of the 77,298 detainees held in detention facilities and prisons. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages. Under the criminal procedure code, the law requires the release of prisoners held more than nine months whom the justice system has not tried and sentenced; the period is 18 months for complex cases. In one prominent case, a judge released regional Governor Gregorio Santos, who was accused of corruption, from prison on July 27 after 23 months of pretrial imprisonment. During this time Santos was allowed to participate as a candidate in regional (2014) and national (2016) elections.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled 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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. NGOs and other advocates alleged the judiciary often did not operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was subject to political influence and corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders from the judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of corruption in the judicial system were common. The government continued the implementation, begun in 2006, of a criminal procedure code designed to streamline the penal process. As of October, the government had introduced the code in 28 of the 31 judicial districts, although implementation in the largest judicial districts–Lima and Callao–remained pending. The code requires public hearings for each case and assigns investigative responsibility to public prosecutors and police.

The law presumes all defendants innocent. The government also must promptly inform defendants in detail of the charges against them and provide defendants a fair and public trail without undue delay. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense; however, state-provided attorneys often have poor training. Although the law grants citizens the right to trial in their own language, language services for non-Spanish speakers were sometimes unavailable. This deficiency primarily affected indigenous people living in the highlands and Amazon Regions. In a case from 2015, however, a court in Puno issued its decision in the Aymara indigenous language, which is prevalent in the region. As of October, the decision was on appeal to a court in Lima, and any additional court findings would use Aymara. The law also gives all defendants the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defense.

Defendants generally had access to government-held evidence related to their cases. Exceptions reportedly occurred in some human rights abuse cases from the 1980-2000 period. In many of these cases, the government classified related documents as secret and subject to disclosure limitations under the law. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a superior court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving issues such as habeas corpus or the constitutionality of laws.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources continued to allege that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The government’s declaration of emergency zones in the VRAEM and Callao Region, due to drug trafficking and criminal activity, suspended the right to home inviolability.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government mainly respected these rights during the year. Generally, an independent press and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of speech and press.

Violence and Harassment: Numerous journalists alleged police, protesters, and company personnel assaulted and threatened them while covering various protests and incidents of social unrest. The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) reported that the most common type of threats was against local radio and television broadcast journalists who were investigating local government authorities for corruption. IPYS alleged the aggressors were often local and regional government officials, such as mayors and regional governors.

On November 21, alleged paid assassins killed radio journalist Hernan Choquepata Ordonez as he arrived at work in the coastal province of Camana, Arequipa Region. Reports suggest Choquepata was killed after he criticized mayors of the municipalities of Camana and Mariscal Caceres. A police investigation continued at year’s end.

As of September investigations were pending into the 2014 deaths of investigative journalist Fernando Raymondi, whom an unknown gunman killed, and journalist Donny Buchelli Cueva, who was reportedly tortured and killed in his home, allegedly for criticizing mayoral candidates’ professional credentials and behavior.

As of November the National Journalists Association reported 115 cases of aggression and harassment, compared with 64 as of September 2015, and IPYS issued 18 alerts, compared with 21 in 2015.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media, most notably in the provinces outside of Lima, continued to practice self-censorship due to fear of local government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, and officials reportedly used libel charges to intimidate reporters. A court found Caretasjournalist Rafo Leon guilty of defamation in May for criticizing former El Comercio newspaper editor Martha Meier. The judge sentenced Leon to a suspended one-year sentence, contingent on his “good behavior,” and fined him 6,000 soles ($1,800). Journalists, NGOs, press freedom activists, the Ombudsman’s Office, and politicians across the political spectrum condemned the court’s ruling. The Supreme Court overturned the decision on September 8, ruling Leon’s criticism qualified as legitimate opinion that did not amount to defamation.

