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Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The people of North Korea faced egregious human rights violations by the government in nearly all reporting categories including: extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor; unfair trials; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; denial of the ability to choose their government; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted DPRK foreign contract workers also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be 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 numerous reports the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, forcibly returned asylum seekers, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which include: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppression of the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons. The government reportedly executed individuals for sleeping during patriotic events. Defectors also reported that the government carried out infanticide in cases of political prisoners, persons with disabilities, and where the mother was repatriated from China.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In February the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press reported that DPRK authorities executed five Ministry of State Security officials in a political purge.

It was widely reported that, on February 13, two women, working on behalf of the government, assassinated Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport using VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon banned under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. According to the Institute for National Security Strategy, the state held 340 public executions from 2012 to 2016, including executions of 140 government officials between 2013 and 2016. A 2016 survey found that 64 percent of defectors had witnessed public executions.

During the year a defector reported being pulled from school to witness the public execution of 11 musicians accused of making a pornographic video. The defector described a brutal process including antiaircraft artillery, used to kill the prisoners, and tanks, which were used to run over the bodies postmortem.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

According to The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), the state closed Hoeryong kwanliso (Camp 22) in late 2012 and demolished the Sirmchon/Kumchon-ri zone with Yodok kwanliso (Camp 15) in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of these facilities remained unknown. During the year South Korean media reported that DPRK Ministry of State Security agents were dispatched to cities near the DPRK border in China to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, North Korea may have also kidnapped defectors who relocated to South Korea and then were on travel in China. In some cases North Korea reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to return to China in order to capture them.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; water torture; and being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, including “pumps,” or being forced to repeatedly squat and stand with the person’s hands behind their back. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, defector, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Gaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong/Myeonggan (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Cheongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps consist of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors, prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyohwaso re-education camps and kwanliso prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori. The report noted, “The brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongori (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex, which held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after forcibly returning them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongori.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongori is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at kyohwaso No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions.

Defectors also reported that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. According to HRNK report Gulag, Inc., three political prison camps and four re-education camps contained mines where prisoners worked long hours with frequent deadly accidents. One prisoner reported suffering an open foot fracture and being forced to return to the mine the same day. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law was actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

Administration: There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years refugees reported authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of abuse.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces did not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. In February the ROK Ministry of Unification announced that DPRK Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong was removed from his position after reports of human rights abuses in his ministry, but it remained unclear whether his dismissal was for that reason or merely part of a reorganization of leadership. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008, the Ministry of People’s Security received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse to petition for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer was available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary does not exist. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, there were many reports of bribery and corruption in the investigations or preliminary examination process and in detention facilities, as well as by judges and prosecutors in the trial stage.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases, but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, most inmates were sent to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them and without having legal counsel. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the 2017 KINU white paper reported the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and media reported political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The regime reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify those it sees as critics. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

A 2015 survey conducted by InterMedia found that 28 percent of respondents (recent defectors and North Korean businesspersons in China) had owned a domestic cell phone in North Korea. Citizens must go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to obtain a mobile phone legally, and authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Additionally, 14 percent of defectors reported owning a Chinese mobile phone. DPRK authorities frequently jammed cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. The Ministry of State Security reportedly engaged in real-time surveillance of mobile phone communications. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Numerous reports noted authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA. The government regularly criticized the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an “artifact of capitalist decay.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: As of 2016 women constituted approximately 3.1 percent of members and 2.8 percent of candidate members of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and held few key WPK leadership positions. The 2014 UN COI report indicated only 10 percent of central government officials are women.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Verifiable information was not available on whether criminal penalties for official corruption were actually applied. While international organizations widely reported senior officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, in 2016 Kim Jong Un presided over a rare high-level government meeting to address rampant corruption by authorities.

Corruption: In 2016 foreign press outlets reported that Kim Jong Un’s high-level corruption meeting marked perhaps the first public recognition of systemic abuse of power believed to run rampant within the ruling party. While corruption was reportedly widespread in all parts of the economy and society and endemic in the security forces, this meeting was rare in publically acknowledging and criticizing these practices. Specifically it addressed the practice of senior officials who sought privileges, misused authority, abused power, and manifested bureaucratism in the party.

In December media reports speculated that Kim Jong Un’s top aide, Hwang Pyong So, was expelled from the party in October for bribery and other corruption-related offenses. Hwang’s deputy, Kim Won Hong, was reportedly sent to a labor camp for similar offenses around the same time.

Additionally, reports of diversion of food to the military and government officials and bribery were indicative of corruption in the government and security forces. Multiple ministries and party offices were responsible for handling issues of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Information was not publicly available on whether the state subjects public officials to financial disclosure laws and whether a government agency is responsible for combating corruption.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government appeared to criminalize rape, but no information was available on details of the law or how it was enforced. The UN COI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights includes a provision prohibiting domestic violence but no legal provisions stipulating penalties for domestic violence. Defectors reported violence against women was a systematic problem both inside and outside the home. According to the 2015 KINU survey of defectors conducted from 2011-15, 81 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.”

Sexual Harassment: Despite the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes, defectors reported the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions, and reported there was little recourse for women who had been harassed.

Coercion in Population Control: Defectors reported that the state security officials subjected women to forced abortions although it was done for political purposes and not population control. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution states, “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government and defectors said gender equality was nonexistent. KINU reported that discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women. The foreign press and think tanks reported that, while women were less likely than men to be assigned full-time jobs, they had more opportunity to work outside the socialist economy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination.

Medical Care: There was no verifiable information available on whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government.

Child Abuse: Information about societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government upheld this law.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 17 years old for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: As many girls and young women attempt to flee repressive and malnourished conditions for their own survival or the betterment of their family, the 2014 Commission of Inquiry noted they often become subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of the country or in China but then sold them into forced marriages, domestic servitude, or made them work in prostitution after being smuggled out of the country.

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

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children, many of them orphans, who had inconsistent access to education.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of children born into kwanliso political prison camps as a result of “reward marriages” between inmates. Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

In 2013 the country announced that it modified its Person with Disability Protection Law to meet the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities. However, in a 2016 National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey, 89 percent of defectors said there was no consideration for persons with disabilities.

While a 2003 law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the state has not enacted the implementing legislation. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). While the state treated veterans with disabilities well, they reportedly sent other persons with physical and mental disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined within camps, and forcibly sterilized. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, visited the DPRK for the first time in May and noted most infrastructure, including new buildings, was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. She also said more efforts were needed on information and communication access for blind people.

State media reported in July 2016 that the government launched a website for the protection of persons with disabilities, and they improved educational content in schools for children with disabilities to provide professional skills training. Independent observers were unable to verify the report.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern about de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights 2013 report on the Status of Women’s Rights in the Context of Socio-Economic Changes in the DPRKfound that the birth of a baby with disabilities–regardless of circumstances–was considered a “curse,” and doctors lacked training to diagnose and treat such persons. The report stated there were no welfare centers with specialized protection systems for those born with disabilities. Citizens’ Alliance also cited reports that the country maintained a center (Hospital 8.3) for abandoned individuals with disabilities, where officials subjected residents to chemical and biological testing.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex activity, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex activity in the country and reported, “The practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of sound mentality and good morals.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, strike, or bargain collectively. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor.

There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The central committee of the WPK directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities.

The government controlled all aspects of employment, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire their employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which had an effect on management decisions. They established the first special economic zone (SEZ) in the Rajin-Sonbong area in 1991. The same labor laws that apply in the rest of the country apply in the Rajin-Sonbong SEZ. The government selected the workers permitted to work in the SEZ. The government announced the establishment of 13 new SEZs in 2013, six additional SEZs in 2014, and two more SEZs in 2015.

In February 2016 the ROK closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), citing North Korea’s “extremely provocative act” of launching a satellite using ballistic missile technology. Under a special law, the KIC, located close to the demilitarized zone between the ROK and the DPRK, operated under special regulations covering labor issues that did not contain provisions that stipulate freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The government reportedly selected worker representatives in KIC workplaces, subject to the approval of South Korean company management (also see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Nonetheless, the government mobilized the population for construction and other labor projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, have traditionally been common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners. Re-education involved memorizing speeches by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. International press reported authorities forced Pyongyang residents to work on the Ryomyung Street construction project late into the night after finishing their normal jobs. Authorities also brought in workers from other provinces.[i] South Korean NGO Open North Korea estimated that North Koreans perform $975 million worth of forced labor each year.

According to reports from a NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” There were reports that workers were required to work at enterprises to which the government assigned them and then failed to compensate or undercompensated them for their work. Additionally, in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korean employers paid wages for North Korean workers directly to DPRK authorities. Workers were reportedly aware of their monthly earnings, as companies required them to sign time records acknowledging salaries paid to North Korean managers on their behalf; yet it remained unclear how much of these earnings were transferred to individual workers (also see section 7.e.).

According to Open North Korea’s report Sweatshop, North Korea, 16- or 17-year-olds of low songbun were assigned to 10 years of forced labor called dolgyeokdae. One worker reportedly earned a mere 120 won (less than one dollar) per month. During a 200-day labor mobilization campaign in 2016, the workers worked as many as 17 hours per day. State media boasted that the laborers worked in subzero temperatures. One laborer reported conditions were so dangerous while building an apartment building that at least one person died each time a new floor was added. Songbun status also determines lifelong job assignments, with the lowest classes relegated to dangerous mines.

The NGO Human Rights Watch reported the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict level “labor training centers” and forced detainees to work for short periods doing hard labor, receiving little food, and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or unemployed.

There were an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens working as overseas laborers, primarily in Russia and China. Workers were also reportedly present in the following countries during the year: Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Mali, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Senegal, Singapore, South Sudan, Tanzania, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zambia. Reports suggested some countries took steps to reduce the number of North Korean workers in their countries during the year.

Numerous NGOs noted North Korean workers abroad were subjected to forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and were under constant and close surveillance by DPRK security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage as 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the DPRK government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take-home pay. The government reportedly received hundreds of millions of dollars (more than a trillion won) from this system per year. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts, making them vulnerable to deception and exploitation by authorities. In June 2016 the DPRK’s forced laborers in Kuwait went on strike after failing to receive their salaries in a rare display of defiance against the government. The workers took this action after a state construction company operating in Kuwait informed them they would be paid with checks rather than in cash for their monthly salary. In the aftermath of the protest, DPRK officials summoned the workers back to the DPRK. A similar strike took place in Qatar in March 2016 when employers forced workers to increase their hours without additional pay.

During the year the international press and the NGO Human Rights Watch reported the forced labor conditions faced by DPRK overseas workers at World Cup sites in Russia, noting 11-hour workdays for $10-$15 a day, seven days a week, the confiscation of passports, and cramped living conditions. There were reports a DPRK worker died at Zenit Arena.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the state prohibits work by children under age 16. Neither the general labor law nor Kaesong Industrial Complex labor law prohibits hazardous child labor.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The effects of such forced labor on students included physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports such practices occurred. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or other invidious factor. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law, yet classification based on the songbun system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. The 2014 UN COI report noted that, despite the economic advancement of women, the state continued to discriminate against them and imposed many restrictions on the female-dominated market. Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

No reliable data was available on the minimum wage in state-owned industries. Monthly wages in some enterprises in the heavy industrial sectors as well as in the textile and garment sector reportedly increased from 3,000 to 4,000 won ($0.30 to $0.40) to 30,000 won ($30) in 2013, with approximately one-third of the wage paid in cash and the remainder in kind.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday; however, some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense; however, the state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions, but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high. Citizens labored under harsh conditions while working abroad for state-owned firms and under arrangements between the government and foreign firms (see section 7.b.).

Macedonia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Macedonia is a parliamentary democracy. A popularly elected president is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The unicameral parliament exercises legislative authority. Parliamentary elections were last held in December 2016 and presidential elections in 2014. In its final report on the parliamentary elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) observed that the elections were transparent, well administered, and orderly but took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment” and failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process. OSCE/ODIHR’s final report on the 2014 presidential elections noted the elections respected citizens’ fundamental freedoms, but that there was inadequate separation between party and state activities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

On May 31, the parliament elected a new government led by a previous opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), thereby ending a months-long government formation process. On April 27, after a majority of parliament members elected Talat Xhaferi as speaker, protesters stormed the parliament, resulting in injuries to seven members. Media reported members of the Ministry of Interior aided the protesters and failed to uphold their duty to protect parliament members. The ministry punished officers for failing to carry out their duties, including by dismissing eight officers.

The most significant human rights issues included reports of torture by prison guards; interference with privacy; violence against journalists; lack of judicial independence; corruption; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, including police officials guilty of excessive force, but impunity continued to be a widespread problem. Between April 15 and September 15, the Special Prosecutor’s Office, investigating allegations of corruption between 2008 and 2015, filed 18 indictments against 120 defendants, charged 168 criminal offenses, and opened seven investigations against 25 suspects. It also initiated 142 preliminary investigations into apparent criminal behavior relating to or arising from the content of illegally intercepted communications.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that police abused detainees and prisoners and used excessive force. During the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior’s Sector for Internal Control and Professional Standards Unit reported receiving 11 complaints against police officers for use of excessive force. It took disciplinary action against two officers for those offenses. From January through September, the Ombudsman’s Office received nine complaints against police for unlawful or excessive use of force.

On October 12, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report on its December 2016 visit to the country. During the visit the CPT reported receiving a number of consistent allegations of deliberate physical mistreatment of inmates by prison officers at Idrizovo Prison, the country’s largest penitentiary. The reported mistreatment consisted mainly of slaps, punches, kicks, and blows to various parts of the body and was reportedly used by prison staff as a disciplinary tool, as unofficial punishment for infractions, and as a reaction to inmate requests and complaints. The CPT also noted reports prison officers deliberately incited prisoners to mistreat convicted sex offenders and Romani individuals as well as allegations that prison officers themselves hit convicted sex offenders with batons (see Prison and Detention Center Conditions). The CPT also reported receiving a few allegations of mistreatment of inmates by officers at Stip Prison.

In its October 12 report, the CPT stated, “The violence at Idrizovo Prison is integrally linked to the endemic corruption that has pervaded the whole prison and implicates prison officers, including officers of all grades up to the most senior officers, and educators.” The report noted, “At Idrizovo Prison, every aspect of imprisonment is up for sale, from obtaining a place in a decent cell, to home leave, to medication, to mobile phones and drugs.” In one example of violence linked to corruption and payments to prison officers at Idrizovo Prison, prison officers severely beat an inmate in September 2016; the CPT confirmed the case was under investigation by the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In July 2016, six of 37 defendants accused of participating in the 2015 armed clashes with police in Kumanovo that left 18 persons dead asked the court for medical assistance after claiming police brutality during their transport from detention facilities to the court. Lawyers for the defendants requested an indefinite postponement of the trial, claiming, “Torture of the defendants is evident and it has been happening from the first day they were arrested until the last hearing.” The court informed the suspects’ lawyers that a medical report confirmed the physical abuse of two defendants and recognized minor injuries. The former minister of interior, Mitko Chavkov, asserted an investigation into the claims found no evidence of torture and that no charges were filed against accused police and prison guards, despite repeated complaints and calls for action by defense counsel and the ombudsman. In December 2016 the Ministry of Interior announced it would reopen the investigation. As of September 1, there were 14 police officers and prison guards under investigation for the alleged abuses. In October the ombudsman confirmed allegations of torture perpetrated by Ministry of Interior employees in charge of transporting the defendants to court. An investigation continued into one defendant’s claim that a member of the “Tigers” police unit sexually assaulted him.

During the year the European Roma Rights Center, a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), alleged “institutional violence” was perpetrated against Romani individuals in prisons and that there were several cases of Romani individuals being mistreated in detention facilities, resulting in their deaths.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The country’s prisons and detention centers failed to meet international standards and in some cases, according to the CPT, conditions could be described as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. Endemic corruption, high rates of overcrowding, mistreatment by prison guards, interprisoner violence, unsafe and unhygienic conditions, insufficient staffing, and inadequate training of guards and personnel remained serious problems, particularly at Idrizovo Prison, which held more than three-fifths of the country’s prison population.

Physical Conditions: The country had 11 prisons and three juvenile correctional facilities; seven prisons also housed pretrial detainees. The prisons were designed to hold 2,036 adults, 43 juveniles, and 450 pretrial detainees. As of September 1, the system held 2,767 individuals–2,507 adults, 235 pretrial detainees, and 25 juveniles.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, poor conditions gave rise to what it called the “inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees.”

In addition to mistreatment of inmates at Idrizovo Prison by prison staff (see section 1.c.), the CPT reported that interprisoner violence remained a serious problem at the prison. In one reported case, newly arrived prisoners sentenced for sexual offenses were repeatedly subjected to punches and blows with hard objects (such as brooms) by groups of inmates. Prison staff reportedly did not take any measures to protect these prisoners, and there were allegations that prison officers deliberately incited prisoners to mistreat sex offenders. Some prisoners claimed they were beaten by other inmates because they were unable to pay off debts incurred while in prison.

Prison authorities identified prison overcrowding as a core problem that gave rise to many secondary problems, including inadequate housing conditions for inmates, insufficient and substandard health care, difficult conditions for personal and general hygiene, and poor sanitation. Idrizovo Prison, which was built to hold 800 inmates but held more than 1,800, had especially bad conditions. In its October 12 report, the CPT noted sanitary annexes were in an “appalling state (filthy, foul-smelling, damaged, and leaking), many of the showers did not work and there was hardly any provision of hot water.” At the time of the December 2016 visit, the CPT reported that heating was working only a few hours a day. Provision of health care at Idrizovo and Skopje Prisons was inadequate. The CPT also observed that many prisoners were suffering from insect bites and infections such as scabies.

Insufficient staffing and inadequate training of prison guards and other personnel continued to be problems at all facilities.

Administration: In its October 12 report, the CPT noted it found no functioning internal complaint system in the three establishments it visited, including Idrizovo Prison. In general the ombudsman found that correctional authorities’ investigations into allegations of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were ineffective. Most offenders continued to abuse with impunity and when criminal charges were filed, the cases were not handled promptly or efficiently. As of September the ombudsman received 157 complaints concerning treatment in correctional facilities and was investigating 44.

The Department for Enforcement of Sanctions received 14 notifications of the use of force against inmates by prison police. One case was under investigation at year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The law allows physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the CPT and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. The government usually only granted independent humanitarian organizations, such as the country’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, access to convicted prisoners upon the prisoners’ requests.

The ombudsman regularly visited the country’s prisons and investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions, although on some occasions prisons turned away the ombudsman’s staff because prison administrators were on vacation or medical leave. The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture visited a variety of detention facilities in April. In a press release about the visit, it highlighted the under resourcing of the ombudsman’s office as a critical deficiency in the prevention of torture in correctional facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The army is responsible for external security, and the president is the supreme commander of the Army. The national police maintain internal security, including migration and border enforcement, and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Civilian authorities have not yet addressed gaps in oversight over law enforcement personnel, particularly in the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Security and Counterintelligence (UBK), which, without legal authorization, allegedly intercepted the communications of more than 20,000 individuals over a multiyear period (see section 1.f.). On September 12, Minister of Interior Oliver Spasovski announced plans to reform the UBK and improve its reputation and professionalism. Planned reforms include a system designed to reduce the chances of abusing the legal wiretap authorities. The ombudsman received nine complaints of unlawful or excessive use of force while performing official duties. International observers, embassies, and local NGOs cited corruption, lack of transparency, and political pressure within the ministry as hindering efforts to fight crime, particularly organized crime.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Army and the Ministry of Interior, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

The working group tasked with investigating the Ministry of Interior’s role in the April 27 attack on the parliament found legal and operational shortcomings within the ministry stemming from improper political and criminal influence over officials, including police officers. In response to the election of the new speaker of the parliament on April 27, approximately 200 demonstrators broke through a police cordon, entered the parliament building, and attacked journalists and parliament members. A Ministry of Interior investigation into the events of April 27 concluded that certain employees usurped their official position and failed to adequately protect members of the parliament and journalists. As a result of the investigation, 180 police officers were questioned, eight were dismissed, 43 were suspended, and 70 disciplinary procedures remained in progress.

In addition to investigating alleged police mistreatment, the Ministry of Interior’s Professional Standards Unit conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. The unit has authority to impose administrative sanctions, such as temporary suspension from work, during its investigations. The unit cannot take disciplinary measures, which require a ruling from a disciplinary commission, nor can it impose more serious criminal sanctions, which require court action. During the first half of the year, the unit initiated disciplinary action against 175 police personnel and filed six criminal charges against ministry employees for criminal acts, including “abuse of official position,” “deceit,” and “mistreatment in performing a duty.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law states that prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. A pretrial procedure judge, at the request of a prosecutor, may order detention of suspects for up to 72 hours before arraignment. Police generally adhered to these procedures. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Detention prior to indictment may last a maximum of 180 days. Following indictment, pretrial detention may last a maximum of two years.

In the majority of cases, the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. The selectivity and lack of transparency courts used when evaluating requests for pretrial detention or detention during trials were problematic. Government statistics indicated that prosecutors requested detention orders in 5 percent of all cases. The Skopje Criminal Court granted 80 percent of pretrial detention requests by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. At the same time, the courts denied 89 percent of similar requests for detention and other precautionary measures submitted by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Over the previous year, courts also rejected additional requests from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for precautionary measures, including house arrest and passport seizure. In some cases the court’s denials allowed high-profile suspects to evade prosecution.

