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Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.

Business owners freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some instances of up to 10 months. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions of integrity.

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that free speech, plurality of news sources, and supporting institutions experienced a slight increase, but professionalism and business management decreased.

Violence and Harassment: The AJU reported 14 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure. The union also denounced violent acts toward reporters by opposition protesters in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in May found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. About 78 percent of media professionals thought that there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($27,800), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that during the first four months of the year, judges and politicians had initiated more than 16 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: To receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, placing them instead in the open migrant facility in Babrru. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the social care and other services due to limited issuance of identification cards. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Employment: While the law permits refugees to work, the limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits meant that few refugees had employment opportunities.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. 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), through August 16, there were 83 threats against journalists and 250 incidents of violence or harassment. FLIP also reported that between January and August, no journalists were illegally detained and 21 were physically assaulted. One was ordered detained for failure to comply with a protective order related to a defamation case, but the detention order was never enforced. According to FLIP, there were three convictions for threats against journalists through September.

As of June 30, the NPU provided protection services to 162 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures for addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP asserted 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 law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media outlets from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported one defamation case filed against a journalist during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups inhibited freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups. For example, NGOs reported on the June killing of Libardo Montenegro, a reporter for the community radio station in Samaniego, Narino. No arrests were made, but NGOs reported the killing might have been a response to Montenegro’s coverage of drug-related violence in the region. In August, five journalists in Valle de Cauca received threats via text message after reporting on power cuts to municipalities in the area. Those responsible for the threats were unknown.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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 insecurity in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: The government required asylum seekers and individuals without regularized migration status to have salvaconductos (safe passage documents) to travel throughout the country. Organized-crime gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International and civil society organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and improvised explosive devices in areas where illicit crop cultivation and narcotics trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January and August, more than 342,000 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors.

f. 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 reported it had approved 86 requests for recognition of refugee status of the 6,451 applications it received from 2016 to July 23, 2019. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated the asylum process took at least one year, during which applicants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work. In October the government opened an asylum office in Bogota to increase its capacity to process a backlog of more than 5,000 cases.

During the year there was a large increase in migration flows from Venezuela. According to migration officials, as of November the country hosted more than 1.5 million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status. In August the government issued an administrative resolution granting Colombian citizenship to Venezuelan children born in Colombia on or after August 19, 2015, immediately granting citizenship to 24,000 children.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary residence permits (PEPs) to Venezuelans who met certain eligibility requirements. Approximately 600,000 Venezuelans who entered with passports legally were granted PEPs in 2017-18, according to migration officials. PEPs provide access to work, primary and secondary education, and the social insurance system as well as the ability to open bank accounts. The temporary residency permit is valid for up to two years. In August the government announced a two-year extension for PEPs issued in 2017.

According to UNHCR, there were more than nine million persons of concern (including refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs, returned IDPs, returned refugees, stateless persons, and others of concern) residing in the country in 2018, compared with 7.7 million in 2017.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: From January 2018 to May 2019, there were at least 11 cases of attacks on journalists. In March 2018 police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. One year later, in March, the journalist’s company, Multimedia Group Limited, filed a lawsuit against the inspector general of police and attorney general for 10 million Ghanaian cedis ($1.9 million) in compensatory damages for the assault. Civil society organizations and law enforcement authorities worked to develop a media-police relations framework to address the increasingly contentious relationship between the entities.

In January unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent undercover journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale, following reports from 2018 that a member of parliament had publicly criticized Hussein-Suale and incited violence against him. Hussein-Suale’s investigative crew had produced a film about corruption in the country’s soccer leagues, which included involvement by officials, referees, and coaches. Police questioned the parliamentarian, and reports indicated that authorities arrested several persons and subsequently granted bail. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Another investigative journalist received death threats following the release of his documentary that revealed the presence of a progovernment militia training on government property, despite the administration’s assertions it did not endorse the use of private security firms, and that the group mentioned in the documentary was a job recruitment agency, not a militia.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

In October police used water cannons and rubber bullets to stop protesting law students demanding reforms to the admissions process for the legal education system. Authorities reportedly arrested between 10 and 13 protesters and subsequently released them. The National Association of Law Students called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to “thoroughly investigate this brutal attack.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In a stated effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government in 2017 imposed a ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after increased reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. The ban continued during the year. Media investigations revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of the end of October, there were 25 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) reported from refugee camps. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian offices in providing protection and assistance. For example, UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Commission, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrator and presumed survivors.

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 allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays.

There were reports of 287 residents of Burkina Faso (called Burkinabe), who fled insecurity, settling in Ghana’s Upper West Region and registering as asylum-seekers in 2018. During the year, according to UNHCR, there were 1,955 new arrivals from Burkina Faso. Preliminary findings from an information-gathering mission conducted by UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board indicated these asylum-seekers also fled a deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso. The government decided to conduct security checks of the Burkinabe before commencing the registration process. As of October the Ghana Refugee Board had not registered any of these Burkinabe.

News reports about the Burkinabe refugees were generally negative, particularly after police arrested a Burkinabe for possessing a loaded pistol in a Catholic church in the Upper West Region.

Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.

Durable Solutions: In 2011 nearly 18,000 residents of Cote d’Ivoire fled to the country because of political instability following Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 presidential election. As of August, UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of 351 Ivoirian refugees–a slow but steady increase the agency attributed to better assistance packages and better information provided to Ivoirians about the situation in their home country. Although the government granted Ivoirian refugees prima facie refugee status during the initial stages of the emergency, by the end of 2012, the government had transitioned to individual refugee status determination for all Ivoirians entering thereafter.

In November 2018 a group of Sudanese refugees camped outside the UNHCR office in Accra for a month and a half, calling for improved assistance related to health, shelter, food, and resettlement. The population is part of a protracted backlog of cases. A decision from the Ministry of Interior regarding possible integration as a durable solution remained pending.

In 2012 UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration assisted with the voluntary repatriation of more than 4,700 Liberians from the country. Approximately 3,700 Liberians opted for local integration. UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue the Liberians passports, enabling them to subsequently receive a Ghanaian residence and work permit. In 2018 the Liberian government issued 352 passports to this population; it issued no new passports during the year, with an estimated 200 Liberians awaiting documentation. UNHCR Ghana coordinated with its office in Liberia to expedite the process. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future