National Security: The law defines all national security and defense information as secret. In June Defense Minister Jakke Valakivi announced an investigation of journalists working for the news program Panorama for allegedly breaching national security when they presented classified documents on television as evidence of military corruption. Journalists, NGOs, and a broad array of politicians, including then president-elect Kuczynski, condemned the investigation, noting the act revealed information in the public interest. The Kuczynski government, which supported the journalists, declared it would decline to investigate, and the case had not advanced as of October.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some media reported that narcotics traffickers and illegal mining operations threatened press freedom by intimidating journalists who reported information that undermined their operations.

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 National Statistics and Information Institute, 62 percent of the population used the internet. A September report from the Ipsos Peru polling firm found 39 percent of citizens accessed the internet at home, and 21 percent accessed it exclusively via a mobile device.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedom of assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law does not require a permit for public demonstrations, but organizers must report the type of demonstration planned and coordinate its intended location to the appropriate regional representative. The government suspended freedom of assembly in certain emergency zones where armed elements of the Shining Path and drug traffickers operated as well as in regions suffering from crime and public health crises.

The government may restrict or prohibit demonstrations in specific times and places for public safety or health. Police used tear gas and occasional force to disperse protesters in various demonstrations. Although most were peaceful, protests in some areas turned violent, resulting in deaths and injuries (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

On October 14, the police shot and killed one individual during a clash over noise and pollution allegedly caused by Las Bambas mining trucks using a secondary road in the Apurimac Region.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association; however, there were reports the government did not sufficiently respect this right, particularly with regard to minority religious groups’ right to government registration and equal access to some benefits. In July the government adopted new regulations pertaining to the 2010 Religious Freedom Law that eliminated the requirement for official registration, which resolved this concern.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, 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 to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The government and civil society organizations estimated there were 120,000 foreign citizens legally residing in the country, and between 20,000 and 100,000 foreigners residing under irregular circumstances.

In-country Movement: The government maintained two emergency zones in parts of six regions, where it restricted freedom of movement in an effort to maintain public peace and restore internal order. In 2015 the government declared an emergency zone in Callao due to increased crime stemming from gang and drug-trafficking violence.

Narcotics traffickers and Shining Path members at times interrupted the free movement of persons by establishing roadblocks in sections of the VRAEM emergency zone. Individuals protesting against extractive industry projects also occasionally established roadblocks throughout the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The situation of former internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained difficult to assess. According to UNHCR, the number of IDPs remained unknown, since officials registered relatively few.

The governmental Reparations Council continued to assist victims of the 1980-2000 internal conflict with the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement terrorist groups. The Quechua and other Andean indigenous populations were disproportionately represented among IDPs, since the conflict took place primarily within the Andean Region. The council continued to compile a registry of victims and identify communities eligible for reparations. Some victims and family members lacking proper identity documents experienced difficulties registering for reparations.

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 cooperated with UNHCR and recognized the Catholic Migration Commission as the official provider of technical assistance to refugees. The commission also advised citizens who feared persecution and sought asylum abroad. The government provided protection to refugees on a renewable, year-to-year basis, in accordance with commission recommendations. The asylum requests grew sharply during the year, from approximately 400 cases in 2015 to approximately 1,600 between January and August. Approximately 60 percent of the 2016 asylum requests came from Venezuelan citizens, who generally did not qualify as refugees. There were 32 Syrian refugees as of September; the government has granted refugee status to every Syrian who has requested it.

Durable Solutions: There was no resettlement program, but the government received persons recognized as refugees in other nations and provided some administrative support toward their integration. UNHCR provided such refugees humanitarian and emergency aid, legal assistance, documentation, and, in exceptional cases, voluntary return and family reunification.

Temporary Protection: As of September the government provided temporary protection to more than 1,000 individuals awaiting a decision state on their refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On July 28, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski assumed the presidency after a second round of presidential elections. He won by 0.2 percent (approximately 40,000 votes), the closest margin of victory in the country’s history. Kuczynski’s second-round opponent, Keiko Fujimori, conceded the election. Domestic and international observers declared the nationwide elections–held in April (for president, the National Congress, and the Andean Parliament) and in June (a second round for the presidential race only) to be fair and transparent, despite controversy over the exclusion of two candidates for administrative violations of election-related laws.