On June 30, the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested a 30-day pretrial detention order for defendants in the “Target” and “Fortress II” cases, Goran Grujevski and Nikola Boshkovski. The Skopje Criminal Court denied the request on June 1. On June 17, the Skopje Appellate Court upheld the detention order pending a Supreme Court decision. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s ruling and issued an international arrest warrant against the two, which the Ministry of Interior disseminated through Interpol channels. On October 19, Greek police detained the defendants in Thessaloniki for possession and use of false Bulgarian passports and identification documents. On November 8, Grujevski was tried in absentia in the Fortress II case and sentenced to 18 months in prison. As of December both individuals were awaiting extradition.

The courts sometimes failed to provide appropriate justification for prolonging, substituting, or terminating pretrial detention.

On May 12, the Supreme Court reversed the Skopje Criminal Court’s detention order against Sead Kocan, which was originally requested by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Media reported Supreme Court president Jovo Vangelovski delayed signing and transmitting the detention order to the Ministry of Interior, allowing the defendant to flee. Kocan, along with three other businessmen, was suspected of falsifying documents in 2011 to win a tender of 17 million euros ($20 million) from the state power company to extract coal from a mine near the city of Bitola.

There is an operating bail system. The law allows defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, but authorities did not always inform detainees properly of this right and did not always allow them to consult with an attorney prior to arraignment. Indigent detainees have the right to a state-provided attorney, and authorities generally respected this right. Judges usually granted permission for attorneys to visit their clients in detention. Police reportedly called suspects and witnesses to police stations for “informative talks” without notifying them of their rights and without the presence of legal counsel. Authorities did not practice incommunicado detention but sometimes held suspects under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: The ombudsman received two complaints of arbitrary arrest, and a number of high-profile cases from previous years have not been resolved due to continuous trial postponements.

On November 28, the Criminal Court of Skopje ordered the arrest of 36 suspects for questioning in connection with investigations into the violent attacks in parliament on April 27. After initial questioning, the court ordered 21 individuals remanded to 30-day pretrial detention, including the former chief of public security and members of parliament (MPs). Due to their parliamentary immunity, the MPs were released pending a parliamentary decision on the immunity. On December 1, parliament lifted the immunity of the MPs at the court’s request, citing the nature of the alleged crime; on December 5, the Skopje Criminal Court ordered 30-day detentions of three VMRO-DPMNE MPs and house arrest for the other three. Opposition party VMRO-DPMNE called the detentions politically motivated and its supporters protested on multiple occasions over the course of several weeks. On December 28, in response to a petition by 33 VMRO-DPMNE MPs asking the ombudsman to determine whether the rights of the MPs were violated, the ombudsman announced police had violated the rights to parliamentary immunity and presumption of innocence of the six MPs. He recommended that the Ministry of Interior open an investigation into the conduct of the officers involved and questioned whether the court had authority to issue an arrest warrant for individuals with parliamentary immunity without their immunity being lifted beforehand. On December 29, the minister of interior stated, “during the detainment of the MPs, the police acted legally–upon an order issued by the court,” adding that he provided documentation on the case to the ombudsman. On December 27, the detentions of the MPs were renewed for another 30 days.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested suspects, their attorneys, or close family members can petition the court to decide the lawfulness of their detention or obtain court-ordered release as well as to obtain compensation for persons unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an independent and autonomous Judicial Council. The judiciary failed to demonstrate independence and impartiality, however, and judges were subject to political influence and corruption. The outcomes of many judicial actions appeared predetermined, particularly in cases where the defendants held views or took actions in opposition to the government. Inadequate funding of the judiciary continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness. A number of judicial officials accused the government of using its budgetary authority to exert control over the judiciary.

According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2016, the second greatest number of citizen complaints (577 or 15 percent) received by the ombudsman concerned the judicial system. As of September the ombudsman had received 363 complaints concerning the judicial system during the year. The ombudsman’s report stated citizens complained about long trials, bias, selective justice, and undue pressure on judges. A significant portion of court budgets reportedly went to paying damages for violations of citizens’ right to trial within a reasonable time. The report indicated court decisions were sometimes considerably delayed due to administrative deficiencies or judges exceeding the legally prescribed deadlines for issuing written judgments.

In a report released in 2015, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group highlighted the “atmosphere of pressure and insecurity within the judiciary. Many judges believed that promotion within the ranks of the judiciary was reserved for those whose decisions favor the political establishment.” The update to this report, released September 14, noted that within the judiciary, “many of the practices denounced in the 2015 report have continued.” The report specifically asserted, “The control and misuse of the judicial system…to serve and promote political interests has not diminished by any significant respect.”

While there were strict rules regulating the assignment of cases to judges that were implemented through an electronic case management system, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group’s September 14 report noted, “there are credible indications that this system has frequently been interfered with in order to ensure the allocation of sensitive files to particular judges.” In its 2016 annual enlargement progress report, the European Commission found allegations of direct interference by judicial authorities in the use of the Automated Court Case Management Information System (ACCMIS) to assign judges to handle specific procedures initiated by the special prosecutor. Initial findings of the government’s ACCMIS audit, released December 7, found the system had been manipulated, substantiating longstanding rumors of abuse. The Ministry of Justice indicated it would submit the results to the Judicial Council and Public Prosecutor for action.

On February 20, the president of the Skopje Criminal Court, Tatjana Mihajlova, transferred 20 (out of a total 67) judges presiding over high-level criminal cases to the misdemeanor and juvenile divisions of the court. Multiple members of the judiciary claimed the transfers were in retaliation for rulings favorable to the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Judges also alleged that Mihajlova and her successor, Stojance Ribarev, only assigned judges with a record of obstructing the special prosecutor to oversee the cases brought by the Special Prosecutor’s Office.

A 2015 report by the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group raised concerns about the fairness of the conviction of Zvonko Kostovski, a defendant in the “Coup” case. Kostovski, a counterintelligence officer in the Ministry of Interior, pleaded guilty to espionage and illegal interception of communications and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Kostovski claimed he wiretapped compromising conversations for the opposition SDSM party leader, Zoran Zaev, in order to blackmail former prime minister Nikola Gruevski into including the SDSM in the government. In its report the Senior Experts Group expressed concern that it was impossible to know to what extent the facts supported the plea and whether the light sentence the judge conferred may have been a reward for participating in a cover-up of the involvement of others. In October 2016 the Special Prosecutor’s Office requested an extraordinary Supreme Court review of Kostovski’s plea bargain. On July 12, the special prosecutor obtained the original copy of Kotovski’s plea bargain and appealed the plea before the Supreme Court, citing substantive procedural violations. As of December 1, the Supreme Court’s review was pending.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, although political interference in the work and appointment of the judiciary frequently undermined this right.

In 2015 a law took effect that contains updated sentencing guidelines designed to address inconsistent sentencing among different courts. Legal analysts expressed concern that the law seriously hampered judicial discretion to decide sentences according to the facts in individual cases and provided too much power to prosecutors to influence sentences.

The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary), but authorities did not always respect this right. Trials were generally open to the public. High-profile trials were subject to frequent delays. The ombudsman cited delayed court proceedings as a violation of citizens’ rights and noted the number of complaints regarding delayed court proceedings increased during the year, compared with 2016.

Defense attorneys and human rights activists claimed that closing significant portions of high-profile trials to the public reduced transparency and contributed to declining public confidence in the courts, especially among the ethnic Albanian population. The defense in the “Monster” case and the Kumanovo trial, most of the proceedings of which were held behind closed doors, repeatedly raised such concerns.

For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Authorities did not always grant defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Free assistance of an interpreter is provided. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or confess guilt. Both the prosecution and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On July 14, journalist Zoran Bozinovski was released from detention after 15 months in custody. In April 2016 Serbian authorities approved his extradition to Macedonia on an Interpol arrest warrant accusing him of criminal association, espionage, and extortion amid allegations that he was part of a spy ring working for foreign governments. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia had called Bozinovski’s arrest and detention “politically motivated and aimed at silencing journalists who had the courage to expose scandals about the authorities.”

Bozinovski had reportedly moved to Serbia out of concern for his safety after posting articles critical of the former government, the VMRO-DPMNE party, and former prime minister Gruevski.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and its alleged perpetrator. Individuals also may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis for appealing excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with civil decisions of domestic courts. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all domestic legal options.

The ombudsman’s 2016 annual report noted continuing problems regarding the right to trial in a reasonable time. According to the report, protracted civil and administrative court cases, as well as insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulted in violations of citizens’ rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The ability to apply for restitution of property confiscated during the Holocaust is limited to Macedonian citizens. Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue in the country, particularly after the 2000 Denationalization Law and 2007 compensation agreement.

The 2000 Denationalization Law accorded the right to denationalization of property seized after August 1944 to former owners and their successors, in accordance with the provisions related to the right to inherit. It required claimants to have Macedonian citizenship at the time of the law entering force.

The 2007 Compensation Agreement was between the government, the Holocaust Fund, and the Jewish Community and allowed for the payment of 21.1 million euros ($25 million) between June 2009 and June 2018. To date 15.6 million euros ($18.7 million) has been paid. One of its major results was the construction of the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia, which officially opened in 2011.

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place related to the resolution of Holocaust-era claims by foreign citizens.

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

The law prohibits such actions, although there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions during the year.

The government continued to deal with the repercussions of revelations of a widespread, illegal wiretapping campaign allegedly carried out over multiple years inside the UBK headquarters. The campaign was first reported by the then opposition SDSM party in February 2015. In its September 14 report, the European Commission’s Senior Experts Group stated, “Urgent measures to prevent illegal wiretapping have not been addressed” and noted that illegal interceptions may have continued after June 2015. According to the report, the UBK still holds a monopoly over interception of communications for both security purposes and criminal investigations, which interfered with the autonomy of police forces. The report also noted concerns remained regarding the lack of respect for basic human rights and data protection rules within the UBK. On October 31, the government established an expert working group to reform the system for legal interception, headed by deputy director of the UBK, Siljan Avramovski.

The European Commission’s Senior Experts Group criticized the Directorate for Personal Data Protection, the agency responsible for overseeing the government’s handling of personal information, for its delay in responding to the “apparent lack of data protection, the potential improper and uncontrolled registration of telephone numbers, as well as the invasion of the right to privacy through potentially unauthorized surveillance.” In late 2016 the directorate performed four inspections of the UBK and initiated a control inspection on July 24 to measure implementation of the 11 recommendations it made during 2016 inspections. A compliance report published by the directorate on November 24 stated that the Ministry of Interior fully complied with 10 recommendations and partially with one recommendation.

In May 2016 the ruling coalition passed, through an expedited procedure, amendments to the Law on the Protection of Privacy that prohibit the possession, processing, and publishing of any content, including wiretapped conversations, that violate the right to privacy with regard to personal or family life. The amendments, which entered into force in July, also prohibit the use of such materials in election campaigns or for other political purposes.

Lustration, the process of publicly identifying individuals who collaborated with the secret services during the communist era and prohibiting them from holding public office and receiving other government benefits, was discontinued during the year. On August 29, a report about the Lustration Commission’s activities from 2009 to 2017 was submitted to the parliament. On September 13, the parliament terminated the commission without debate. The ECHR has ruled twice, most recently in April, that the country’s lustration procedures violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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: The December 2016 election for seats in the parliament had a record high turnout and only minor confirmed irregularities. According to the OSCE/ODIHR report, although the State Election Commission struggled with election preparations, election day was generally well administered and orderly. While ODIHR found that fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates were able to campaign freely, it noted that the elections took place “in an environment characterized by a lack of public trust in institutions and the political establishment, and allegations of voter coercion.” According to ODIHR, the elections failed to meet some important OSCE commitments for a democratic electoral process, including voter intimidation, widespread pressure on civil servants, vote buying, coercion, and misuse of administrative resources. Municipal elections were held on October 15, with a second round on October 29. According to the OSCE/ODIHR preliminary report, the elections took place in a competitive environment, voter’s fundamental freedoms were respected, and the elections “contributed to strengthening confidence in the democratic process.” Problems observed during the pre-election period included credible allegations of vote buying, voter pressure, and isolated cases of violence. OSCE/ODHIR found that despite organizational challenges, election day generally proceeded in an orderly fashion.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are few restrictions on forming or joining political parties, which are subject to the same laws as ordinary citizens. While membership in a political party is not mandatory, there is an active patronage system in the country through which parties confer special benefits and advantages to their members. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party accused the government of continuing these practices, alleging that educational and professional qualifications prescribed by law for public administration positions were not followed. On July 6, Spase Gligorov was appointed to lead the nonpartisan Agency for Administration after his resignation from the SDSM Executive Committee. The appointment of Ivan Barbov as acting director of the University Clinic of Neurology in Skopje was also considered controversial. Barbov was convicted and given a suspended sentence in 2012 for participating in a group that charged patients for illegal insurance papers that granted disability pensions. Multiple sources alleged, however, that some defendants in the case were subjects of politically motivated prosecutions by the former VMRO-DPMNE government. Legal analysts noted that in some high profile cases, if there was the risk of an acquittal due to weak or insufficient evidence, judges would issue guilty verdicts with suspended sentences. This was reportedly done to avoid negative publicity and prevent defendants from suing for damages stemming from unjust detention cases.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires gender diversity in each political party’s candidate list for parliamentary and municipal elections. No more than two-thirds of a party’s candidates may be the same gender. As of September 28, 41 of the 120 members of the parliament were women, and four women served as ministers in the president’s 25-member cabinet. Men dominated leadership ranks in political parties. Of the 208 candidates for mayoral positions in the October 15 elections, only 12 were women. Six women won mayoral contests on October 15, four of whom were incumbents.

Ethnic Albanians and other ethnic minorities continued to complain of inequitable representation within government and discriminatory practices that excluded them from political participation, such as selective withholding of security clearances.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; there were reports that officials engaged in corruption with impunity. NGOs stated the government’s dominant role in the economy created opportunities for corruption. The government was the country’s largest employer; some analysts estimated it employed as many as 180,000 persons, despite official statistics showing public sector employment of approximately 128,000.

Corruption: On March 30, the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation released its biennial report, which asserted that the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption had lost the confidence of citizens and failed to fulfil its monitoring and control responsibilities. In 2016 the center found corruption had increased since 2014 and that acceptance of corruption remained high among the public. During the year 30.5 percent of 1,000 respondents to a survey conducted by the organization reported they were asked for a bribe, up 4.9 percent from 2014. Similarly, 29.2 percent of respondents offered or gave a bribe, up 7.7 percent from 2014. Corruption varied along ethnic lines, with 83.3 percent of ethnic Albanians reportedly experiencing pressure to pay a bribe and 80.5 percent paying a bribe, compared with 40.6 percent and 35.5 percent, respectively, of ethnic Macedonian respondents.

According to Transparency International’s annual Global Corruption Barometer released in November 2016, 12 percent of survey respondents reported having to pay bribes to obtain public services to which they were legally entitled. All respondents believed powerful, influential, and rich individuals exerted too strong an influence over politics.

During the first three months of the year, the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption opened 16 cases on the misuse of public funds. During the year the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office investigated 25 suspects on corruption-related charges, filed one indictment, and obtained convictions against four defendants. The crimes included misuse of official position and authority, money laundering or laundering of other criminal proceeds, receiving bribes, and accepting rewards for unlawful influence. As of September 15, the Skopje Basic Prosecution office had two parliament members under investigation for violating rules set forth by the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption.

Between April 15 and September 15, the Special Prosecutor’s Office filed 18 indictments against 120 defendants, charged 168 criminal offenses, and opened seven investigations against 25 suspects. It also initiated 142 preliminary investigations into apparent criminal behavior relating to or arising from the content of illegally intercepted communications between 2008 and 2015. In its June 30 filings, the Special Prosecutor’s Office recommended detention of 18 of those charged, including former prime minister Gruevski. The Skopje Basic Court denied the request to detain Gruevski (see section 1.d.).

Since the creation of the Special Prosecutor’s Office in 2015, the VMRO-DPMNE party repeatedly obstructed the work of the office and publicly criticized Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva, claiming she was incompetent and a politically biased tool of the SDSM party. The judiciary played a role in hindering the effectiveness of the Special Prosecutor’s Office.

On November 1, police arrested the former mayor of the Skopje municipality of Gorce Petrov, Sokol Mitrevski, and nine other suspects for misuse of office. The charges were related to the alleged issuance of illegal construction licenses and land concessions. The arrest followed investigations of five other VMRO-DPMNE mayors or former mayors on various corruption-related charges.

Financial Disclosure: The anticorruption law requires appointed and elected officials and their close family to disclose their income and assets and provides penalties for noncompliance. The public could view disclosure declarations on the website of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. The commission also received and checked 1,460 conflict of interest statements submitted by public officials.

Over the summer, media reported on the financial disclosure declarations of new government officials, especially Deputy Prime Minister Kocho Angjushev, a businessman who reported a net worth of 27 to 28 million euros ($32 million to $33 million) on his disclosure statement. After his appointment Angjushev did not divest from his holding company, Feroinvest, but he did step down as its managing director. The Feroinvest Group owned businesses in the metalworking and renewable energy sectors. On September 19, Angjushev announced his companies would no longer bid on government tenders while he was in office after ELEM, the state-owned power generation company, cancelled a tender that Feroinvest was the frontrunner to win.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. The penalties for rape range from one to 15 years’ imprisonment, but those laws were poorly enforced. Domestic violence is illegal but was a persistent and common problem. Police and judicial officials were reluctant to prosecute spousal rape and domestic violence. As of September the ombudsman’s office had not received any complaints of inadequate action by police or the judicial system in the investigation or prosecution of domestic violence cases.

The government ran seven limited-capacity shelters, and one NGO operated a shelter that could accommodate 30 at-risk women. A national NGO operated a hotline in both the Macedonian and the Albanian languages and ran two crisis centers to provide temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. Sexual harassment of women in the workplace was a problem, and victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men. In some communities, the practice of men directing the voting or voting on behalf of female family members disenfranchised women.

Children

Birth Registration: The law determines citizenship primarily by the citizenship of the parents. It also allows orphans found in the country to acquire citizenship, unless authorities discover before they reach the age of 18 that their parents were foreigners. The government automatically registers the births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions, and the law requires that parents register the births of all children, including those born at home, at magistrate offices within 15 days of birth. Some Romani families delayed the registration of newborns, making it difficult for them to access educational, medical, and other benefits later in life because they lacked proper identity documents.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem in some areas. The government operated a hotline for domestic violence, including child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. A court may issue a marriage license to persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if it finds them mentally and physically fit for marriage. Early and forced marriage occurred occasionally in the Romani community and, to a much lesser extent, in some Albanian communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The penalty for the commercial sexual exploitation of children is 10 to 15 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and provides penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Authorities considered child commercial sexual exploitation a problem but did not know its extent. The country had an online registry, searchable by name and address, of convicted child traffickers and sex offenders that provided their photographs, conviction records, and residential addresses. Offenders could ask authorities to remove them from the register 10 years after they completed their sentence, provided they did not commit a new offense.

Displaced Children: According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, there were 78 displaced children of different ethnicities registered as of June. An October 2016 report from the Ombudsman’s Office estimated 236 children lived without shelter. With international support the ministry operated two day-centers for street children. The government maintained a transit shelter for street children, but its small size limited its effectiveness in providing social services.

Institutionalized Children: Advocates and the ombudsman reported a lack of accountability for child neglect and abuse in orphanages, shelters, and detention centers. In June 2016 the Ombudsman’s Office presented a report on the Tetovo Juvenile Penitentiary, describing inhuman living and sanitary conditions in the facility, disturbing treatment practices in the penitentiary wards, and a lack of medical care. According to the ombudsman, physiological and sanitary needs were unmet; there was no permanent doctor on staff; and hepatitis was spread through sexual intercourse among the boys, some of whom had been victims of sexual abuse.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community estimated that 200 to 250 Jews lived in the country. There were some instances of anti-Semitic speech on social media and the Jewish community reported flyers with anti-Semitic content were thrown in the yard of its headquarters.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. The law allows persons who have experienced discrimination to submit complaints to the Commission for Protection from Discrimination. The commission was located in an office sometimes inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

A separate law regulates a special government fund for stimulating employment of persons with disabilities. The Employment Agency manages the fund with oversight by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The fund provided grants for office reconstruction or procurement of equipment for workstations to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. The law requires persons with physical or mental disabilities to obtain approval from a government medical commission to serve in supervisory positions in the private and public sectors.

The law establishes accessibility standards for new buildings; existing public structures were to be made accessible for persons with disabilities by the end of 2015. NGOs reported many public buildings did not comply with the law. Although all buses purchased since 2013 by the government for Skopje were accessible to persons with physical disabilities, public transportation remained largely inaccessible in other regions. The Ministry of Transport and Communications continued a multiyear project to procure accessible train cars and make train stations in Skopje and 10 other cities accessible.

The Ministry of Education and Science made efforts to provide suitable support to enable children with disabilities to attend regular schools. It employed special educators, assigned either to individual selected schools or as “mobile” municipal special educators covering all schools in their municipality, to support teachers who had children with disabilities in their regular classes. School authorities also installed elevators in several primary schools and deployed technology to assist students with disabilities in using computers in selected primary and secondary schools. Despite these efforts, a large number of students with disabilities continued to attend separate schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the country’s most recent census in 2002, the ethnic composition of the population was 64.2 percent Macedonian, 25.2 percent Albanian, 3.9 percent Turkish, 2.7 percent Romani, 1.8 percent Serbian, 0.8 percent Bosniak, and 0.5 percent Vlach. According to the ombudsman’s annual report, ethnic minorities, with the exception of Serbs and Vlachs, were underrepresented in the civil service and other state institutions, including the military, police, intelligence services, courts, national bank, customs service, and public enterprises.

The law provides for primary and secondary education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Romani, Turkish, and Serbian languages. The number of minority students who received secondary education in their native language continued to increase, especially after secondary education became mandatory in 2007, although the government was unable to provide full instruction in Romani due to a shortage of qualified teachers.

Ethnic Albanians continued to criticize unequal representation in government ministries and public enterprises. The country’s police academy continued to fall short of the number of minority trainees needed to comply with the constitution, which stipulates that the administration reflect the ethnic composition of the state. Ethnic Albanians alleged the government designed the testing process in the academy unfairly to deny access to minority groups. In particular, ethnic Albanians complained of cultural biases in the tests. Ethnic Albanian and other minority representation within the civilian administration of the Ministry of Defense remained low. Some elite units of the police and the military had almost no representation of ethnic minorities.

Roma reported widespread societal discrimination. NGOs and international experts reported that employers often denied Roma job opportunities, and some Roma complained of lack of access to public services and benefits. The Ministry of Health and the NGO Hera, in partnership with UNICEF, sponsored the Roma Health Mediators Program to provide health, social, and early childhood development services in seven municipalities with high Romani populations.

Ethnic Turks complained of discrimination.

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

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual acts between members of the same sex are legal.

The LGBTI community remained marginalized and activists supporting LGBTI rights reported incidents of societal prejudice, including hate speech, physical assaults and other violence, failure of police to arrest perpetrators of attacks, and a failure of the government to condemn or combat discrimination against the LGBTI community. Five cases of hate crimes against transgender individuals were reported during the year. According to the NGO Subversive Front, as of September 1, the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office had not processed 39 pending cases involving hate speech targeting members of the LGBTI community.

According to NGOs, there was a lack of will among political parties to address the problem of violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Government representatives were typically absent from public discussions on LGBTI issues. An informal LGBTI interparliamentarian group was established in June, when the prime minister issued a statement on LGBTI inclusion.

In June the new government supported Pride Week and, for the first time, the minister of culture spoke at a pride event. On January 1, a memorandum of cooperation on information sharing between the LGBTI Support Center and the Ombudsman’s Office came into force.

On September 22, the Administrative Court adopted a decision that requires the Ministry of Justice to correct a transgender person’s entry in the birth registry upon request. The decision also compels the Ministry of Interior to issue a new national identification number to the applicant within three days of the correction.

As a result of complaints from LGBTI organizations and with support from the ombudsman, the Ministry of Education withdrew a number of textbooks found to be discriminatory on the basis of gender and family status. The state universities of Cyril and Methodius and Kliment Ohridski did not comply with the directive, and discriminatory texts were still in use at these institutions as of October.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were isolated reports of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS in the health-care sector.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires federated unions to register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and with the State Central Registry. Union leaders reported occasions when the ministry would extend the registration process for a new union for months without explanation.

A court of general jurisdiction may terminate trade union activities at the request of the registrar or competent court when those activities are deemed to be “against the constitution and law.” There are no nationality restrictions on membership in trade unions, although foreign nationals must have a valid work permit and be employed by the company or government body listed on the permit.

The government and employers did not always respect freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. Unions maintained the law’s “exclusionary” provision allowed employers to terminate up to 2 percent of workers from collective bargaining negotiations during a strike. Collective bargaining is restricted to trade unions that represent at least 20 percent of the employees and employers’ associations that represent at least 10 percent of the employers at the level at which the agreement is concluded (company, sector, or country). Government enforcement resources and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations of the law were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were generally subject to lengthy delays.

In February, in response to a 2017 International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts report, the Ministry of Education amended the law to prohibit the replacement of striking workers to comply with the request.

Unions, with the exception of a few branch unions, were generally not independent from the influence of government officials, political parties, and employers–particularly those that had close ties with the previous governing coalition.

On August 14, Zhivko Mitrevski stepped down as head of the Federation of Labor Unions. The federation had dismissed Mitrevski in November 2016 after he suspended four labor unions that had accused him of abusing his office, misusing funds, and interfering in union operations. Despite the federation’s election of Darko Dimovski as acting president, former minister of labor and social policy Ibrahim Ibrahimi reinstated Mitrevski. In May the Supreme Court ruled that Dimovski should be registered as president.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government largely enforced applicable laws. The law prescribes imprisonment, which apply to violations of forced labor or for the destruction or removal of identification documents, passports, or other travel documents. There were instances in which women and children were subjected to forced labor, such as peddling small items in restaurants and bars. Some Romani children were forced to beg, often by relatives (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15, although children can begin work at 14 as apprentices or as participants in an official vocational education program. The law prohibits employing minors under the age of 18 in work that is detrimental to their physical or psychological health and morality.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for enforcing laws regulating the employment of children. The government made efforts to enforce the law in the formal economy but did not do so effectively in the informal economy. Police and the Labor Ministry, through centers for social work, shared responsibility for enforcing laws on child trafficking, including forced begging. The law mandates a prison sentence for persons who buy, sell, keep, or take minors for the purpose of exploitation. If enforced, the penalties would be sufficient to deter violations.

Although child labor was not prevalent in the country, there were reports that individuals in the informal economy employed child labor. The most common examples included using children to beg, clean windshields, and sell cigarettes and other small items in open markets, the streets, or in bars and restaurants at night. Although the necessary laws were in place, government efforts to eliminate forced begging by children were largely ineffective. Children involved in these activities were primarily Roma and most often worked for their parents or family members. Officials frequently failed to hold those exploiting the children accountable, and Romani children remained vulnerable to exploitation and forced labor.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy funded two day-care centers that provided education, medical, and psychological services to children who were forced to beg on the street. The Labor Ministry also cofunded a day-care center operated by an NGO in the Skopje suburb of Shuto Orizari.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, one of the worst forms of child labor (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations generally prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, health status, political opinion, religion, age, national origin, language, or social status. The law does not address discrimination based on HIV or other communicable disease status. The government did not always enforce the laws effectively. Civil activists complained that the State Commission for Protection against Discrimination was not doing its work and was merely an employment hub for individuals close to the previous governing party.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and certain ethnic groups in the military, police, intelligence services, courts, national bank, customs service, state agencies, and public and private companies (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Despite government efforts and legal changes for mandatory inclusion in the primary and high education, the Romani community continued to live in segregated groups without proper health and social protection. Data from the State Employment Office showed that due to the low participation in the education system, particularly higher education, Roma generally had difficulties finding a job in the formal economy. Women’s wages lagged behind those of men, and few women occupied management positions. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On September 19, the parliament approved a bill to increase the national minimum wage from 10,080 denars ($193) per month to 12,000 denars ($231). This change also applied to workers in the textile and leather industries, where the previous minimum wage was 8,080 denars ($155) per month. As of June, according to official statistics, the average monthly net wage was 22,808 denars ($439). In October the State Statistical Office estimated that 21.8 percent of the population lived at or under the poverty line. The poverty threshold was measured as a monthly income of 14,500 denars ($279) for a family of four.

Although the government set occupational safety and health standards for employers, those standards were not enforced in the informal sector, which accounted for an estimated 22 percent of the economy.

Labor inspectors have the authority to press misdemeanor charges against an employer who violates labor laws and to close an establishment until the employer corrects the violations. In cases of repeated violations, owners can be fined. The total number of inspectors was considered adequate to investigate violations of labor law and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. In practice, inspections were not adequate to ensure compliance due, in part, to an inadequate regional distribution of inspectors.

During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy labor inspectorate filed complaints against several businesses for forcing employees to work long hours without the rest breaks required by law; nonpayment of salaries, benefits, and overtime; and cutting employees’ vacation. Violations in wage and overtime were most common in textiles sector, railroads, and retail.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced. Many employers hired workers without complying with the law, and small retail businesses often required employees to work well beyond legal hourly limits. During the year the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was not fully functional and held only an advisory role. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their future employment, employers did not always respect this right.

There were on average 40 workplace fatalities per year, but no data on the specific causes of workplace deaths or injuries was available for the year.

Namibia

Executive Summary

Namibia is a constitutional multiparty democracy. In local and regional elections held in 2015, the ruling South West African People’s Organization (Swapo) party won 112 of 121 regional council seats and gained control of 54 of 57 local authorities. Elections held in November 2014 resulted in the election of Prime Minister Hage Geingob to the presidency and retention by Swapo of its large parliamentary majority. International observers characterized the elections in 2014 and 2015 as generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the law does not define “torture” or separately classify it as a crime. Torture is prosecuted under criminal provisions such as assault or homicide. Although the Ombudsman’s Office stated that it received some reports of police mistreatment of detainees, there were no complaints of torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions improved during the year, although some prison buildings remained dilapidated.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in detention centers and police holding cells remained poor. Conditions were often worse in pretrial holding cells than in prisons. Human rights bodies and government officials reported overcrowding in holding cells. Overcrowding was less of a problem in prisons. Five of the country’s 13 prisons were overcrowded, while the remaining eight had excess capacity. As of August prisons built to confine a maximum of 5,147 persons held 3,993 inmates. These included 100 women and eight juveniles.

In pretrial holding cells, sanitation remained insufficient, tuberculosis was prevalent, and on-site medical assistance was inadequate.

Prison and holding cell conditions for women were generally better than for men. Female prisoners were permitted to keep their babies with them until age two and received food and clothing for them from prison staff.

There were limited programs to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.

The law does not permit holding juvenile offenders with adults. Prison authorities reported they generally confined juvenile offenders separately, but police occasionally held juveniles with adults in rural detention facilities because of a lack of pretrial detainee facilities for juveniles.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent authority, investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and reported close cooperation with police in resolving complaints and responding promptly to inquiries.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to prisons and prisoners but required them to obtain permission from the commissioner general of prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited detainees of the Caprivi treason trial in both Windhoek Central Prison and Oluno Prison and helped arrange family visits.

Improvements: During the year police continued to improve detention conditions by refurbishing older facilities and by building additional holding cells. At year’s end prison holding capacity exceeded the prison population in eight of the country’s 13 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Namibian Police Force (NamPol) has approximately 16,500 uniformed officers and operates under the Ministry of Safety and Security. The Namibian Defense Force, with an estimated 22,000 active duty members, is part of the Ministry of Defense. NamPol is responsible for internal security, while the defense force provides supplemental assistance in response to some natural disasters.

NamPol reported it had decentralized policing activities to make regional commands responsible for executing directives of the inspector general of police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over NamPol, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. In contrast to prior years, there were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrest warrants are not required in all cases, including when authorities apprehend a suspect in the course of committing a crime. Authorities must inform persons arrested of the reason for their arrest, and police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must arraign arrested persons within 48 hours of their detention. The government did not always meet this requirement, especially in rural areas far from courts. The constitution stipulates the accused are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice, and authorities respected this right.

The state-funded Legal Aid Directorate (LAD) provided free legal assistance for indigent defendants in criminal cases and, depending on resource availability, in civil matters. The LAD provided assistance in approximately 70 percent of all criminal cases.

There was a functioning bail system. Officials generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. The constitution permits detention without trial during a state of emergency but requires publication of the names of detainees in the government’s gazette within 14 days of their apprehension. An advisory board appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (the constitutional body that recommends judges to the president for appointment) must review their cases within one month of detention and every three months thereafter. The constitution requires such advisory boards to have no more than five members of which at least three must be “judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court or qualified to be such.” The advisory board has the power to order the release of anyone detained without trial during an emergency.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a significant problem. A shortage of qualified magistrates and other court officials, the inability of many defendants to afford bail, the lack of a plea-bargaining system, slow or incomplete police investigations, the frequency of appeals, and procedural postponements resulted in a large backlog in the prosecution of criminal cases. Delays between arrest and trial could last for years. There were lengthy delays in criminal appeals as well. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, pretrial detention did not exceed the maximum sentence of an alleged crime.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained 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 courts acted independently at times, making judgments and rulings critical of the government. Inefficiency and lack of resources, however, hampered the judicial system.

Customary courts hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law among members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in government courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, but long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a public trial.

All defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary from their first court appearance through all appeals. Although indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases, this sometimes did not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the LAD did not accept the application for representation from an accused.

Defendants may confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, and have the right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures to correct, as well as judicial remedies to redress, wrongs. Civil court orders were mostly well enforced.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2015 regional and local council elections, the ruling Swapo party won 112 of 121 regional council seats and gained control of 54 of 57 local districts. Voting proceeded in an orderly and effective manner with no reports of politically motivated violence or voter intimidation. In the 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections, voters elected Swapo candidate Hage Geingob president with 87 percent of the vote. Swapo candidates won 77 of the 96 elected seats (there are also eight appointed seats) in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. International observers characterized the elections in 2014 and 2015 as generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Ruling party policy–the Zebra system–provides for 50 percent of Swapo candidates for parliament to be women. Virtually all of the country’s ethnic minorities had representatives in parliament and in senior positions in the cabinet. The president is from the minority Damara ethnic group. Historic economic and educational disadvantages, however, limited the participation in politics of some ethnic groups, such as the San and Himba.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of corruption by individuals in government. During the year the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) conducted awareness campaigns and workshops for government officials, politicians, civil society organizations, church leaders, and schoolchildren on the dangers of corruption. In addition it launched the four-year National Anti-Corruption Strategy and Action Plan, aimed at increasing accountability in all areas of government and preventing corruption.

Corruption: During the year there were cases of publicly owned enterprises being unable to account for large sums of missing funds. A major bank was forced to close after 200 million Namibian dollars (N$) ($15.2 million) of its money disappeared after being transferred out of the country in an investment transaction, and efforts to determine fault have thus far not taken place.

Financial Disclosure: The parliamentary code of conduct requires members to make annual declarations of financial interests. The declaration form includes a confidential portion to which the public does not have access. While the forms are available for public viewing at parliament upon request, authorities sought to extend the November 15 deadline for parliamentarians to file their disclosure forms.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. By law rape is defined as the commitment of any sexual act under coercive circumstances. The courts tried numerous cases of rape during the year, and the government generally enforced court sentences providing between five and 45 years’ imprisonment for those convicted. Factors hampering rape prosecutions included limited police capacity and the withdrawal of allegations by victims after the filing of charges. Victims often withdrew charges because they received compensation from the accused; succumbed to family pressure, shame, or threats; or became discouraged at the length of time involved in prosecuting a case.

Traditional authorities may adjudicate civil claims for compensation in cases of rape, but criminal trials for rape are held in courts.

The government and media focused national attention on gender-based violence. The president and former presidents spoke publicly against gender-based violence.

The law prohibits domestic violence, but the problem was widespread. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence–including physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, and serious emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse–range from a fine of N$300 ($23) for simple offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The law provides for the issuance of protection orders in cases of domestic violence and specifies handling certain crimes of violence–including murder, rape, and assault–differently if the crimes take place within a domestic relationship. When authorities received reports of domestic violence, Gender-based Violence Protection Units staffed with police officers, social workers, legal advisors, and medical personnel trained to assist victims of sexual assault intervened. Some magistrate courts provided special courtrooms with a cubicle constructed of one-way glass and child-friendly waiting rooms to protect vulnerable witnesses from open testimony. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare operated shelters; however, due to staffing and funding shortfalls, the shelters operated only on an as-needed basis, with social workers coordinating with volunteers to place and provide victims with food and other services.

Sexual Harassment: The law explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees who leave their jobs due to sexual harassment may be entitled to legal “remedies available to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed.”

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Civil law prohibits gender-based discrimination, including employment discrimination. Women nonetheless experienced discrimination in such areas as access to credit, salary level, owning and managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d.). Some elements of customary family law provide for different treatment of women. Civil law grants maternity leave to mothers but not paternity leave to fathers, bases marital property solely on the domicile of the husband at the time of the marriage, and sets grounds for divorce and divorce procedures differently for men and women. The law protects a widow’s right to remain on the land of her deceased husband, even if she remarries. Traditional practices in certain northern regions, however, permitted family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution provides for citizenship by birth within the country to a citizen parent or a foreign parent ordinarily resident in the country, or to those born outside the country to citizen parents.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, in partnership with UNICEF, provided birth certificates for newborns at clinics and hospitals throughout the country, including through mobile registration vans and birth registration offices at 11 high-volume hospitals. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, approximately 98 percent of citizens had a birth certificate or other identifying document. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem, and authorities prosecuted reported crimes against children, particularly rape and incest. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare employed social workers throughout the country to address cases of child abuse and conducted public awareness campaigns aimed at preventing child abuse and publicizing services available to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits civil marriage before age 18 for both boys and girls. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child pornography, child prostitution, and the actions of both the client and the pimp in cases of sexual exploitation of children under age 18. NGOs reported that HIV/AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children engaged in prostitution without third-party involvement due to economic pressures or as a means of survival.

The government enforced the law; perpetrators were routinely charged and prosecuted. The penalties for conviction of soliciting a child under age 16 for sex, or more generally for commercial sexual exploitation of a child (including through pornography), is a fine of up to N$40,000 ($3,030), up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Penalties for conviction in cases involving children ages 16 and 17 are the same as for adults. The law makes special provisions to protect vulnerable witnesses, including individuals under age 18 or against whom a sexual offense has been committed.

An adult convicted of engaging in sexual relations with a child in prostitution under age 16 may be imprisoned for up to 15 years for a first offense and up to 45 years for a repeat offense. Any person who aids and abets trafficking in persons–including child prostitution–within the country or across the border is liable to a fine of up to one million Namibian dollars ($75,600) or imprisonment for up to 50 years. Conviction of solicitation of a prostitute, living off the earnings of prostitution, or keeping a brothel carries penalties of N$40,000 ($3,030), 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. The penalty for conviction of statutory rape–sex with a child under age 14 when the perpetrator is more than three years older than the victim–is a minimum of 15 years in prison when the victim is under 13 and a minimum of five years when the victim is 13. There is no minimum penalty for conviction of sexual relations with a child between ages 14 and 16. Possession of or trade in child pornography is illegal. The government trained police officers in handling of child sex abuse cases. Centers for abused women and children worked to reduce the trauma suffered by abused children.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reported cases in which parents, usually young mothers, abandoned newborns, sometimes leading to the newborn’s death. The government enforced prohibitions against this practice by investigating and prosecuting violators.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was a Jewish community of approximately 100 individuals, the majority of whose members lived in Windhoek. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of “all members of the human family,” which domestic legal experts understand to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in any employment decision based on a number of factors, including any “degree of physical or mental disability” (see section 7.d.). It makes an exception in the case of a person with a disability if that person is, because of disability, unable to perform the duties or functions of the job in question. Enforcement in this area was ineffective, and societal discrimination persisted.

The government requires all newly constructed government buildings be accessible and include ramps and other features facilitating access. The government, however, neither mandates access to already constructed public buildings generally nor requires retrofitting of government buildings.

Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools. The law does not restrict the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but access to public venues hindered the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life.

A deputy minister of disability affairs in the office of the vice president is responsible for matters related to persons with disabilities, including operation of the National Disability Council of Namibia. The council is responsible for overseeing concerns of persons with disabilities and coordinating implementation of policies on persons with disabilities with government ministries and agencies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Despite constitutional prohibitions, societal, racial, and ethnic discrimination persisted.

Indigenous People

By law all traditional communities participate without discrimination in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources. Nevertheless, the San, the country’s earliest known inhabitants, were unable to exercise these rights effectively because of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities, and their relative isolation. Some San had difficulty obtaining a government identification card because they lacked birth certificates or other identification. Without a government-issued identification card, the San could not access government social programs or register to vote. A lack of police presence, prosecutors, and courts prevented San women from reporting and seeking protection from gender-based violence.

Indigenous lands were effectively demarcated but poorly managed. Many San tribes lived on conservancy (communal) lands but were unable to prevent the surrounding larger ethnic groups from using and exploiting those lands. Some San claimed regional officials refused to remove other ethnic groups from San lands.

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

Although Roman-Dutch common law inherited at independence criminalizes sodomy, the ban was not enforced. The law defines sodomy as intentional anal sexual relations between men. This definition excludes anal sexual relations between heterosexual couples and sexual relations between lesbians. Many citizens, however, considered all same-sex sexual activity taboo. The prohibition against sexual discrimination in the constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced harassment when trying to access public services. Some politicians opposed any legislation that would specifically protect the rights of LGBTI persons. In August 2016 the ombudsman publicly declared his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage and the abolition of the common law offense of sodomy. There was some evidence of attitudes in government relaxing in recent years. For example, in July authorities permitted LGBTI groups to hold a parade that made its way down the main avenue in downtown Windhoek on a Saturday morning. Other than some isolated shouting of insults and head shaking from passing motorists, no harassment or violence took place.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, societal discrimination against and stigmatization remained problems. Civil society organizations reported discriminatory treatment of persons with HIV/AIDS in access to health care services, instances of involuntary HIV testing, and social rejection and isolation. Some jobs in the civilian sector require a pre-employment test for HIV, but there were no reports of employment discrimination specifically based on HIV/AIDS status. According to the Namibian Employers’ Federation, however, discrimination based on HIV status was not a major problem in the workplace because most individuals were aware that HIV is not transmissible via casual contact.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, the law prohibits workers in certain sectors, such as the police, military, and correctional facilities, from joining unions.

Except for workers in services designated as essential services, such as public health and safety, workers may strike once mandatory conciliation procedures are exhausted and 48 hours’ notice is given to the employer and labor commissioner. Workers may take strike actions only in disputes involving specific worker interests, such as pay raises.

Worker rights disputes, including dismissals, must first be submitted to the labor commissioner for conciliation, followed by a more formal arbitration process if conciliation is unsuccessful. The parties have the right to appeal the arbitrator’s findings in labor court. The law provides for conciliation and arbitration to resolve labor disputes more quickly, although employers and unions publicly questioned the system’s effectiveness. The law prohibits unfair dismissal of workers engaged in legal strikes, specifically prohibits employer retaliation against both union organizers and striking workers, and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity so long as the workers’ actions at the time were not in violation of other laws.