The national electoral authority’s disqualification of leading presidential candidates in the months prior to national elections led to increased calls for electoral reform by both national and international institutions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction or outside interference, although many remained weak institutions dominated by individual personalities. By law groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government and express ideologies incompatible with democracy cannot register as political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they participated. As of December there were 36 women in Congress, five women were cabinet members, and one of the two vice presidents was a woman. Self-identified minorities in Congress included two Afro-Peruvians and one indigenous member. Two members of Congress self-identified as gay.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials engaged in corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.

Corruption: The governmental Public Service Office, which reports directly to the cabinet, manages a registry of former government officials who are no longer eligible for public service due to corruption crimes. Between 2014 and November 2016, various courts had convicted three of 26 former and sitting regional governors of corruption charges, and another six remained under preliminary or full investigation.

There were allegations of widespread corruption in the judicial system during the year. Although not fully implemented in Lima and Callao, the government applied the new criminal procedure code to corruption cases in these judicial districts. In 2015 authorities dismissed then attorney general Carlos Ramos Heredia for impeding investigations into corruption networks orchestrated by former regional governor Cesar Alvarez and businessman Rodolfo Orellana. In 2014 authorities had arrested Alvarez for homicide and corruption-related crimes and Orellana for fraud and money laundering. Both were accused of bribing vast networks of police officers, judges, prosecutors, and other public officials to protect themselves from prosecution. A special congressional investigative commission, the Public Ministry, and the National Magistrates Council continued investigations into the networks. As of November the government renewed its pretrial detention of Alvarez, and the case against him and Orellana remained pending.

Members of Congress enjoy congressional immunity and may not be prosecuted for any acts during their time in the legislature. In the case of flagrant crimes, the judicial branch may request that Congress lift immunity and allow the arrest of a member. By law congressional immunity does not apply to crimes committed before the member was sworn in, but it impeded most prosecutions in practice.

Corruption in prisons remained a serious problem during the year, with continuing cases of guards cooperating with criminal bosses who oversaw the smuggling of guns and drugs into prisons. There were several reports of military corruption, impunity, and resistance in providing evidence on military personnel under investigation for human rights abuses committed during the country’s internal conflict against the Shining Path. Security forces continued to strengthen accountability with mandatory human rights training.

Financial Disclosure: By law most public officials must submit personal financial information to the Office of the Comptroller General prior to taking office and periodically thereafter. The Comptroller General’s Office monitors and verifies disclosures, but the law was not strongly enforced. Administrative sanctions for noncompliance range from 30-day to one-year suspensions, include bans on signing government contracts, and culminate with a ban from holding government office. The comptroller makes disclosures available to the public. On November 26, the government issued anew law under congressionally granted legislative powers to enable the Superintendency of Banks’ Financial Intelligence Unit to access individual or corporate tax records and bank accounts to investigate allegations of money laundering and other crimes.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, and most ministries and central offices provided some information on websites. Implementation of the law was incomplete, particularly outside of Lima, where few citizens exercised or understood their right to information. The ombudsman encouraged regional governments to adopt more-transparent practices for releasing information and monitored their compliance with the requirement for public hearings at least twice a year.

The law has a narrow list of exceptions and grounds for not releasing certain government records. Government officials may exclude the release of classified information, information concerning national security, intelligence, police investigations, and details surrounding advanced technology. The law requires a reasonable timeline for officials to disclose financial information. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that response times to information requests submitted to the Constitutional Court were often lengthy, varying from 18 to 36 months. The law also imposes administrative, but not criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

Section 7. Worker Rights

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported to authorities, in part due to a lack of confidence in the legal system to address the case.

Numerous violations of provisions prohibiting discrimination against domestic workers and any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places were reported during the year. The Ministry of Labor, local NGOs, and several unions continued campaigns to inform domestic workers about their rights.

Societal prejudice and discrimination also led to disproportionate poverty and unemployment rates for women. Women were more likely to work in the informal sector or in less secure occupations, such as domestic service, factory workers, or street vendors, and they were more likely to be illiterate due to lack of formal education.