The law provides employees with the right to bargain individually or collectively and provides for recognition of the exclusive collective bargaining power of a union when more than half of workers are members of that union. The law provides for the protection of all workers, including migrants, nonessential public sector workers, domestic workers, and those in export processing zones.

In general the government and employers respected freedom of association, and workers exercised this right. The government effectively enforced applicable laws on freedom of association. Many trade unions were officially affiliated with the Swapo party, which many workers argued limited their independence in promoting worker rights. Aside from mediation efforts, the government was not directly involved in union activities. Employers also did not appear to interfere in union activities.

The government generally enforced the law on collective bargaining. Approximately 85 percent of cases were settled in conciliation.

Collective bargaining was not practiced widely outside the mining, construction, agriculture, and public-service sectors. Almost all collective bargaining was at the workplace and company level. Employers respected the collective bargaining process.

Workers exercised their right to strike in the education, mining, and fishing sectors. The majority of strikes involved allegations of unfair dismissal, demands for higher pay, more benefits, or improved working conditions.

The law requires employers to provide equal labor rights to all their employees. Employers may apply to the minister of labor and social services for an exemption from these provisions if they can prove workers’ rights are protected, but very few employers pursued this option.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Persons convicted of forced or compulsory labor face a maximum fine of N$20,000 ($1,515), four years’ imprisonment, or both. The government did not report any formal allegations of forced or compulsory labor; it investigated child labor when reported. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 14. Children under age 18 may not engage in hazardous work, including working between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., underground work, mining, construction work, or in facilities where goods are manufactured or electricity is generated, transformed, or distributed, or machinery is installed or dismantled. Children ages 16 and 17 may perform hazardous work subject to approval by the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation and restrictions outlined in the Labor Act. Persons convicted of employing children face a maximum fine of N$20,000 ($1,515), four years’ imprisonment, or both. The Child Care and Protection Act also includes provisions prohibiting child labor.

Gender-based Violence Protection Units enforced child labor laws in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation. The ministry made special provisions in its labor inspections to look for underage workers and it prioritized such investigations, often targeting border towns. The government trained all inspectors to identify the worst forms of child labor. Targeted labor inspections in areas where child labor was alleged continued on a regular basis.

The ministry conducted programs aimed at encouraging parents and guardians to allow children to attend school. It also operated a program in Windhoek to arrange housing and school enrollment for homeless children. Primary and secondary school education was free, and the government provided free school stationery during the year.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare and the Ministry of Health and Social Services coordinated welfare programs for orphans, including those affected by HIV/AIDS, through grants and scholarships to keep them in school. In partnership with the International Labor Organization, the government also participated in a four-year program to withdraw children from and prevent them from entering exploitive labor in agriculture and adult-coerced criminal activity. The government distributed a comprehensive guide on labor law that included a section on child labor.

Children worked on communal farms owned by their families herding cattle, goats, and sheep. Children also worked as child minders or domestic servants and in family businesses.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, pregnancy, family responsibility, disability, age, language, social status, and HIV-positive status, and the government in general effectively enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not specifically address employment discrimination based on sexual or gender orientation.

Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

The Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation and the Employment Equity Commission both report to the minister of labor and are responsible for addressing complaints of discrimination in employment.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender (see section 6) and race, most frequently in the mining and construction industries. Men occupied approximately two-thirds of upper management positions in both the private and public sectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although various sectors have a minimum wage, there was no generally applicable minimum wage law. Unions and employers negotiate industry-specific minimum wages under Ministry of Labor mediation.

The standard legal workweek was 45 hours, with at least 36 consecutive hours of rest between workweeks. By law an employer may not require more than 10 hours’ overtime work per week and must pay premium pay for overtime work. The law mandates 20 workdays of annual leave per year for those working a five-day workweek and 24 workdays of annual leave per year for those working a six-day workweek. The law also requires employees receive paid time off for government holidays, receive five days of compassionate leave per year, at least 30 workdays of sick leave during a three-year period, and three months of maternity leave paid by the employer and the Social Security Commission.

The Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation mandates occupational safety and health standards, and the law empowers authorities to enforce these standards through inspections and criminal penalties. The law requires employers to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. The law covers all employers and employees in the country, including individuals placed by a private employment agency (labor hire), except independent contractors and members of the National Defense Force, Namibian Intelligence Service, the Prison Service, and police. By law employees have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government did not always enforce labor laws effectively because the number of inspectors was insufficient to address violations. Inspections occurred proactively, reactively, and at random. Due to the ministry’s resource constraints in vehicles, budget, and personnel, as well as difficulty in gaining access to some large communal and commercial farms and private households, labor inspectors sometimes found it difficult to investigate possible violations. The law provides that persons convicted of violating safety regulations face a maximum fine of N$10,000 ($757), two years’ imprisonment, or both; however, the penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and labor law violations occurred.

The Namibian Employers’ Federation reported that the most prominent offenses concerning employee rights and working conditions were in the informal sector, including the common informal bars known as “shebeens.” Most offenders were Chinese owners of retail shops, who underpaid and overworked their employees.

Allegations persisted that, apart from failing to adhere to the labor code concerning hiring and firing, Chinese firms failed to pay sector-established minimum wages and benefits in certain industries, failed to respect workhour regulations for public holidays and Sundays, and ignored occupational health and safety measures, for example, by requiring construction workers to sleep on site.

Migrant workers have the same legal rights as citizens.

Nauru

Executive Summary

Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the July 2016 parliamentary election to be free and fair. Parliament re-elected President Baron Waqa who was also a member of parliament.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included: restrictions on internet freedom; harsh conditions for asylum seekers and refugees; domestic violence; and child abuse.

There were no reports that government officials committed human rights abuses, and impunity was not a 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 no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison conditions that raised human rights concerns. International human rights organizations criticized conditions for asylum seekers, especially for women and children refugees, at Australia’s Regional Processing Center operated by Australian contractors (see section 2.d.).

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions. There were no reports of prisoner deaths.

Administration: The government rejected several visa applications from journalists requesting access to the refugee community and the Regional Processing Center.

There is no formal legal provision for traditional reconciliation mechanisms. As a mitigating factor in sentencing, however, apologies and reconciliation frequently played an informal role in criminal proceedings.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison and detention center monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and several such visits occurred.

The Regional Processing Center continued to attract substantial regional and international attention. International human rights NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch visited the center frequently. There were no reports of journalists from foreign media visiting the center during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, and 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.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities made arrests based either on warrants issued by authorized officials or for proximate cause by a police officer witnessing a crime. Police may hold a person for a maximum of 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. Authorities informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The bail system functioned properly. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but qualified assistance was not always readily available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution allows persons arrested or detained to challenge their detention in the Supreme Court, if there is a potential violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some outside of government circles alleged instances of government pressure on the judiciary in cases related to a 2015 protest that turned violent.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

There continues to be criticism that government officials pressured the judiciary in cases related to a 2015 protest involving 16 persons that turned violent. In August a former cabinet minister who is one of those accused over the protest claimed that the government continued to pressure the courts not to issue subpoenas requested by the defense. Attorney-General David Adeang denied the claims and argued that the decision to recruit a foreign judge belies accusations of political interference.

English common law provides the basis for procedural safeguards. Safeguards include the presumption of innocence, the right to be present at one’s own trial, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and prohibitions on double jeopardy and forced self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and consult with an attorney or have one provided at public expense as necessary “in the interest of justice.” Defendants also have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and appeal convictions. In many cases officials used bail and traditional reconciliation mechanisms rather than the formal legal process, usually by choice but sometimes under communal pressure. The law extends these rights to all suspects.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court by individuals or organizations to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised editorial control over content.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers considered the most recent parliamentary election held in July 2016 to be free and fair. Opposition figures alleged, however, that some changes made to the election law prior to the polls disadvantaged nongovernment candidates. The 19-member parliament then re-elected President Baron Waqa, who was also a member of parliament (MP).

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although political parties have the legal right to operate without outside interference, there were no formal parties. The government suspended five opposition MPs indefinitely and without pay in 2014. Three of the MPs were suspended pending apologies or retractions of comments they made to international media alleging a breakdown of the rule of law in the country. The other two members were cited for disruptive conduct while in parliament. Of the five suspended MPs, four participated in the 2016 parliamentary election and one was re-elected. Three of the former MPs continued to face criminal charges for their roles in a 2015 political protest.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, the participation of women was significantly less than that of men. Four women ran in the 2016 general election and, for only the third time in the country’s history, voters elected a woman to parliament.

The country has a small and almost entirely homogenous Micronesian population. There were no members of minorities in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials.

Corruption: There were no new reports of government corruption, although opposition politicians stated that corruption remained a problem, repeating earlier allegations that the government misused funds provided by a foreign government for refugee resettlement in Nauru.

Financial Disclosure: There are no income and asset disclosure laws for appointed or elected officials.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime and carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment. The 2016 Crimes Act specifically applies penalties for rape of married and de facto partners. Police were required to investigate all reported rape cases, were generally thought to have fulfilled this responsibility, and the courts prosecuted cases. Human Rights Watch reported that female refugees were subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault, yet such cases were often underreported to police.

The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but authorities prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws against common assault. The maximum penalty for simple assault is one year’s imprisonment. The maximum penalty for assault involving bodily harm is three years’ imprisonment.

The government did not maintain statistics on the incidence of physical or domestic abuse of women, but police officials said they received frequent complaints of domestic violence. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally. Both police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law against sexual harassment, but authorities could prosecute harassment involving physical assault under assault laws.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen. The constitution also provides for acquisition of citizenship by birth in the country in cases in which the person would otherwise be stateless. The law requires registration of births within 21 days in order to receive citizenship, and families generally complied with the law.

Child Abuse: The government does not maintain data on child abuse, but it remained a problem, according to civil society groups. In 2016 parliament passed the Child Protection and Welfare Act which establishes comprehensive measures, including mandatory reporting, to protect children from child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The Child Protection and Welfare Act 2016 prohibits marriage by male and female children younger than 18 years. According to a UNICEF survey of married women between 20 and 24 years, 2 percent married before they were 15 years old, and 27 percent before they were 18 years old.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Crimes Act 2016 prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years. The Crimes Act 2016 standardizes penalties for sexual exploitation of children and makes intentional sexual intercourse with a child younger than 16 years punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a child younger than 13 years carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

The Crimes Act 2016 establishes penalties for taking images of children’s private acts and private parts. If the child is younger than 16 years, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment, and 15 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13 years. The same law prescribes even tougher penalties for involving children to produce pornographic material. The maximum penalty if the child is younger than 16 years is 15 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13 years. The country’s Cyber Crime Act 2015 outlaws the electronic publication and transmission of child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country does not have a Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Nauru was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Although the government has installed mobility ramps in some public buildings, many buildings in the country were not accessible. The Department of Education has a special education adviser who is responsible for education for students with disabilities and Department of Education teachers provided classes for a small group of students with disabilities.

There is no government agency with specific responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Mentally Disordered Persons Ordinance 1963 grants some legal protections for persons with mental disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities with regard to employment, but social stigma likely led to decreased opportunities for employment.

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

The Crimes Act 2016 removed homosexual conduct as a criminal offense. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law does not specifically cite sexual orientation, but it could be used to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. There were isolated reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers may form and join independent trade unions or other associations. It does not prohibit foreign workers from organizing, but it restricts freedom of association for police. While the right to strike is neither protected nor prohibited by law, a civil servant may not foment or take part in a strike and may be summarily dismissed from the service if found guilty. Although there are no legal impediments, the law does not afford workers the right to collective bargaining. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination.

The country lacks formal trade unions. The transient nature of the mostly foreign workforce hampered efforts to organize trade unions. There is no legal right to reinstatement for dismissal due to union activity, but workers have the ability to seek legal redress through the civil court system. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations took the form of fines, which were adequate to deter violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Generally, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not stipulate penalties. Civil courts handle cases of forced labor. There were no reports such practices occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 years. No regulations govern type of work, occupation, or hours for workers younger than 18 years, nor do they identify hazardous occupations. The Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government enforced the law in the public sector but did not conduct any workplace inspections of private businesses.

The only two significant employers–the government and the phosphate industry–respected the law. There were reports some children younger than 17 years worked in small family-owned businesses.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social origin. Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women. The law does not require equal pay for equal work, and societal pressures and the country’s impoverished economic circumstances often limited opportunities for women. While women headed approximately one-third of all households, less than one-quarter of heads of households engaged in paid work were female.

Overall 70 percent of male heads of household and 40 percent of female heads of household were economically active in either paid or unpaid work, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. There were no reports the government took any specific action to prevent employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum starting salary for public-sector employees is approximately AUD 1.80 ($1.30) per hour. There is no minimum wage for private-sector workers. There was no official poverty-level income figure, but approximately 26 percent of the population lived at the subsistence level.

Public-service regulations govern salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters for government workers, who constituted more than 90 percent of salaried workers. The government has a graduated salary system for public-service officers and employees.

There is no limit to the maximum number of accumulated overtime hours and no prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime for workers in the public sector. There are no specific regulations that govern overtime or overtime pay for private-sector workers.

The government sets some health and safety standards, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

The Department of Human Resources and Labor enforced the laws in the public sector, but no law governs workplace health and safety standards overall. The law allows the ministry the right to inspect a workplace at any time. Authorities can charge an employer with a criminal offense if found to be in violation of the law or the provisions of an employment contract, which was sufficient to deter violations.

With the decline of the phosphate industry, enforcement of workplace health and safety requirements became lax. Accusations that unfiltered dust discharge from the phosphate plant exposed workers and the surrounding communities to a significant health hazard accompanied the gradual revival of the industry. The government continued to cite high costs as a justification for not acting to eliminate the problem.

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The political system is based on the constitution, which was promulgated in 2015, replacing the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007). The constitution establishes a framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In November the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives, as well as members for the newly-created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well-conducted,” although some observers noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included the use of excessive force by security personnel in controlling protests; government delays in implementing, providing adequate resources for, and granting full independence to the country’s two transitional justice mechanisms; and media harassment, self-censorship, and restrictions on online content. The government limited freedoms for refugees, particularly for resident Tibetans; corruption remained a problem at all levels of government; and citizenship laws and regulations that discriminate by gender contributed to statelessness. A lack of prosecution and accountability for cases related to discrimination against women and girls, early and forced marriage, and rape and violence against women; and violence against children continued.

The government routinely investigated and held accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing ongoing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability, nor did most conflict-era human rights violators.

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. On March 6, five individuals were killed and dozens injured when the Armed Police Force (APF) intervened in a protest in Saptari district that became violent. The protesters, who had staged a rally to protest election-related campaigning by an opposition party, reportedly burned tires, threw Molotov cocktails, blocked road traffic, and vandalized vehicles outside the political program. According to human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), the APF used indiscriminate and excessive force in attempting to subdue protestors. Reports also alleged that the APF failed to follow the Local Administration Act, which requires security forces to aim below the knee unless there is an imminent threat to human life, and other guidelines on escalating the use of force. In March the government appointed a three-member committee to investigate the killings and approved Nepali rupees (NRs) 1 million ($10,000) payments to the families of each of the victims, which the government declared as martyrs. As of October the committee, which had 15 days to complete its investigation, had not produced a report, nor had the government taken any action against those responsible. The government, however, had distributed the compensation to the victims’ families.

Human rights groups demanded the establishment of an independent commission to investigate allegations of excessive use of force by the Nepal Police and APF against civilians during months of unrest related to the promulgation of the constitution in 2015. In response the government formed the High Level Enquiry Commission (HLEC) in August 2016. Between December 2016, when the HLEC began accepting complaints, and August, the HLEC received 3,031 complaints.

There were developments in a few emblematic conflict-era cases. As an illustrative example, in April the Kavre District Court convicted in their absence three of the four Nepal Army (NA) officers accused of killing 15-year-old Maina Sunuwar in 2004 and sentenced them to life in prison (in the country, a “life sentence” is considered 20 years). Lieutenant Colonel Niranjan Basnet, the only convicted officer still serving with the NA, was acquitted. Although human rights groups praised the court’s decision, which they stated was a partial victory for conflict victims and justice, they also said the district attorney’s decision not to appeal Basnet’s acquittal represented a failure to pursue criminal accountability. They also questioned the willingness or ability of the government to implement the court’s decision, particularly because some of those convicted may no longer reside in the country. As of August the government did not take action to pursue the return of the three convicted persons from their presumed location abroad.

The government did not enforce a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the 2011 pardon of Bal Krishna Dhungel, a Maoist politician convicted of killing Ujjan Kumar Shrestha in 1998. Despite the Supreme Court decision and order for his apprehension, Dhungel had remained free and was observed attending social functions and publicly criticizing Supreme Court justices. In response to a contempt of court case filed against Dhungel, on April 13, the Supreme Court had ordered the Inspector General of Police to arrest Dhungel within one week. Dhungel was arrested on October 31.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. The new criminal code, which parliament passed in July but will not come into effect until 2018, criminalized disappearance. In 2016 the government faced accusations of involvement in the disappearance of Kumar Tamang, a laborer temporarily living in Tatopani. An investigation initiated by police in March 2016 had not reached a conclusion as of October.

The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the National Human Rights Commission, approximately 840 unresolved cases of disappearances remain unresolved, 594 of which may have involved state actors. As of August the government did not prosecute any government officials, current or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 149 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of August the government had not prosecuted any Maoists for involvement in disappearances.

In June the CIEDP formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission has before it 2,769 registered cases. By contrast the International Committee of the Red Cross listed 1,335 names of missing persons in August.

Human rights organizations expressed concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffer from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to ensure confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses. Victims also have expressed concern that investigators in many districts have asked about their interest in reconciliation.

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

Contrary to requirements in the 2015 constitution, torture is not explicitly criminalized, and the law does not have clear guidelines for punishing offenders. The Torture Compensation Act provides for compensation for victims of torture. The victim must file a complaint and pursue the case through the courts.

According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. Local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Advocacy Forum (AF) reported no evidence of major changes in police abuse trends across the country, but AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees, in part because the courts refused to extend the period of legal police custody without such medical checks.

The Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), another local NGO, stated that torture victims often were hesitant to file complaints due to police or other official intimidation and fear of retribution. In some cases victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. According to THRDA the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented according to THRDA and other NGOs. In one noteworthy case in Banke district in March, however, the Chief District Officer compensated two torture victims in line with a district court award in 2013.

According to AF’s latest report on torture published in 2016, 17.2 percent of the 1,212 detainees AF interviewed in 2015 were subjected to some form of physical abuse compared with 16.2 percent in 2014. The same study indicated a slightly higher rate of reported torture among detainees identified as “indigenous.” In a separate study, THRDA reported that 24 percent of detainees in police detention centers in 19 districts in the country’s southern Terai belt had been subjected to some form of physical and/or mental abuse. According to the Nepal Police Human Rights Commission, the vast majority of alleged incidents were not formally reported or investigated.

There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system of torture committed during the civil conflict.

In February 2016 the UN reported one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Nepali peacekeeper in South Sudan for an incident that reportedly involved three adult victims. The complainants accused the peacekeeper of sexual assault and transactional sex. The government continues to investigate the allegation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards according to human rights groups.

Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. During the year a monitoring report by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) indicated that in 51 of the 75 districts, 47 prisons designed to hold 5,594 inmates held 9,592 convicted prisoners. THRDA stated that overcrowding also remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and air, with a few exceptions.

Authorities generally held pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial detainee children with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.

The OAG report indicated that of 76 detention centers the OAG monitored, 14 lacked separate facilities for women. According to THRDA most prisons lacked separate facilities for women, children, and persons with disabilities.

According to AF and THRDA, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory. AF also reported medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. According to the OAG, the government did not implement a 2016 Supreme Court decision ordering it to provide more than 700 grams of rice and 45 NRs (45 cents) per day to each prisoner. According to AF some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.

According to the NGO Child Workers in Nepal, minors housed in adult facilities often faced bullying from adult detainees and received poor treatment by police. Hygiene was poor, and police and adult detainees often made minors clean the toilets.

Administration: There were no alternatives to imprisonment or fines, or both, for nonviolent offenders.

Independent Monitoring: There was no official institutional mechanism to monitor prisons or detention centers. The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, the National Women’s Commission, and the National Dalit Commission as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that while they and some other NGOs were often prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.

Improvements: In May the Department of Prison Management launched the Prison Management Information System software. The new system aimed to better track prisoner biodata, sentencing details, and other records. According to the NHRC, however, implementation of the new system was ineffective during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. The law gives chief district officers wide latitude to make arrests, and human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Nepal Police is responsible for enforcing law and order across the country while the APF is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. In 2015 the government gave the APF the authority to issue warrants to suspects they detain before turning them over to the Nepal Police. Generally, the Nepal Police and the APF executed search and arrest warrants without any prosecutorial or judicial review.

The Nepal Police and APF have human rights commissions (HRCs) and the NA has a human rights directorate (HRD). The NAHRD and Nepal Police HRC have independent investigative powers. The NA’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs. NA HRD representatives stated that nearly all of its cases derived from the Maoist insurgency, and that full transparency could come only in the context of a functioning TRC. The Nepal Police also proposed that conflict-era allegations of abuse should be handled in the context of a functioning TRC.

In contrast with prior years, the Nepal Police did not provide statistics on how many complaints of human rights violations it received. The Nepal Army HRC stated it received no complaints of human rights violations during the year. All security forces received human rights training prior to deployments on UN peacekeeping operations. The NA incorporated human rights training into professional military education, and conducted ongoing training in all units. Each brigade has a designated human rights officer, and divisions have larger human rights staff. At the Army headquarters, a brigadier general, who reports directly to the Chief of Staff, heads the HRD. Similarly, the Nepal Police and APF incorporated training on human rights into their overall training curricula for security forces. The APF and Nepal Police HRCs issued booklets outlining human rights best practices to most police officers.

Police corruption and lack of punishment or accountability for police abuses remained problems.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time). THRDA reported that illegal and arbitrary arrests were prevalent, with police failing to bring 14 percent of detainees to court within 24 hours. According to AF, however, there was significant progress in courts demanding to see an initial medical examination before extending the period of remand.

If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation. In special cases (such as for suspected acts of corruption), a suspect can be held for up to six months. The constitution provides for access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system does not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants.

Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison. Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. AF, which provides legal assistance to detainees, reported an increase in restrictions on access to pretrial detention facilities. While a system of bail exists, bonds are too expensive for most citizens. The accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.

Arbitrary Arrest: Leaders of the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) claimed that security personnel arrested hundreds of their party cadres in various districts–including Nawalparasi, Dhanusha, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Bardiya, Banke, Kapilvastu, Sunsari, Siraha, and Morang–for participating in public protests before the second round of local elections in June. According to THRDA police released all the protesters within a few days of arrest. THRDA also reported that four individuals associated with the RJP-N were seriously injured in Nawalparasi district when police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors on June 17. In response to both reports, the NHRC issued a public statement urging the government to exercise restraint and refrain from arresting individuals without cause.

Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence, but pretrial detention occasionally exceeded the length of the ultimate sentence following trial and conviction.

Under the Public Security Act, security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The court does not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.

Other laws, including the Public Offenses Act, permit detention without charge for as long as 25 days with extensions. This act covers crimes such as disturbing the peace, vandalism, rioting, and fighting. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the act vests too much discretionary power in the chief district officer.

According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in a 2015 report that 41 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Those arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention through habeas corpus. According to human rights lawyers, however, no individuals received compensation for an illegal or arbitrary arrest or detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation. The Supreme Court has the right to review the constitutionality of laws.

Authorities did not consistently respect and implement court orders, including Supreme Court decisions, particularly decisions referring to conflict-era cases as discussed above.

In April the two ruling parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), filed an impeachment motion against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki soon after the court overturned the government’s choice for Inspector General of Police, the country’s top police officer. According to HRW the move violated the principle that an independent judiciary should be free from political interference. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the attempt to remove Karki raised concerns about the government’s commitment to the rule of law. The parties withdrew the impeachment case on May 29, just as Karki was due to retire upon reaching the age limit for the position.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial, but these rights were not always applied. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who are unaware of their rights, in particular lower-caste individuals and members of some ethnic groups, are thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali (the 2011 national census lists 123 languages spoken as a mother tongue). Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.

Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The Army Act requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the NA has told the government it is willing to cooperate with the TRC and CIEDP and will not “hide” behind the Army Act. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

THRDA reported that 25 civilians charged in connection with the killing of eight security personnel and a child during protests in Tikapur, Kailali district in 2015 remained in detention. According to THRDA and some political parties, several of the 25 were targeted because they were political leaders and activists of the ethnic Tharu community. On May 19, the government announced its plan to withdraw cases filed against a number of the detained individuals. The government did not specify the number of individuals it planned to release, but it stated it would withdraw “false cases” against those who did not have a connection to the Tikapur incident while continuing to pursue criminal action against those responsible. Indigenous rights groups welcomed the decision to withdraw cases against activists promoting indigenous rights. Legal and human rights experts, however, questioned the government’s decision to circumvent the judicial process. The NHRC stated the government’s decision promoted impunity and politicized a criminal incident. It urged the government to investigate, take legal action against the culprits, and provide compensation to the victims. Separately, in response to a writ petition filed at the Supreme Court against the decision, the court ordered the government to explain its decision. As of August the government had taken no action to implement its plan to withdraw cases.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights violations in national courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Maoists and their affiliate organizations have returned some previously seized property as required by the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended the civil conflict, but they kept other illegally seized lands and properties. According to the Asia Foundation’s report this year, a significant number of conflict-era land disputes remained outstanding.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there are relatively few checks against police discretion.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. In some cases the government failed to enforce the law effectively. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that the 2015 constitution enables the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists a number of circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.” The same provision of the constitution also prohibits persons from converting other persons from one religion to another or “disturbing the religion” of others.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens generally believed they could voice their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. In July the government limited freedom of expression for the members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community by rejecting requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. Although Tibetan Buddhists were allowed to hold small private events in homes or monasteries, police asked celebrants at one site to remove photos of the Dalai Lama and printed banners from public view.

Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions. Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and the Election Commission of Nepal in their coverage of the first two phases of local elections in May and June.

Journalists also stated they increasingly received vague threats and retribution from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. For example, on August 17, the managing director of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) Gopal Khadka filed a defamation case against Nagarik, a leading Nepali daily, for its reporting on allegations of corruption by the NOC in its procurement of land for storage depots.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of the media and rarely prosecuted individuals who attacked journalists. The FNJ also stated that some members of the security forces and the Election Commission of Nepal attempted to prevent the press from freely covering the local elections.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.

Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. They argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions have not been enforced against any media houses.

Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship. This was particularly true of stories that could be considered politically provocative.

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. The 2008 Electronic Transaction Act prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities.” There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the Electronic Transaction Act in response to material posted on social media. According to press reports, on August 2, police arrested Nirab Gyawali for allegedly posting defamatory remarks on Facebook against Renu Dahal, the daughter of former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Gyawali, whose father was running against Dahal in the Bharatpur municipality mayoral election, was charged under the Electronic Transactions Act for an insulting Facebook posting about Dahal. On August 3, the Kathmandu District Court released Gyawali on bail of NRs 25,000 ($250) pending further judicial proceedings.

On March 20, the government issued an amended Online Media Operation Directive, which requires all country-based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new version makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s Value Added Tax or Permanent Account Number registration certificate. Renewals now require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content. On March 26, Prabesh Subedi, a journalist, filed a writ petition against the directive at the Supreme Court requesting its repeal for its violation of the right to freedom of expression. As of August the Supreme Court had not heard the case.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. Government permits are required to hold large public events. During the year the Tibetan community did not request permission for a number of small events confined to their settlements or within monasteries; they did not face repercussions although they faced restrictions (see section 2.b.). Authorities granted approval to the Tibetan community to organize a ceremony for the third day of the Tibetan New Year on February 11, but in July government officials rejected requests from the Tibetan Buddhist community to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly. With the exception of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Tibetans attended such events with minimal reports of restrictions on movement.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.

In March security forces opened fire on a crowd of protestors in Saptari district, killing five and injuring dozens (see section 1.a.). Human rights organizations also reported that in June police arbitrarily arrested and detained and, in some cases, used excessive force against those who were protesting against the second round of elections in the Terai (see section 1.d.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) is restrictive and cumbersome, the government has wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements vary among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis. Additionally, the Association Registration Act empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council (SWC), the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The SWC requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs by placing undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy issues.

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, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is legally limited. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly. 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 and asylum seekers.

Some political groups attempted to restrict freedom of movement, including through forced general strikes known locally as “bandhs,” to pressure the government and civil society. Terai-based Madhesi political parties in particular used strikes throughout the year to draw attention to, and gain support for, their political demands. For example, in June the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal launched a multiday strike to protest the second round of local elections. Although the protests were largely peaceful, protesters reportedly threw rocks at vehicles to enforce a ban on movement. The protests resulted in the closure of schools, businesses, and roads in some areas.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police reportedly conducted checks of identity documents of Tibetans, including monks and nuns, at checkpoints.

In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without recourse to present required documents at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being trafficked or abused, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks caused widespread devastation and displaced millions of individuals, particularly in the 14 most-affected districts. According to Oxfam International, as of May 31, 83 active sites were hosting 13,594 individuals (3,063 households) in eight districts, including 1,463 children under age five.

It is not known what proportion of this population is unable or unwilling to return to their homes. Many remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. In May the government approved a policy to provide approximately NRs 200,000 ($2,000) for the purchase of new land for landless households and those that required relocation due to natural hazards. As a medium-term solution, the government began building community shelters to house multiple families of earthquake-displaced populations. As of August the Ministry of Urban Development and the NA had constructed 82 such structures. Humanitarian agencies expressed concern that housing multiple families in the same unit could exacerbate many challenges faced by IDPs, particularly a lack of privacy and security for women and girls; insufficient access to toilets and bathing and changing areas; complicated family sleeping arrangements; and difficulties dealing with menstruation and pregnancy. Other common challenges faced by IDPs included insufficient protection from the weather, limited access to water and food, emotional stress, and elevated vulnerability to trafficking.

In a report published in April, AI stated the government’s reconstruction policies, which require persons to provide land ownership documents to qualify for assistance, have reinforced the marginalization of women, the disadvantaged, and landless groups.

Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary return in safety and dignity of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement has not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50 thousand were unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property issues, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.

The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized large numbers of Tibetans as refugees and supported resettlement to foreign countries of certain refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship. The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution.

The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 10,000 refugees asserting claims to Bhutanese citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. The government officially does not allow these refugees to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it allows UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. In 2007 the government agreed to permit third-country resettlement for these refugees. Since resettlement began more than 109,000 refugees claiming Bhutanese citizenship have been resettled in foreign countries.

The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated more than half of the 15,000 to 20,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 120 Tibetans transited the country in 2016, and 23 from January through July. The government issued UNHCR-facilitated exit permits for recent arrivals from Tibet who were transiting while traveling to India.

Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The Nepal-born children of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions and were denied the right to work officially. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property, or consistently document births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services. While Nepal-based Tibetans with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document.

More than 500 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR, and levied prohibitive fines $5 per day out of status–and a discretionary penalty of up to NRs 50,000 (approximately $500) to obtain an exit permit. The government waived the fines for 41 individuals in July, but it did not change its policy to enable other registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines. The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to these refugees, but the refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work.

STATELESS PERSONS

An estimated 5.4 million individuals (24 percent of the population age 16 and over) lacked citizenship documentation. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits. Prior to the 2013 constituent assembly election, the government deployed citizenship/voter registration mobile teams to remote areas to issue citizenship cards and register new voters. The Home Ministry reported issuing more than 600,000 new citizenship cards during the exercise.

Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by gender, which contributed to statelessness. The constitution states that citizenship is derived from one Nepali parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a Nepali mother and a non-Nepali father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. Mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of Nepali parents, even when they possessed Nepali citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child Nepali citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.

The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent and be eligible for naturalization. In practice many single women face difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in May that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of Nepali mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the father is known but refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.

Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lack specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.

For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.

While stateless persons did not experience violence, they experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage, birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.

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: The government held parliamentary and provincial elections in two phases–November 26 and December 7–based on geography. Completion of these elections completed the required three tiers of elections necessary to bring the new federal system of government into force in advance of the January 21, 2018, constitutional deadline. Preliminary statements from international observers, for example, the Carter Center, indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally “well-conducted,” despite some violent incidents, “political tensions, logistical, and operational challenges, and tight timelines for executing the elections.” The Carter Center “expressed concern about the lack of representation for women and minorities and noted that voter education efforts were insufficient.” The EU stated that the elections, “…demonstrated that political freedoms, such as association, assembly, and expression, prevailed over the violent attacks of the election campaign period,” but noted that “while the ECN successfully organized in a very short timeframe the logistical aspects of the election in two phases, there was a notable lack of transparency in the work of the ECN, which affected the electoral process.”

The government held local elections for the first time since 1997, with voting conducted in three phases based on geography in May, June, and September. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small improvised explosive devices and hoax bombs. Observers also stated that insufficient voter education, discrepancies between identification documents and voter rolls, and other procedural challenges stemming from the short period between the government’s announcement of elections and election day resulted in a significant number of void ballots and persons reportedly being denied the right to vote. Election officials and security personnel supporting the conduct of elections were also often unable to vote, resulting in at least half a million individuals who could not participate in the elections.

In November 2013 citizens participated in the country’s second Constituent Assembly elections, which international and domestic observers deemed essentially credible, free, and fair. In an effort to obstruct the 2013 elections, a breakaway Maoist faction, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, committed acts of political violence and intimidation and attempted to enforce a 10-day transportation ban. Despite such efforts the Election Commission reported that more than 74 percent of registered voters participated, the highest figure in the country’s history. According to domestic and international observers, including the Carter Center and the EU, authorities conducted elections that generally were free of major irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates that at least one third of all members of the lower house of the federal parliament must be women and requires inclusion of various minority groups in the list of candidates in the 40 percent of seats chosen through a proportional representation system. The constitution also stipulates representation requirements for the upper house of the federal parliament. For the 56 members chosen by an electoral college, the eight members from each of the seven provinces must include at least three women, one member of the Dalit caste, and one person with a disability or member of a minority group. Additionally, of the remaining three members of the upper house chosen by the president, at least one must be a woman.

Tradition and relative socioeconomic disadvantage limited the participation of women, some castes, and some ethnic groups in the political process, including as elected officials. The larger political parties had associated women’s wings, youth wings, trade unions, and social organizations. Women, youth, and minorities complained that party leaders, mostly upper-caste men from the central hills, prohibited meaningful political participation despite the existence of certain quotas for participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, there continued to be reports that officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In one of several high-profile corruption cases, in January the Supreme Court disqualified Lokman Singh Karki as the Chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the country’s lead anticorruption body, because he did not meet the minimum qualifications or hold the “high moral character” required for the position. Karki, who also was facing an impeachment motion in parliament, had been under public scrutiny for pursuing investigations beyond the jurisdiction of the CIAA, selectively prosecuting political enemies, and misusing public funds and facilities.

As in previous years, student and labor groups associated with political parties demanded contributions from schools and businesses. Corruption and impunity remained general problems within the Nepal Police and APF.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. According to the National Vigilance Center, the body mandated to monitor financial disclosures and make them available to the public, in fiscal year 2014-15, 22,860 civil servants did not submit annual financial statements as required by law according to the latest data available. Public officials may face a fine of up to NRs 5,000 ($50). The CIAA publicly demanded that officials be more diligent in submitting financial disclosure reports. Ministers are required to submit their property details within two months of assuming office. During the period covered by the latest National Vigilance Center report, July 2014 to July 2015, 22 of the 23 ministers in office did so.

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

While domestic and international human rights groups generally were free to operate, investigate, and publish their findings on human rights cases, the government placed administrative burdens on some international NGOs by complicating procedures for obtaining visas and compelling them to sign asset control documents.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC investigated allegations of abuses, but resource constraints, insufficient staff (95 out of 309 positions were vacant as of August, a decrease from 232 vacant positions in August 2016), and limitations on its mandate led some activists to view the body as ineffective and insufficiently independent. The NHRC claimed the government helped promote impunity by failing to implement its recommendations fully. The NHRC stated that from its establishment in 2000 through the current year, it had made recommendations for prosecution and reparations in 818 cases (as of July). More than three-quarters of these involved conflict-era incidents. The NHRC noted the government had fully implemented 14 percent of these recommendations by carrying out prosecution and awarding reparations and partially implemented 48 percent through reparations alone. In the remaining cases, the government did not implement the NHRC’s recommendations for prosecution or reparations.

The government and judiciary have not significantly addressed conflict-era human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the NA, Nepal Police, APF, and Maoist parties. Human rights advocates continue to express concern that several sub judice cases of conflict-era abuses by such actors before criminal courts would be removed from judicial jurisdiction and inappropriately “transferred” to the TRC or CIEDP despite a Supreme Court ruling that this would be improper. In this scenario the TRC or CIEDP would review the cases as it would with any other registered complaint and decide whether to recommend prosecution.

The TRC and CIEDP began their initial two-year terms in February 2015. Shortly before their original tenure was set to expire, the government extended their tenures by one year. In June the TRC established branch offices in each of the country’s seven provinces to decentralize and simplify for victims the process of investigating nearly 60 thousand complaints. Similarly, the CIEDP formed five teams in June to begin investigating 2,769 complaints of conflict-era disappearance. As of September human rights experts reported that neither the TRC nor the CIEDP had made significant progress on investigations.

Local human rights advocates cite a number of legal shortcomings that pose obstacles to a comprehensive and credible transitional justice process in the country. For example, the law does not criminalize torture or enforced disappearance, and the statute of limitations for rape is only 180 days.

Additionally, the law does not specifically recognize war crimes or crimes against humanity, although the constitution recognizes as law treaties to which the country is a party. Critics also cite a number of instances in which parliament has failed to implement Supreme Court decisions. For example, in a 2015 ruling, the court nullified provisions of the TRC and CIEDP Act that would have granted the commissions discretionary power to recommend amnesty for serious crimes because amnesty would violate the then-interim constitution and international obligations. As of September parliament had not amended the act to bring it in line with the Supreme Court decision, although the commissions have stated they intend to abide by the Court’s rulings.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In July parliament passed the new criminal code that will not come into effect until 2018. In the meantime the existing law requires prison sentences for rape that vary between five and 15 years depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of a woman with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse. Under the 2015 Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence, the sentence for marital rape is three to five years’ imprisonment and the statute of limitations for filing rape charges is 180 days.

For rape cases that were reported, police and the courts were responsive in most cases. Human rights activists outside of Kathmandu, however, expressed concern that police frequently refuse to register cases of gender-based violence (GBV), including occasionally rape cases. These groups report that police often prefer to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts. According to NGOs police frequently prioritized cases of sexual violence, and the District Court Regulations stipulates that judges should expedite cases of rape, human trafficking, and other violent crimes.

Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. Violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was believed to be one of the major factors responsible for women’s relative poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage, which remained prevalent, limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse. The 2009 Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) Act allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.

The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 75 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to the Women and Children Service Directorate, many women’s cells were not fully operational, but the Nepal Police, with outside assistance, endeavored to build and improve their infrastructure and capacity. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, this guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.

The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers’ 2011 standard operating procedure for prevention of and response to GBV has led to the establishment of service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of GBV. Gender experts say the standard operating procedure has led to improved coordination among police, NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution criminalizes violence against or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The new criminal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes penalties of up to NRs 30,000 ($300), prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The legislation also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing fines of up to NRs 50,000 ($500), prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the 2015 Act to Amend Some Nepal Acts to Maintain Gender Equality and End Gender-Based Violence stipulates that any psychological abuse of women, including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry, is punishable. Nevertheless, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.

Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste. Shamans or family members publicly beat and otherwise physically abused alleged witches as part of exorcism ceremonies. Media and NGOs reported numerous cases of such violence, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem. Women, and in some instances men, accused of witchcraft were severely traumatized and suffered physical and mental abuse. In recent years those accused of witchcraft have faced various punishments, including being fed human excreta, being hit with hot spoons in different parts of the body, being forced to touch hot irons or breathe in chili smoke, having their genitals perforated, or being banished from their community.

The 2015 Anti-Witchcraft (Crime and Punishment) Act, the first legal mechanism to address directly such abuse, imposes prison sentences of five to 10 years and fines of up to NRs 100,000 ($1,000) for those who physically or mentally abuse women accused of being witches or men accused of sorcery. It also imposes prison sentences of up to five years for those who evict supposed witches or banish them from their communities. INSEC stated that authorities prosecuted no individuals under the act during the year.

Although acid attacks were not common, in May the Supreme Court ordered the government to amend the law to assure that victims of acid attacks and burning receive immediate compensation and critical care. Human rights NGOs stated they welcomed the decision but were still waiting for the government to implement the order.

The practice of “chhaupadi” (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in cattle sheds) continued to be a serious problem. Chhaupadi persists despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice and guidelines on eliminating it issued in 2008 by the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare. The new criminal code adopted in August formally criminalizes the practice by stipulating a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 3,000 ($30), or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of NRs 50,000 ($500), or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are insufficiently severe and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.). Discrimination was most common in rural areas where religious and cultural traditions, lack of education, and ignorance of the law remained severe impediments to the exercise of basic rights, such as the right to vote or to hold property in a woman’s name. Dalit women in particular faced discrimination by virtue of their gender and caste status. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access and authority to the estate of their deceased husbands; however, traditional attitudes stigmatizing and shunning widows persisted, and communities often ignored the law, while the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce it.

The Gender Equality Act adopted in 2006–along with more than 60 other laws–contain discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The law encourages bigamy by allowing men to remarry without divorcing if the first wife is incapacitated or infertile. The constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.

The constitution does not allow women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father (see section 2.d.) and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to Nepali wives.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the constitution, citizenship is derived from one Nepali parent, but a child born to a Nepali woman and a foreign citizen father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. The constitution also states that children of unknown fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers. Despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision that permits applicants to seek citizenship through either their father or mother, in practice many have been denied citizenship due to lack of access to local authorities, lack of awareness of the law by applicants or government officials, or failure by some government officials to process such applications. For more information, see data.unicef.org .

Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The 2016 Education Act divides the education system into Basic Education (Early Childhood Development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and Secondary Education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2015-16 school year 96.6 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity. A gender gap in secondary education, however, persisted, with two-thirds of adolescent girls in rural areas reportedly not attending school. The literacy rate for women was approximately 57 percent, compared to 75 percent for men, according to the 2011 census.

Government officials stated they continued to be concerned about the effect of the 2015 earthquakes on the education sector. According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 34,500 classrooms in both public and private schools were destroyed or damaged beyond use. The earthquake interrupted the education of an estimated two million children and youth immediately following the disaster. According to the government’s Central Level Program Implementation Unit for education sector recovery, only approximately half of the 8,200 earthquake-affected schools have funded commitments for permanent reconstruction. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education stated that the majority of children in earthquake-affected areas have been able to access education.

Medical Care: The government provided basic health care free to children and adults although parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to increased awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), which has chapters in all 75 districts.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20. Families in many areas sometimes forced their young children to marry

Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The civil code provides that the government must take action whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities.

The government worked with local child rights groups and international donors on the problem of early and forced marriage, although cases often went unreported and law enforcement rarely enforced legislation to prevent it. A number of government child protection and welfare programs, such as scholarship programs targeting girls, attempted to encourage girls to stay in school. Despite the government’s announcement in 2016 of a new national strategy against child marriage that aims to improve education, economically empower girls, engage men and boys, improve services, and implement existing laws and policies, NGOs stated child marriage rates had not significantly changed.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and working in prostitution and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (a type of brothel). The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The penalties for rape vary according to the age of the victim and the relationship. Conviction for rape under existing law can result in 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim is under 10 years of age, eight to 12 years’ if the victim is between 10 and 14 years of age, six to 10 years’ if the victim is between 14 and 16 years of age, five to eight years’ if the victim is between 16 and 20 years of age, and five to seven years if the victim is over 20 years of age. Conviction for attempted rape may be punished by half the penalty provided for rape.

There is no specific law against child pornography, but the Children Act stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed. Violators of these sections of the act are subject to fines of up to NRs 10,000 ($100), up to one year in prison, or both. According to the NGO Change Nepal, child pornography cases may also be tried under the new criminal code as “intent to rape,” for which the punishment is a fine of up to NRs 30,000 ($300), up to three years in prison, or both. If the pornographic materials are posted online or transferred by phone, violators may also be charged under the Electronic Transactions Act, which carries a punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment, a NRs 100,000 ($1,000) fine, or both. Other legal experts stated that if a minor has been sexually assaulted in the production of pornography, the perpetrator can be charged with rape, for which the punishment is up to 20 years in jail depending on the age of the victim.

Displaced Children: A large number of children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.d.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.

Institutionalized Children: Abuse and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately 10 percent of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years. A 2013 study by CWISH showed that few such homes in the Kathmandu Valley met CCWB standards, although they provided some basic services.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contains additional rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all physically disabled citizens who are “financially poor” and the provision of special instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities.

In 2012 the Supreme Court ordered the government to do more for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including providing a monthly stipend, building shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each district. In August parliament passed the Disability Rights Act, which provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. The act also prohibits discrimination based on disability. Although government efforts to enforce laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities have gradually improved, they still are not fully effective. For example, books printed in Braille are not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education is not uniformly available to all interested persons with disability.

The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of NRs 2,000 ($20) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled, and NRs 600 ($6) for the “severely” disabled. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Additionally, the government provided financial support to sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist persons with hearing disabilities in obtaining government services. The government allocated NRs 80 million ($800,000) from the national budget to fund programs for persons with disabilities, including grants to several disability-related organizations and a minimum budget to pay for community-based rehabilitation in all 75 districts. NGOs reported that, although the government attempted to implement the 2012 Supreme Court order by making budget allocations to empowerment and development programs, little progress had been made.

The Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. Additionally, the Ministry of Education provided scholarships to help approximately 101,000 children with disabilities attend public or private schools at the primary and secondary levels. In recent years the Ministry of Education has established 380 classes at the primary school level and 34 special schools at the secondary level for children with special needs. An estimated 60 to 80 percent of children with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual or mental, vision, or hearing disabilities, did not attend school. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year.

The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development mandates that each district allocate 15 percent of its budget for minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. Still, most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.

There are no restrictions in law on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare, however, there were obstacles to exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.

Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of Dalits and made an effort to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also established the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.

The government recognized 59 ethnic/caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination. Some NGOs stated that indigenous people, whose settlements were disproportionately damaged by the 2015 earthquakes, were discriminated against in the quality and quantity of reconstruction materials they received. Other NGOs, however, stated that discriminatory practices were not widespread, and local and international NGOs engaged in reconstruction made efforts to prevent discrimination in the distribution of reconstruction materials.

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

No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.

In 2007 the Supreme Court directed the government to enact laws to protect LGBTI persons’ fundamental rights, enable third-gender citizenship, and amend laws that were sexually discriminatory. Implementation of the 2007 decision was initially slow, but in 2013 the Home Ministry started issuing citizenship certificates with an “other” gender category for those applying for citizenship. In 2015 the Home Ministry started issuing passports with an “other” gender designation.

The Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare decreased its budget for LGBTI-focused programs from NRs 1.5 million ($15,000) to NRs 300,000 ($3,000), including awareness programs, training in income generation, and other LGBTI community needs. It also allocated NRs 100,000 ($1,000) for grants to NGOs serving the LGBTI community. The ministry attributed the decrease in funds allocated to LGBTI-focused spending to an inadequate budget and competing priorities. According to local LGBTI advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunity to LGBTI persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). Additionally, advocacy groups stated that some LGBTI persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.

Although several LGBTI candidates ran for office in local elections, LGBTI activists noted that election authorities prevented one person who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position. Separately, LGBTI activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting out of fear of harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.

According to LGBTI rights NGOs, harassment and abuse of LGBTI persons by private citizens and government officials declined during the year, especially in urban areas, although such incidents still occurred. Several NGOs praised the government, specifically the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare, for taking the initiative in organizing LGBTI-related trainings and sensitivity programs.

LGBTI rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. According to LGBTI advocacy group Blue Diamond Society, police continued to target transgender sex workers, subjecting them to up to 25 days’ detention without charge under the Public Offense Act. Although the Nepal Police HRC did not document any allegations of harassment of LGBTI persons, the HRC confirmed that some low-level harassment occurred because many citizens held negative views of LGBTI persons. The HRC added that the Nepal Police were not immune to such social prejudices.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination against persons who provided HIV-prevention services or against high-risk groups that could spread HIV/AIDS.

Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV remained common, according to NGOs. NGOs stated LGBTI persons, persons who injected drugs, and women from disadvantaged groups faced higher levels of discrimination. In the 2016 NDHS, 40 percent of women and 33 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV.

In December 2016 the government approved a national HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan, which focuses on increasing medical services to HIV-infected persons and reducing social discrimination. It also calls for a review of current health-related laws and regulations to remove provisions that are discriminatory or harmful to the health of key populations affected by HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, except those organizations deemed by the government to be subversive or seditious. Freedom of association extends to workers in both the formal and informal sectors. Noncitizens cannot be elected as trade union officials. In the formal sector, noncitizens are allowed to work exclusively in managerial positions. Due to laws that prevent managers from forming unions, noncitizens in effect do not have the right to form unions. In the informal sector, unions are uncommon, and noncitizens cannot gain membership. Local workers have the right to strike and bargain collectively, except for employees in 16 essential services, including public transportation, banking, security, and health care. Members of the armed forces, police, and government officials at the undersecretary level or higher also are prohibited from taking part in union activities. In the private sector, employees in managerial positions are not permitted to join unions.

The law stipulates that unions must represent at least 25 percent of workers in a given workplace to be considered representative. The minimum requirement does not prohibit the formation of unofficial union groups, which may call strikes and enter into direct negotiation with the government. Workers in the informal sector may also form unions, but many workers were not aware of these rights.

The law also protects union representatives from adverse legal action arising from their official union duties, including collective bargaining, and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Workers dismissed for engaging in union activities can seek reinstatement by filing a complaint in labor court or with the Department of Labor, which has semi-judicial and mediation authority. Most cases are settled through mediation. By law employers can fire workers only under limited conditions and only after three instances of misconduct. The law stipulates that participation in a strike that does not meet legal requirements constitutes misconduct, for which the consequences are suspension or termination of employment.

To conduct a legal strike, 51 percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor in a secret ballot, and unions are required to give 30 days’ notice before striking. If the union is unregistered, does not have majority support, or calls a strike prior to issuing 30 days’ notice, the strike is considered illegal.

The government was unable to enforce applicable laws fully since resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Although the government restricted strikes in essential services, workers in hospitals, education services, and the transportation sector occasionally called strikes during the year and did not face any legal penalties. Many unions had links to political parties and did not operate independently from them.

The government did not interfere in the functioning of workers’ organizations or threaten union leaders. Strikes in essential service sectors such as hospitals, despite being prohibited, continued to take place. Many doctors and medical professionals at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, the country’s premier medical education institution, supported the 11th hunger strike in recent years by Govinda KC, who earlier demanded action against officials allegedly involved in improperly granting affiliation to private medical colleges and compromising the quality of medical education.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides penalties ranging from one to 20 years in prison and fines of up to NRs 200,000 ($2,000). The law does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government made significant efforts to comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking despite limited resources, but the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor.

Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. The government has provided financial, material, and other social welfare benefits to more than 26,000 “Kamaiyas” (bonded agricultural laborers of Tharu ethnicity who were freed in 2000). This included NRs 55,000 ($550) per family to purchase materials for the construction of homes. Many former Kamaiya families nevertheless continued to reside on riverbanks and barren plots of land under poor living conditions, with limited employment opportunities and little access to education.

In 2013 the government recommitted to abolishing the already illegal practice of “Kamlaris,” girls of Tharu ethnicity in bonded domestic labor. The government allocated NRs 120 million ($1.2 million) for the education of former Kamlaris, but authorities did not spend the full amount.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 14 as the minimum age for work and 16 as the minimum age for hazardous work, and it mandates acceptable working conditions for children. Employers must maintain separate records of laborers between the ages of 14 and 16. The law prohibits employment of children in factories, mines, and 60 other categories of hazardous work and limits children between the ages of 16 and 18 to a 36-hour workweek (six hours a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., six days a week). The law, which was not fully implemented, also establishes penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine up to NRs 100,000 ($1,000) for those who unlawfully employ children.

The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and practices, had a weak enforcement record. The Department of Labor conducted most of its labor inspections in the formal sector while nearly all child labor occurred in the informal sector. The Department has 10 factory inspector positions in district labor offices and two senior factory inspector positions in Kathmandu. Chronic vacancies in these positions, however, limited the department’s effectiveness. Some of these positions were vacant due to regular rotation of civil servants, and resources devoted to enforcement were limited. In 2015 the Department of Labor created five Senior Labor Officer positions in industry-heavy districts, but as of July the positions were all vacant. A broad range of laws and policies are designed to combat and eventually eliminate child labor. Penalties range from a NRs 10,000 ($100) fine and one year in prison to a NRs 200,000 ($2,000) fine and 20 years’ imprisonment.

Child labor occurred in agriculture, domestic service, portering, recycling, and transportation; the worst abuses were reported in brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, the carpet sector, embroidery factories, and the entertainment sector. In the informal sector, children worked long hours in unhealthy environments, carried heavy loads, were at risk of sexual exploitation, and at times suffered from numerous health problems (see section 6, Children). Government officials stated they were still concerned that the economic effect of the 2015 earthquakes increased the risk of child labor, but no official data was available as of August.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, geographical or social origin, language, marital status, physical or health condition, disability, or ideological conviction. It also stipulates that the government may make special provisions for the protection, empowerment or advancement of women, Dalits, indigenous peoples, gender and sexual minorities, persons with disabilities, and those who belong to a class that is economically, socially or culturally “backward.” On employment the constitution gives women the right to special opportunities and gives ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, Muslims, and gender and sexual minorities the right to serve in state bodies though the principle of inclusion. It also states that there will be special legal provisions for Dalits in employment, including in public service. Labor regulations prohibit discrimination in payment or remuneration based on gender.

There are no provisions in the constitution, law, or regulations prohibiting discrimination, including labor discrimination, or discrimination based on color, age, national origin or citizenship, HIV-positive status, or other communicable disease.

Despite constitutional and legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, caste, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Such discrimination was most common in the informal sector, where monitoring by the government and human rights organizations was weak or absent and those in disadvantaged categories had little leverage or recourse. In the formal sector, labor discrimination generally took the form of upper-caste men without disabilities being favored in hiring, promotions, and transfers. In the public sector, such discrimination also was based on personal affiliation and reportedly occurred in many instances with the tacit understanding of political leaders.

Although the law requires equal pay for equal work for men and women, the government did not implement those provisions, particularly in many state industries. To be eligible for government jobs, Nepali national origin or citizenship is mandatory, and dual nationals are excluded. A fixed-term employment of a foreign national under contractual arrangements or as a consultant, however, is permitted. Labor laws limit hiring foreign nationals in fully owned or joint-venture foreign enterprises.

The government used a mandatory 5 percent public employment quota to hire persons with disabilities during the year, primarily as teachers. The government also attempted to implement this quota system on a voluntary basis in the private sector and during the year began conducting free classes to help persons with disabilities prepare for public-service exams. Nevertheless, according to government officials and disability rights advocates, the overall rate of employment of persons with disabilities did not increase significantly. In the private sector, large numbers of persons with disabilities claimed they were denied work opportunities or dismissed due to their conditions. In all sectors employees with disabilities reported other forms of discriminatory treatment.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the government made little progress in implementing antidiscrimination legal provisions to assure employment opportunities for lower-caste individuals in both the public and private sectors. There was no comprehensive data on this abuse.

The government committed to take action for the economic empowerment of gender and sexual minorities and other marginalized groups in its fourth five-year National Plan of Action on Human Rights (2014-19). Local LGBTI advocacy organizations, however, stated there was a lack of implementation. Reliable data on discrimination against LGBTI persons in various sectors was not available, but activists reported it was common for gender and sexual minorities to be denied promotions and competitive opportunities within the security services and athletics. There were some reports of individuals losing their jobs when their employers or coworkers discovered their HIV-positive status. According to a development NGO working in the area of HIV/AIDS, a longstanding government policy to foster acceptance of persons with HIV and respect for their rights in the workplace had not been implemented effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government increased the minimum wage for unskilled laborers in February 2016 from NRs 8,000 to NRs 9,700 ($80 to $97) per month. For workers in the tea industry, the minimum wage was increased in July 2016 from NRs 6,375 ($64) to NRs 7,075 ($71) per month, with an additional allowance of NRs 30 ($.30) per day. The minimum wage exceeded the official poverty line of NRs 52 ($.53) per day, but it was barely sufficient to meet subsistence needs.

Minimum-wage laws apply to both the formal sector (which accounted for approximately 10 percent of the workforce) and the informal sector, but implementation was stronger in the formal sector. In accordance with an understanding reached between the Joint Trade Union Coordination Center (a common forum of 11 trade unions), the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the minimum wage should be revised every two years.

The law stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with one day off per week and one-half hour of rest per five hours worked. The law limits overtime to no more than four hours in a day and 20 hours per week, with a 50 percent overtime premium per hour. Excessive compulsory overtime is prohibited. Employees are also entitled to paid public holiday leave, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, and other special leave. The law provides adequate occupational health and safety standards and establishes other benefits, such as a provident fund, housing facilities, day-care arrangements for establishments with more than 50 female workers, and maternity benefits.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported that most factories in the formal sector complied with laws on minimum wage and hours of work, but implementation varied in the informal sector, including in agriculture and domestic servitude. The ministry employed up to 12 factory inspectors for the country, who also acted as labor and occupational health and safety inspectors.

Implementation and enforcement of occupational health and safety standards were minimal, and the Ministry of Labor and Employment considered it the most neglected area of labor law enforcement. The ministry found violations across sectors, including in construction, mining, transportation, agriculture, and factory work.

The government has not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce occupational safety and health provisions. The Ministry of Labor and Employment did not have a specific office dedicated to occupational safety and health, nor did it have inspectors specifically trained in this area. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Although the law authorizes factory inspectors to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remained minimal, and monitoring was weak. Accurate data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available. Labor law and regulations do not specify that workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The government regulated labor contracting, or “manpower,” agencies recruiting workers for overseas jobs, and penalized fraudulent recruitment practices. The government said it remained committed to the free-visa, free-ticket scheme introduced in 2015, but according to migrant rights NGOs, the government has failed to implement the policy effectively. Some government officials were complicit in falsifying travel documents and overlooking recruiting violations by labor contractors. The myriad unregistered and unregulated labor “brokers” and intermediaries, who were often trusted members of the community, complicated effective monitoring of recruitment practices. Workers were also encouraged to register and pay a fee to the Foreign Employment Promotion Board, which tracked migrant workers and provided some compensation for workers whose rights were violated.

The government required contracts for workers going abroad to be translated into Nepali and instituted provisions whereby workers must attend a predeparture orientation program. During the orientation workers are made aware of their rights and legal recourse, should their rights be violated. The effectiveness of the initiatives remained questionable since workers who went overseas often skipped the mandatory training, and many companies issued predeparture orientation certificates for a small fee and failed to deliver the training. Nepali migrant workers abroad often continued to face exploitive conditions.

Large numbers of persons worked in the informal sector although no data were available to confirm the size of the informal economy with precision. According to the Nepal Labor Force Survey, in 2008 an estimated 2.15 million persons ages 15 and over were employed in the nonagricultural informal sector (70 percent of total nonagricultural employment at that time).

The law provides for protection of workers from work situations that endanger their health and safety, but in small and cottage industries located in small towns and villages, employers sometimes forced workers to work in such situations or risk losing their jobs.

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, a constitutional monarchy, consists of four equal autonomous countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom retains responsibility for foreign policy, defense, and other “kingdom issues.” The Netherlands also includes the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, which are special municipalities. The six Caribbean entities collectively are known as the Dutch Caribbean.

The Netherlands has a bicameral parliament. The country’s 12 provincial councils elect a first chamber, and the second chamber is elected by popular vote. A prime minister and a cabinet representing the governing political parties exercise executive authority. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten have unicameral parliamentary systems. Ultimate responsibility for safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms in all kingdom territories lies with the combined kingdom governments. Elections for seats in the Netherlands second chamber of parliament in March were considered free and fair.

Throughout the kingdom civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included anti-Semitic incidents and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Authorities generally investigated, and where appropriate prosecuted, such cases.

Authorities in the kingdom investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed violations.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions in the Netherlands that raised human rights concerns. According to a 2015 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee to Prevent Torture (CPT), the most recent independent assessment available, prison conditions in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten were substandard due to insufficient medical care and physical conditions. The report documented beatings of detainees after arrest, delays in accessing legal counsel, and unsanitary conditions of detention in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: According to the CPT report, medical resources at facilities in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten were limited. The report started that in Aruba authorities did not meet the dietary requirements of prisoners, and prisoners with mental health problems and other vulnerable prisoners were housed in poor conditions.

Administration: Agencies that make up the national preventive mechanism in the Netherlands investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Detainees held on terrorism charges at two maximum-security facilities at Vught and Rotterdam in the Netherlands protested the terms of their confinement, including lack of privacy, constant observation, and frequency of full-body searches. In response the authorities implemented a more individualized approach to address some of their grievances. Amnesty International and Open Society Justice Initiative published a report on October 31 echoing the same grievances and concluding measures the government has taken did not fully address the human rights concerns in terrorism prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The kingdom’s governments permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, such as human rights groups, the media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as by international bodies such as the CPT, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, and UN Working Group for People of African Descent.

Improvements: In response to the CPT report, authorities on Aruba and Curacao opened new police holding cells facilities that met CPT requirements.

Aruba continued its prison guard training plan as proposed in the CPT report. International prison standards were part of the curriculum.

Authorities in Curacao implemented additional measures, such as new observation cameras, the use of a drone, and additional detection ports, to suppress illegal activities among inmates and to ensure the safety of inmates and staff. Renovation and upgrade projects at the Curacao Center for Correction and Detention continued, including renovation of toilet facilities, changing locks of the cells, and renovation of the roof and kitchen.

In Sint Maarten authorities provided an infirmary and qualified nurses. They also contracted medical doctors to provide care in the prison facilities. The prison authorities started to provide in-house dental care, and the Mental Health Foundation provided psychological care on a weekly basis.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the governments generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

In the Netherlands the Ministry of Justice and Security oversees law enforcement organizations, as do the justice ministries in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The military police (Marechaussee) are responsible for border control in the Netherlands. The Border Protection Service (immigration), police, and the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard share the responsibility for border control in Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao.

Civilian authorities in the entire kingdom maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A prosecutor or senior police officer must order the arrest of any person, other than one apprehended on the spot, for alleged crimes. Arrested persons have the right to appear, usually within a day, before a judge, and authorities generally respected the right. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The kingdom’s law also allows persons to be detained on the order of a judge pending investigation. In these cases no charges are filed. There is no bail system.

In the Netherlands in terrorism-related cases, the examining magistrate may initially order detention for 14 days on the lesser charge of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “serious suspicion” required for other crimes.

In all parts of the kingdom, the law provides suspects the right to consult an attorney. In March an EU directive on the right to access a lawyer became part of national law. It grants all criminal suspects the right to have their lawyers present at police interrogation. Previously, with some exceptions, suspects could consult with their lawyers only prior to first police questioning. In Aruba and Curacao, any criminal suspect is entitled to consult his or her lawyer only prior to the first interview on the substance of the case. In the case of a minor, the lawyer can be present during interviews but cannot actively participate.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial ruling. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release and/or compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the governments generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, and the right to be informed promptly of the charges. Trials take place without undue delay in the presence of the accused. The law provides for prompt access of defendants to attorneys of their choice, including at public expense if the defendant is unable to pay. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare for a defense. If required, the court provides interpreters throughout the judicial process free of charge. The accused is not present when the examining magistrate examines witnesses, but an attorney for the accused has the right to question them. In most instances defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and evidence for the defense. In certain cases involving national security, the defense has the right to submit written questions to witnesses whose identity is kept confidential. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may bring lawsuits for damages for human rights violations in the regular court system or specific appeal boards. If all domestic means of redress are exhausted, individuals may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Citizens of Sint Maarten and Curacao may also seek redress through the ombudsperson if the government is accused of human rights violations.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Netherlands has laws and/or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The Dutch comply with the goals of the Terezin Declaration. A legal process exists for claimants to request the return of property looted during the Holocaust, although some advocates say that bureaucratic procedures and poor record keeping have been key barriers to restitution efforts. In 2016 Amsterdam allocated $11 million to Jewish causes–an estimate of the total taxes paid by survivors following the war. In February, The Hague’s executive board advised the city government to offer $2.75 million for property tax restitution to Holocaust survivors and heirs. As of July the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen has not paid restitution for the equivalent of $2.7 million it received from the Nazis to transport Jews to a concentration camp.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and laws in the entire kingdom 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: Observers considered the March elections for seats in the Netherlands’ Second Chamber (the lower chamber of parliament) to be free and fair, as were the governmental elections in Curacao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: In July a district court in Rotterdam convicted a former customs officer and three accomplices of smuggling large quantities of cocaine into the country. The customs officer worked in the office that decided which incoming sea containers would be physically inspected. In exchange for payments from criminals, he would let certain containers pass.

Several investigations of government corruption in the Dutch Caribbean continued. In Sint Maarten three cases against parliamentarians were under investigation or pending before the court. Two other parliamentarians were convicted. In Curacao a former prime minister was convicted of corruption, money laundering, and forgery. Additionally, a civil servant was arrested for allegedly issuing illegal work permits. In Aruba a minister and a civil servant were arrested for allegedly issuing work permits without the proper procedures. In Curacao the head of immigration was under investigation for corruption, and in Sint Maarten a senior immigration official was under investigation for human smuggling.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require income and asset disclosure by officials. For most senior government positions, each ministry has its own regulations governing conflicts of interest.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law in all parts of the kingdom criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The penalty is imprisonment not exceeding 12 years, a fine not exceeding 78 thousand euros ($93,600), or both. In case of violence against a spouse, the penalty for various forms of abuse can be increased by one-third. In Aruba the penalty is imprisonment not exceeding 12 years or a fine of 100 thousand Aruban florins ($56,000). Authorities effectively prosecuted such crimes.

Safe Home, a knowledge hub and reporting center for domestic abuse with 26 regional branches, was the national platform that worked to prevent domestic violence and support victims. Safe Home ran a national multimedia campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence and to direct survivors to the proper institutions for assistance. The center operated a national 24/7 hotline for persons affected by domestic violence. The government supported the organization Movisie, which assisted domestic and sexual violence survivors, trained police and first-line responders, and maintained a website on preventing domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): In the kingdom the law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls; the maximum penalty for FGM/C is 12 years in prison. The only women in the Netherlands who are victim of FGM/C are immigrants from countries where the practice is prevalent, according to a 2013 government-funded study. Eighty percent of these women are from Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia/Eritrea, and Kurdish Iraq. An estimated 40 to 50 girls were at risk of becoming victims each year, but only when they returned to their home countries.

The Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport continued funding for the Pharos Center of Expertise on Health for Migrants and Refugees to run a project to prevent and counter FGM/C. Pharos also operated Focal Point, which functioned as a FGM/C knowledge hub for aid workers, law enforcement agencies, policy advisors, and others.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The National Expertise Center for Honor-Related Violence, part of the police force in the Netherlands, received 452 reports of honor-related violence in 2015. Honor-related violence is treated as regular violence for the purposes of prosecution and does not constitute a separate offense category. Laws against violence were enforced effectively in honor-related violence cases, and victims were permitted to enter a specialized shelter.

Sexual Harassment: The law penalizes acts of sexual harassment and was enforced effectively. It requires employers to protect employees against aggression, violence, and sexual intimidation. Complaints against employers who fail to provide sufficient protection could be submitted to the NIHR. Victims of sexual assault or rape in the workplace can report the incidents to police as criminal offenses, which can trigger a police response. In Curacao the law penalizes sexual harassment and it is enforced effectively. The Stichting Slachtofferhulp (Victims Assistance Foundation) assists the victims.

In Sint Maarten there is no central institution to handle sexual harassment cases. According to the law, substantive civil servant law integrity counselors must be appointed for each ministry. These integrity counselors advise the civil servants on integrity issues. It is up to the responsible minister to act on the complaint.

Aruban law states the employer shall ensure the employee is not sexually harassed in the workplace. Employers are required to keep the workplace free from harassment by introducing policies and enforcing them. Sint Maarten and Curacao also have laws prohibiting stalking.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Under the law women throughout the kingdom have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. There were reports of discrimination in employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship can be derived from either the mother or the father. Births are registered promptly.

Child Abuse: A multidisciplinary task force in the Netherlands acts as a knowledge hub and facilitates interagency cooperation in combatting child abuse and sexual violence. The children’s ombudsman headed an independent bureau that safeguarded children’s rights and called attention to abuse. Physicians are required to report child abuse to authorities.

Aruba has a child abuse reporting center. In Curacao physicians are not required to report instances of abuse they encounter to authorities, but hospital officials reported indications of child abuse to authorities. In Sint Maarten, the penal code addresses serious offenses against public morality, abandonment of dependent persons, serious offenses against human life, and assault that apply to child abuse cases.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 in all parts of the kingdom. In the Netherlands and Aruba, there are two exceptions: if the persons concerned are older than 16 and the girl is pregnant or has given birth, or if the Minister of Security and Justice in the Netherlands or the Minister of Justice in Aruba grants a dispensation based on the parties’ request. Underage marriages were rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Throughout the kingdom the law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as production, possession, and distribution of child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age of consent is 16 in the Netherlands, Curacao, and Aruba and 15 in Sint Maarten. The Netherlands is a source country of child sex tourists. The government of the Netherlands continued to implement the 2015-18 National Program against Child Pornography and Child Sex Tourism. The government ran campaigns to encourage travelers to report signals of child sex tourists. A reporting website received 76 notifications in both 2015 and 2016.

International Child Abductions: The kingdom is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population in the Netherlands numbered approximately 30 thousand persons.

In April the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), the country’s main chronicler of anti-Semitism, reported fewer incidents (109) in 2016 (the most recent available figures) than the year before (126). The most common incidents included vandalism, verbal abuse, and hate emails. Vandalism and physical abuse were major concerns. The most common form of vandalism concerned swastikas scratched or painted on cars, walls, or buildings, in combination with a Star of David or texts such as “Heil Hitler,” specifically directed against Jews or Jewish institutions. Persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of religious attire were targets of direct confrontations.

CIDI called for more specific measures to stop discrimination and anti-Semitic chanting during soccer matches. Police registered 26 incidents in and around the soccer field.

Police registered 335 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, compared with 428 in 2015. A significant percentage of anti-Semitic incidents concerned “shouting.” For example, police officers, in particular, were frequently called “Jew.”

A Ministry of Justice civil servant, who tweeted “ISIS is a premediated plan by Zionists,” was suspended from her position, but was reprieved by a court, which found that she was penalized too severely, as her remarks are considered protected speech.

In 2016 the government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Internet Discrimination on the Internet (MDI) reported 162 anti-Semitic expressions on the internet. The center noted that criticism of Israel’s policies and appeals to boycott the country readily turned into anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and expressions of wishing Jews dead.

The government entered into agreements with major social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to counter discrimination on the internet. In consultations with stakeholders, the government also established measures to counter harassing and anti-Semitic chanting during soccer matches. The Anne Frank Foundation managed government-sponsored projects, such as the “Fan Coach” project to counter anti-Semitic chanting and the “Fair Play” project to promote discussion on discrimination.

The government of the Netherlands paid special attention to countering anti-Semitism in its national action plan, which emphasizes the role of Jewish and Muslim communities in promoting mutual dialogue.

Government ministers regularly met with the Jewish community to discuss appropriate measures to counter anti-Semitism. The government worked with youth and other NGOs on several projects. This effort included making anti-Semitism a subject of discussion within the Turkish-Dutch community, setting up a help desk, organizing roundtables with teachers on anti-Semitic prejudice and Holocaust denial, holding discussions with social media organizations on countering anti-Semitism among Muslim youth, promoting an interreligious dialogue, and renewing a public information campaign against discrimination and anti-Semitism. The NGO Bridgizz that promotes diversity developed a methodology for schools to support neighborhood networks.

In July Jewish and Muslim organizations signed an agreement with the government and slaughterhouses that fine-tunes a 2012 accord allowing ritual slaughter in an attempt to better articulate each stakeholder’s interest.

In April city workers in Amsterdam removed and relocated a small plaque placed near the entrance to a residential house commemorating a Holocaust victim who had lived there. A couple living in the house sued the city to have the plaque removed altogether saying it placed emotional burden on them and attracted visitors, compromising their right to privacy. After public uproar the couple decided to withdraw the case and explained the plaque reminded them too much of their deceased child but they valued the commemoration of all Holocaust victims.

The Jewish populations in the Dutch Caribbean were small. There were no official or press reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Laws throughout the kingdom ban discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. In the Netherlands the law requires equal access to employment, education, transportation, housing, and goods and services. It requires that persons with disabilities have access to public buildings, information, and communications, and it prohibits making a distinction in supplying goods and services. Despite continued progress public buildings and public transport were not always easily accessible, lacking access ramps. The law provides criminal penalties for discrimination and administrative sanctions for failure to provide access. Government enforcement of rules governing access was inadequate.

In the Dutch Caribbean, a wide-ranging law prohibiting discrimination does not specifically mention, but was applied to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, health care, transportation, and the provision of other government services. Some public buildings and public transport were not easily accessible in the Dutch Caribbean.

Although discrimination is illegal in Curacao, UN Children’s Fund human rights observers noted that persons with disabilities had to rely on improvised measures to access buildings, parking spots, and information.

Not all schools in Sint Maarten were equipped for children with a range of physical disabilities, but the government reported that all children with physical disabilities had access to public and subsidized schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The laws of the kingdom’s constituent territories prohibit racial, national, or ethnic discrimination. In the Netherlands members of minority groups, particularly immigrants and Muslims, experienced verbal abuse and intimidation and were at times denied access to public venues such as discotheques.

In the Netherlands the Muslim community of approximately 900 thousand persons faced frequent discrimination, intolerance, and racism, as did members of other minority/immigrant groups, particularly in public venues and with regard to housing and employment. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the minority unemployment rate during the year was approximately twice that of the native Dutch workforce, while the unemployment rate among minority youths was almost three times as high as among native Dutch youth.

Various monitoring bodies reported that the largest number of registered incidents of discrimination in 2016 had to do with a person’s origin, which includes color and ethnicity, with the largest percentage of incidents (45 percent) related to the victim’s skin color. According to the NIHR, discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds occurred in virtually every sphere.

The government of the Netherlands in consultation with stakeholders updated its National Action Plan against Discrimination that includes measures aimed at prevention and raising awareness. The plan encourages victims to report discrimination; seeks to improve registration, investigation, and prosecution of discrimination; enhanced law enforcement; and supports the use of education to counter discrimination. Additionally, police received training on avoiding ethnic or racial profiling.

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

In the Netherlands the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including in such areas as taxes and allowances, pensions, inheritance, and access to health care. The law also prohibits educational institutions operating on a religious or ideological basis from engaging in discrimination on the basis of homosexuality. When courts find acts of violence against LGBTI persons to be motivated by bias, they can provide higher penalties to perpetrators. There were reports of anti-LGBTI violence. For example, on April 1, five individuals on a bridge in Arnhem beat two gay men holding hands. The underage perpetrators were prosecuted. The main national LGBTI organization, COC Netherlands, reported 1,500 incidents of anti-LGBTI violence in 2016 but only nine convictions.

The government increased efforts to counter discrimination against transgender individuals. The Transgender Network Netherlands (TNN) worked with authorities and NGOs to advance the rights of transgender persons and to combat discrimination. The TNN specifically promoted an action plan to increase labor participation of transgender persons.

Research by the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht found that, of 300 transgender persons, more than 40 percent claimed to face discrimination in the workplace. A quarter said they were fired or not hired because of their orientation. For that reason 20 percent remained silent about their identity.

The 2016-20 National Action Plan to Counter Discrimination outlines specific measures to counter discrimination and homophobic violence. Police had a nationwide network of units dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTI persons. The city of Amsterdam had an information call center for LGBTI persons aimed at increasing safety and acceptance of homosexuality. The Ministry of Security and Justice sponsored a campaign in the LGBTI-oriented media to encourage victims to report incidents and file complaints with police.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In March the “Third Monitor on Muslim Discrimination,” a report by Ineke van der Valk of the University of Amsterdam, reported 72 incidents of acts of aggression against mosques in 2016, the highest number since monitoring started in 2005.

The anti-immigrant Pegida and Identitair Verzet movements regularly staged anti-Muslim protests. On September 2, demonstrators displayed banners at the building site of a new mosque in Venlo with texts such as “No mosque in our neighborhood” and “No Jihad in our street.” On September 4, two demonstrators displayed a banner from the roof of a new Islamic secondary school in Amsterdam saying “those who sow Islam harvest Sharia.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide for public- and private-sector workers to form or join independent unions of their own choosing without prior governmental authorization or excessive requirements.

The law in the Netherlands provides for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Unions may conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retaliation against legal strikers. It requires workers fired for union activity to be reinstated. The law restricts striking by some public-sector workers if a strike threatens the public welfare or safety. Workers must report their intention to strike to their employer at least two days in advance.

Penalties include fines, and most violations were considered criminal. Penalties were effective in deterring violations. Government, political parties, and employers respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Authorities effectively enforced applicable laws related to the right to organize and collective bargaining, and workers exercised them. Violations were rare.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Throughout the kingdom the laws prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced them. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor runs from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties were adequate to deter violations.

Forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included both domestic and foreign women and men, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in among other sectors: agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking).

In Aruba authorities investigated six claims of forced labor abuses. Three cases were prosecuted for forced labor and the rest dismissed. Labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected worksites and locations for vulnerable migrants and screen for indications of trafficking based on the Quick Reference Card for Human Trafficking.

Sint Maarten had one case of forced labor, which was under investigation at year’s end. Front-line responders did not have standard procedures for identifying forced labor victims, which hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In the Netherlands the government categorizes children into three age groups for purposes of employment: 13 to 14, 15, and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are allowed to work only in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. The scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increases as children become older, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons under age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs by age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children under 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Offenders faced fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. No reports of child labor occurred in the Netherlands.

In Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are boys and girls under the age of 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 13 or older who have finished elementary school may work, if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced child labor laws and policies. It conducted adequate inspections of possible child labor violations.

In Curacao the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are those under the age of 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 12 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence and/or a fine, which was adequate to deter violations.

In Sint Maarten the law prohibits children under the age of 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons under age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

In the Netherlands labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination in employment or occupation based on 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.

In the Netherlands two studies published in 2015 concluded that job/internship seekers from ethnic minority backgrounds often experienced discrimination on the labor market. The government had a comprehensive plan of action to address discrimination in the labor market that included tailored policies for specific groups, such as non-Western immigrants, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, women, and older persons. During the year the government merged the action plan on labor market discrimination into the National Action Program against Discrimination. Implementation of the Action Program continued. Some studies indicated labor market discrimination still occurred, but the government remained committed to bring about change. Throughout the kingdom the government effectively enforced the laws. Penalties took the form of fines and were adequate to deter violations. Nevertheless, discrimination occurred, especially on the basis of sex. Female unemployment was higher than male, and female incomes lagged behind male counterparts.

The NIHR focused on discrimination in the labor market, such as discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, termination of labor contracts, and preferential treatment of ethnically Dutch employees. The institute also cooperated on several campaigns against discrimination, such as Crossing out Discrimination, launched in 2016 by the Ministry of Interior that focused on raising awareness and encouraging individuals to report incidents of discrimination. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, religion, and disability. Migrant workers also faced discrimination in employment. The NIHR addressed several discrimination cases; although its rulings are not binding, they were usually followed. Courts occasionally addressed discrimination cases. The law addresses adaptations that require employers to accommodate employees with disabilities, and the government worked to improve the position of persons with disabilities in the labor market (see section 6).

The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, where labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In the Netherlands the minimum wage for an adult was sufficient for a single-person household but inadequate for a couple with two children.

In Aruba the monthly minimum wage in 2015 was 1711.15 Aruban florins ($958). In Aruba there is no official poverty level. In Curacao the minimum hourly wage was nine Netherlands Antillean guilders ($5.40), and the official poverty level was 2,195 guilders ($1,230). During 2015 the official minimum hourly wage in Sint Maarten was 8.83 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($5.04); no poverty-level income information was available.

In the Netherlands the law does not establish a specific number of hours as constituting a full workweek, but most workweeks were 36, 38, or 40 hours long. Collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts, not law, regulate overtime. The legal maximum workweek is 60 hours. During a four-week period, a worker may only work 55 hours a week on average or, during a 16-week period, an average of 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. Persons who work more than 5.5 hours a day are entitled to a 30-minute rest period. Workers are entitled to four times the number of days worked per week in annual paid leave (20 days for most full-time jobs). The relationship between government holidays and paid leave days depends on the collective bargaining agreement in each sector.

In the Netherlands the government set occupational health and safety standards across all sectors. Standards were appropriate for main industries and frequently updated. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. In Sint Maarten the government established guidelines for acceptable conditions of work in both the public and private sectors that covered specific concerns, such as ventilation, lighting, hours, and terms of work. The Ministry of Labor reviewed and updated the guidelines and routinely visited businesses to ensure employer compliance.

The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment effectively enforced the labor laws on conditions of work across all sectors, including the informal economy. Resources, inspectors, and remediation were adequate. In 2016 labor inspectors imposed an average fine of nearly 10,700 euros ($12,840), which was sufficient to deter violations. Labor exploitation in informal sectors was uncommon; violations were prosecuted under criminal law. An interagency action team identified and shut fraudulent temporary employment agencies, which were known to be facilitators of labor exploitation.

In June labor inspectors found a Turkish bakery in violation of labor laws for underpayment of employees and hiring individuals without a work permit. Labor inspectors found similar violations in 2015.

Violations were common in temporary agencies that mainly hired workers from Eastern Europe, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, without paying the minimum wage. The law protects workers from exploitation while penalizing fraudulent agencies, individual employers, and recruiters involved in the business. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten.

New Zealand

Executive Summary

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. Citizens chose their representatives in a free and fair multiparty election held most recently on September 23. The Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party, with Green Party support. Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern serves as prime minister. The new government signaled its intention to review priorities in a number of human rights-related areas, ranging from refugee admissions to prison conditions.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issue was forced labor among foreign migrant workers.

The government has effective mechanisms for prosecuting officials who commit human rights abuses; there were no reports of such abuses during the year.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them. The Ombudsman’s Office inspects places of detention such as prisons and mental health facilities to prevent cruel and inhuman treatment, in line with national standards and the country’s international obligations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Civil society and government watchdog groups highlighted the disproportionate rates of incarceration of indigenous peoples, excessive restraint and other treatment of prisoners who risked self harm, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Physical Conditions: Persons accused of a crime who are 17 years or older are tried as adults and, if convicted, sent to adult prisons. Authorities held male prisoners younger than 17 years in four separate detention facilities operated by the national Child and Youth Welfare Agency. There was no separate facility for juvenile female prisoners because there were very few such prisoners. In March the Ombudsman’s Office reported that the Department of Corrections had breached national legislation and the Convention Against Torture in restraining at risk prisoners by excessive use of tie-down beds and waist cuffs. As a result, the Department of Corrections is undertaking a review of its At Risk Prisoner program.

Transgender prisoners who had the gender on their birth certificates changed to reflect their preferred gender were generally housed in accordance with their preferred gender and may begin gender reassignment treatment/surgery while incarcerated.

Administration: Inmates could make uncensored complaints to statutory inspectors or the ombudsperson. The Ombudsman’s Office reports to parliament annually on its findings about prison conditions. The law provides for specified rights of inspection, including by members of parliament and justices of the peace, and information was publicly available on complaints and investigations, subject to the provisions of privacy legislation.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The New Zealand Police, under the Ministry of Police, is responsible for internal security, and the armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces, and 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.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest a suspect without a warrant if there is reasonable cause; however, a court-issued warrant is usually required. Police officers may enter premises without a warrant to arrest a person if they reasonably suspect the person committed a crime on the premises or found the person committing an offense and are in pursuit. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest.

After arresting and charging a suspect, police may release the person on bail until the first court appearance. Except for more serious offenses, such as assault or burglary, bail is normally granted and frequently does not require a deposit of money. Suspects have the right to appear promptly before a judge for a determination of the legality of the arrest and detention. After the first court appearance, the judge typically grants bail unless there is a significant risk the suspect would flee, tamper with witnesses or evidence, or commit a crime while on bail. Authorities granted family members timely access to detainees and allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to a lawyer provided by the government. The government did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 25 percent of prisoners were held in custody on remand, while they await trial or sentencing. The number of prisoners held on remand increased three-fold in 20 years, primarily due to increased time required to complete cases, and stricter bail restrictions. The median duration of prisoners’ time held in remand is approximately two months.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested persons have additional legal protections, including the right to initiate habeas corpus proceedings to decide the lawfulness of their detention, to be charged and tried without “undue delay,” and to obtain compensation if unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges, and provide adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but they have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants also have the right to present witnesses and evidence, confront witnesses against them, appeal convictions, and receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The government provides a lawyer at public expense if the defendant cannot afford counsel. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations, including access to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. There are also administrative remedies for alleged wrongs through the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following the most recent general election held on September 23, the former opposition Labour Party formed a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party, with Green Party support, led by Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern as prime minister. Although the ruling National Party won the greatest number of seats in parliament, 58 of 120, it was unable to form a coalition and became the official parliamentary opposition.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Voter turnout in the general election was 79 percent, while turnout in designated Maori electorates was lower and ranged from 60-69 percent. In South Auckland electorates with a high percentage of Pacific Island voters, turnout was 69 percent.

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. There were no reports of government corruption during the year. The Serious Fraud Office and police investigate corruption matters. Allegations can be reported anonymously and the law protects employees who make a report relating to their employers. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller, the Auditor-General, and the Office of the Ombudsman independently report on and investigate state sector activities, acting as watchdogs for public sector corruption. In July the Auditor-General resigned after a parliamentary report revealed that, during his tenure as chief executive of a government ministry, a former subordinate had committed fraud and mistreated whistleblowers.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, including all ministers, to submit an annual report of financial interests, including income and assets, which the government releases to the public. There were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions against elected officials for noncompliance to financial regulations. Career civil servants are not subject to this requirement but are subject to ethics standards established by the State Services Commission.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: According to a 2016 government report, one in three women reported having experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The maximum penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment; however, indefinite detention may occur in cases where the parole board, during its annual review, believes the prisoner poses a continuing threat to society.

Domestic violence is a criminal offense under the law. Police were responsive to reported domestic violence incidents. The government partially funded women’s shelters, psychosocial services, rape crisis centers, sexual abuse counseling, family-violence victim support networks, and violence prevention services. In September 2016 the government announced it would allocate NZ$130 million ($95 million) to support victims and prevent sexual violence. The package of measures includes more than 60 new police officers, tougher penalties for breaching protection orders, and “family violence” being marked on offenders’ records for life. Victims’ programs include a new crisis response scheme for victims in the 72 hours after a sexual assault; programs to reduce harmful sexual behavior, offending, and reoffending; programs focusing on adults who pose a risk to children; and services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides civil penalties. Sexual contact induced by certain threats may also fall under the criminal code, with a maximum 14-year prison sentence. The HRC published fact sheets on sexual harassment and made sexual harassment prevention training available to schools, businesses, and government departments on a regular basis.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law prohibits discrimination in employment and rates of pay for equal or similar work.

Children

Birth Registration: Children born in the country attain citizenship if either parent is a citizen or legal permanent resident of the country. Children born outside the country attain citizenship if either parent is a citizen born in the country. The law requires notification of births by both parents as soon as “reasonably practicable,” deemed as being within two months of the child’s birth, and most births were registered within this period.

Child Abuse: The number of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect decreased by 10 percent from July 2016 to June. A disproportionately high number of reported cases of child abuse (more than 50 percent) involved Maori children. The government promoted information sharing between the courts and health and child-protection agencies to identify children at risk of abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 20 for both men and women, but persons between 16 and 19 years of age may marry with parental permission. Marriages involving persons younger than 18 years were rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides that any person who has a sexual connection with a person younger than 16 years is liable to a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Further, the law makes it an offense punishable by seven years’ imprisonment to assist a person younger than 18 years in providing commercial sexual services; to receive earnings from commercial sexual services provided by a person younger than 18; or to contract for commercial sexual services from, or be a client of, a person younger than 18 years. The law also makes it an offense to traffic in persons younger than 18 years for sexual exploitation or for forced labor. The country’s courts may prosecute citizens who commit child sex offenses overseas.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a concern; however, no recent data was available on its prevalence.

The law prohibits child pornography and provides for individual and corporate fines if a person produces, imports, supplies, distributes, possesses for supply, displays, or exhibits an objectionable publication. Penalties increase to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment or a substantially greater fine if such an act is committed with knowledge that the publication is objectionable. Simple possession of objectionable material is punishable by fines, while knowingly possessing objectionable material is punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and a larger fine. Knowingly making, trading, distributing, or displaying objectionable material can receive a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment. In addition, a body corporate can be fined up to NZ$200,000 ($137,000). The Department of Internal Affairs Censorship Compliance Unit actively policed images of child sex abuse on the internet and prosecuted offenders.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 7,000, according to the 2013 census. Anti-Semitic incidents were rare.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law prohibits the government from discriminating based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disability, unless such discrimination can be “demonstrably justified.” The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Most school-age children with disabilities attended school.

Approximately 20 percent of eligible voters had a disability and faced obstacles to exercising their electoral right. The Electoral Commission has a statutory obligation to administer the electoral system impartially and seeks to reduce barriers to participation by developing processes that enable citizens with disabilities to fully-access electoral services.

The government’s Office for Disability Issues worked to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, both the HRC and the Mental Health Commission continued to address mental disabilities in their antidiscrimination efforts.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Pacific Islanders, who comprised 7.4 percent of the population, experienced some societal discrimination and had the highest rates of unemployment (13.1 percent) and lowest labor-force participation (61 percent), compared to the rest of the population. Asians comprised 12 percent of the population and reported some societal discrimination.

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples had programs to identify gaps in delivery of government services to Pacific Islanders and to promote their education, employment, entrepreneurship, culture, languages, and identity. The Office of Ethnic Affairs within the Department of Internal Affairs focused on improving dialogue and understanding about minority communities among the wider population.

Indigenous People

Approximately 16 percent of the population claim descent from the indigenous Maori. The government bestows specific recognition and rights, enshrined in law, custom, and practice, to the indigenous Maori population.

Between July 2016 and June, the government enacted legislation that settled five claims by indigenous groups (“iwi”) relating to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document. The government continued active negotiations with almost all iwi who were in various stages of the claims process.

The law prohibits discrimination against the indigenous population, but there were disproportionately high numbers of Maori on unemployment and welfare rolls, in prison, among school dropouts, with elevated infant mortality statistics, and among single-parent households.

Although Maori represented 16 percent of the country’s population, they comprised 50.4 percent of the prison population and 45.5 percent of persons serving community-based sentences. The government, along with Maori community partners and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), continued to implement programs and services to reduce Maori recidivism and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law prohibits abuse, discrimination, and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the government generally enforced the law. From July 2016 to June, approximately three percent of discrimination complaints received by the HRC related to gender identity or sexual orientation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, with some restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. While it does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, the courts may order this at their discretion.

Police have the right to freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively, but sworn police officers (including all uniformed and plainclothes police but excluding clerical and support staff) do not have the right to strike or take any form of industrial action.

Contractors cannot join unions, bargain collectively, or conduct strike action.

Workers may strike while negotiating the right to a collective bargaining agreement or over matters of health and safety. Strikes by providers of key services are subject to certain procedural requirements, including mandatory notice of three to 28 days, depending on the service involved. Key services include production, processing, and supply of petroleum products; production and supply of electricity, water, and sewer services; emergency fire brigade and police services; ambulance and hospital services; manufacturing of certain pharmaceuticals and dialysis solutions; operation of residential welfare or penal institutions; airport and seaport operations; dairy production operations; and animal slaughtering, processing, and related inspection services. The inclusion of some of these sectors was broader than international standards on the definition of “essential services.”

To bargain collectively, unions must be registered, independent, governed by democratic rules, and have at least 15 members. Unions may not bargain collectively on social or political issues.

The government respected these rights and effectively enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays. The law administers penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining protections and includes fines sufficient to deter violations. Cases were occasionally referred to the Civil Employment Court.

Nearly all unionized workers were members of unions affiliated with the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), an independent federation that included unions representing various trades and locations. A few small, nonaffiliated unions also existed.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor. The government’s efforts to enforce the law were not always effective. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations because of the possibility that a fine can be imposed in lieu of imprisonment. Fines can also be imposed for labor violations that may be indicators of forced labor such as underpayment of wages and excessively long working hours.

Foreign migrant workers, including in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, construction, hospitality, and as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor. Some foreign migrant workers were charged excessive and escalating recruitment fees, experienced unjustified salary deductions, non- or underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, and restrictions on their movement. Some had their passports confiscated and contracts altered. Foreign migrant workers, primarily men, aboard foreign-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s economic waters were subjected to forced labor, and in response, the government passed legislation enabling it to address that problem more effectively. Recruitment agencies based within the country that recruit workers from abroad must utilize a licensed immigration adviser. The government expanded partnerships with foreign governments to better monitor and regulate the recruitment of foreign migrant workers. The aim of these partnerships was to reduce the risk of exploitation by providing greater transparency in recruitment and compliance to employment and immigration requirements.

The government continued to pursue convictions under its trafficking law, including cases of forced labor, after an inaugural prosecution in 2015 and conviction in 2016.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law children younger than 16 years may not work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The law also states that children enrolled in school may not work, even outside school hours, if such employment would interfere with their education. The law bans the employment of children younger than 15 years in hazardous industries such as manufacturing, mining, and forestry.

Inspectors from WorkSafe New Zealand, an independent crown agent with its own governance board created to reform the workplace health and safety system, effectively enforced these laws. The law outlines prison sentencing guidelines and fines for the most serious offenses. Penalties were adequate to deter violations.

Children from ages 16 to 18 years worked in some hazardous industries and occupations, such as the agricultural sector. The law requires them to be fully trained. Children younger than 15 years cannot drive a tractor or large vehicle, except children working in agriculture if they are older than 12 years and are fully trained or are being trained, or they live on the property. Concerns remained about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the self-governing territories of New Zealand–Cook Islands and Niue–as well as the dependent territory, Tokelau.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on 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. The government effectively enforced these prohibitions.

The HRC had an equal opportunity employment team that focused on workplace gender-related problems. This team regularly surveyed pay scales, conducted a census of women in leadership roles, and engaged public and private employers to promote compensation equality. The Office of Ethnic Affairs continued to take measures to promote ethnic diversity in occupation and employment.

According to the NZCTU, Maori and Pacific Island people remained disadvantaged compared to the general population in terms of unemployment and wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage was NZ$15.75 ($11.45). The “training minimum wage” and the “starting-out” wage for 16- to 19-year-old workers and new workers 20 years or older was NZ$12.60 ($9.16). There was no official poverty-level income figure, but researchers frequently used 60 percent of the median household income, NZ$57,300 ($41,700), as the unofficial poverty-level marker.

The law provides that work hours should be set in collective or individual agreements between employers and employees. Although a 40-hour workweek is traditional, employer and employee parties may contractually agree to a workweek of more than 40 hours.

Extensive laws and regulations govern health and safety issues. Employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and employees are responsible for their own safety and health, as well as ensuring that their actions do not harm others. The government mandates employers to provide health insurance for their seasonal workers. The law allows workers to refuse to perform work likely to cause serious harm and permits legal recourse if they believed an employer penalized them as a result.

The government proactively investigated labor conditions and in cases of noncompliance with labor law inspectors levied fines, required restitution of wages to workers, and revoked licenses of offenders.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment enforces laws governing working conditions, including wages and hours, and occupational health and safety, the latter of which WorkSafe New Zealand is responsible for under the law. The department’s inspectors effectively enforced safety and health rules in all sectors including the informal economy, and they have the power to shut down equipment if necessary. The department normally investigated reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions within 24 hours of notification. Convictions for violations of the occupational health and safety law and the wages and hours law carry either monetary penalties or imprisonment. The law stipulates penalties for employers who exploit migrant workers, including imprisonment, a fine, and deportation for noncitizen residents.

In 2016 the country saw 59 workplace-related fatalities. Agriculture is the country’s most dangerous sector, with 20 persons killed while engaged in agricultural work. The majority of workplace assessments carried out by WorkSafe New Zealand’s health and safety inspectors in 2016 targeted high-risk industries such as agriculture, forestry, construction, and manufacturing. WorkSafe New Zealand reported that 75 percent of surveyed employers had changed their workplace practices following its inspections. During 2016 WorkSafe New Zealand initiated 98 prosecutions following those inspections, and 91 percent of those prosecutions were successful.

Norway

Executive Summary

Norway is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The government consists of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a 169-seat parliament (Storting), which is elected every four years and may not be dissolved. The monarch generally appoints the leader of the majority party or majority coalition as prime minister with the approval of parliament. Observers considered the multiparty parliamentary elections on September 11 to be free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government investigated officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

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.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

While prisons and detention centers generally met international standards, reports regarding conditions at the Trandum detention center raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: NGOs, including Amnesty International Norway and the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), reported concerns with conditions for migrant families and children at the Trandum detention center. The parliamentary civilian ombudsman, who visited the center in March, expressed concerns with the use of solitary confinement and alleged unnecessary force at the center. The center’s manager responded that such force was necessary in specific cases.

Spot counts by prison authorities revealed an average of almost 200 prisoners in solitary confinement (in an average prison population of 3,700). As of June 2016, the latest data available, the Correctional Services Directorate received five reports of cases where the total period of solitary confinement for a prisoner exceeded 42 days (after which authorities must evaluate the status every 14 days).

NGOs criticized the government for leasing Norgerhaven Prison in the Netherlands for convicts from Norway because prisoners there did not have access to the same educational resources and opportunities for visits from family members as in Norway.

On June 8, the Supreme Court rejected the final appeal by convicted murderer Fjotolf Hansen (formerly Anders Breivik) that his treatment in prison violated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits, including unannounced visits, by independent human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police have primary responsibility for internal security. Police may call on the armed forces for assistance in crises. In such circumstances the armed forces operate under police authority. The National Police Directorate oversees the police force.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, and 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.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants authorized by a prosecutor for arrests. The police may make an arrest without a warrant if any delay would entail risk to the police. If police arrest a person without a warrant, a prosecutor must consider as soon as possible whether to uphold the arrest. Detainees must be informed of the charges against them immediately after an arrest, and, if the prosecutor wishes to detain suspects, he or she must arraign them no later than three days after arrest. The arraigning judge determines whether the accused should be held in custody or released pending trial. There is a bail system, but it was rarely utilized. Officials routinely released defendants accused of minor crimes pending trial, including nonresident foreigners. Defendants accused of serious or violent crimes usually remained in custody until trial. Before interrogation, authorities allowed arrested persons access to a lawyer of their choice or, if the requested lawyer was unavailable, to an attorney appointed by the government. The government pays the attorney fees in all cases. Authorities usually allowed arrested persons access to family members.

The law mandates that detainees be transferred from a temporary police holding cell to a regular prison cell within 48 hours. Authorities did not always observe this time limit.

The law provides that a court must supervise whether and how long a detainee may be held in solitary confinement during pretrial detention.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Trials are held without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Defendants also have the right to counsel at public expense, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own evidence and witnesses, and to appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or to confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. They may appeal cases alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all avenues of appeal in domestic courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government, the Holocaust Center, and the Jewish Community report that Holocaust-era restitution has not been an issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “threatening or insulting anyone, or inciting hatred or repression of or contempt for anyone because of his or her: a) skin color or national or ethnic origin; b) religion or life stance; c) sexual orientation or lifestyle; or d) disability.” Violators are subject to a fine or imprisonment not to exceed three years. According to the government ombudsman for equality and discrimination (LDO), hate speech on the internet against ethnic minorities, religious groups, women, and LGBTI persons continued to be a problem. Beginning in 2017, hate crime statistics were to include prosecuted cases and final convictions.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The prohibitions against hate speech applied also to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 97 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

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 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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Authorities deported unsuccessful asylum seekers and others who had no legal right to stay in the country to Russia, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and other countries. NGOs criticized the government for returning some unsuccessful asylum seekers to areas in their home countries different from where they originated, as frequently occurred for returnees to Afghanistan. NGOs also criticized the government for rejecting a high percentage of the asylum claims for Afghans.

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 continued to implement regulations associated with a more restrictive immigration policy pursuant to parliament’s 2016 amendment of immigration laws.

NOAS reported there is no system for automatically reassessing cases of unaccompanied minors granted temporary residence after they turn 18. It noted that many of these unaccompanied minors, fearing their applications would be denied, “disappeared” rather than apply for permanent residency. NOAS also criticized the government for lacking a fully independent appeals system for asylum seekers whose applications are rejected.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows the government to transfer asylum seekers to the European country determined to be responsible under the regulation for adjudicating the case. As of August the government requested other countries within the Schengen area to accept 344 persons under the regulation, including 22 to Greece and 67 to Italy.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits detention of migrants to establish their identity or to affect their removal from the country if authorities deem it likely the persons would evade an order to leave.

Asylum seekers residing in an asylum reception center may not be absent from the center for more than three days without potentially losing their place at the center and all concomitant financial support from the government. Centers were often located in remote areas of the country, and long travel times and a lack of money to pay for public transport effectively limited asylum seekers’ ability to move freely. Residents may apply for permission to live away from the reception center temporarily. Rejected asylum seekers were generally permitted to remain in asylum centers while awaiting voluntary return, assisted return, or deportation.

Employment: Asylum seekers may not work while their cases are under evaluation unless their identity can be documented through a valid travel document or a national identification card. NOAS and other NGOs reported that few asylum seekers possessed these documents, and thus relatively few were allowed to work.

Durable Solutions: The government also offered resettlement for refugees in cooperation with UNHCR. The government’s Directorate of Immigration (UDI) had several programs to settle refugees permanently in the country. According to the UDI, as of August the country accepted 1,923 refugees for resettlement.

Through the International Organization for Migration and other government partners, the government assisted the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers to their countries of origin through voluntary programs that offered financial and logistical support for repatriation. Identity documents issued by either the Norwegian or the returnee’s government are required in order to use this program. The government continued routinely to offer migrants cash support in addition to airfare to encourage persons with weak or rejected asylum claims to leave the country voluntarily.

Individuals granted refugee status can apply for citizenship when they meet the legislative requirements, that include a minimum length of residence of seven out of the last 10 years, completion of language training, and successful completion of a Norwegian language test and a course on Norwegian society.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to 337 individuals through the end of August. The permits may be renewed and become permanent. The government also provided temporary protection to 360 unaccompanied minors, who were granted residence permits in the country until the age of 18.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to authorities, 2,424 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2016; they were not counted as refugees. According to the UDI, at the end of August, an additional 306 stateless asylum seekers lived in receiving centers, a decrease of 38 percent from the same period in 2016. Of these, 101 persons had permission to stay, and 56 were under orders to leave the country. The remainder continued the asylum application process.

Citizenship is derived from one’s parents, and children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. The government effectively implemented laws and policies to provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain nationality on a nondiscriminatory basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the parliamentary elections held on September 11 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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.

Corruption: There were no reports of government corruption and one report of police corruption, a high-profile drug case with the convicted police officer sentenced to 21 years in prison (the longest sentence permitted under the law).

Financial Disclosure: By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens, including public officials, must be made public each year. Failure to declare properly may result in up to two years in prison. Each year officials must declare income, assets, liabilities, and holdings in public companies.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has ombudsmen for public administration (the parliamentary ombudsman), children, and equality and the LDO. The parliamentary ombudsman is appointed by parliament, while the government appoints the others. All ombudsmen enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government interference. The parliamentary ombudsman and the LDO hear complaints against actions by government officials. Although the ombudsmen’s recommendations are not legally binding, authorities usually complied with them.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs reviews the reports of the parliamentary ombudsman, while the Standing Committee on Justice is responsible for matters relating to the judicial system, police, and the penal, civil, and criminal codes.

The Norwegian National Human Rights Institution reports directly to parliament on the human rights situation in the country. It makes recommendations to help ensure that the country’s international human rights obligations are fulfilled by advising the government, disseminating public information, promoting education and research on human rights, and facilitating cooperation with relevant public bodies. The organization submits an annual report on human rights in the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government generally enforced the law. The penalty for rape is up to 21 years in prison, depending on the severity of the assault, the age of the victim, and the circumstances in which the crime occurred. Very few cases resulted in a sentence longer than three years and four months in prison.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was a problem. The law provides penalties for domestic violence of up to six years in prison and up to 21 years for aggravated rape. The government generally enforced the law, although the foundation Oslo Crisis Center continued to criticize the conviction rate (approximately 10 percent) as too low.

The government had programs to prevent rape and domestic violence and to counsel victims. Following the consolidation of police districts from 27 to 12 on January 1, all districts had a domestic violence coordinator.

Public and private organizations operated 47 government-funded shelters and managed five 24-hour crisis hotlines. The Oslo Crisis Center repeated its claim that the network of shelters was too small. Victims of domestic violence have a right to consult a lawyer free of charge before deciding whether to make a formal complaint. If the government initiates criminal proceedings, the victim is entitled to free assistance from a victim’s advocate.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides that “employees shall not be subjected to harassment or other unseemly behavior,” and the government effectively enforced this provision. Employers who violate this law are subject to fines or prison sentences of up to two years, depending on the seriousness of the offense. The LDO concluded that sexual harassment was not an acute problem in the country.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men, but they experienced discrimination in employment. Approximately 25 percent (43 of 175) of complaints received and investigated by the LDO in 2016 concerned discrimination based on gender. The law mandates that 40 percent of the members of boards of directors of publicly listed companies be women, and virtually all public companies complied with the law.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents; children born in the country do not automatically become citizens. All birth clinics in the country reported births to a central birth register and provided the parents with a birth certificate. The birth certificate does not confer citizenship.

Child Abuse: The legal definition of rape includes sexual offenses against children under the age of 14. In 2015, the most recent year data were available, the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs initiated 43,681 investigations of alleged child abuse and completed 44,100. By the end of 2015, approximately 36,800 children received assistance from the Child Welfare Services, of whom 21,950 received in-home assistance, while 14,850 were removed from their family home.

An independent children’s ombudsman office under the Ministry of Children and Equality is responsible under the law for the protection of children and providing assistance and support services. If criminal proceedings are initiated, the victim is entitled to free assistance from a victim’s advocate.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both women and men, although a 16-year-old child may marry with the consent of parents or guardians and permission from the county governor. The county governor may give permission only when there are “special reasons for contracting a marriage.”

In March the government introduced an action plan for 2017-20 to combat “negative social control” (restricting children’s freedom to living within family or group norms), forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is illegal, both in the country and abroad when committed by a citizen of the country. In both cases the punishment is either a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years. Child pornography is also illegal and punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years. The government generally enforced the laws. The age for consensual sex is 16.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 1,300 Jews lived in the country, 700 of whom belonged to Jewish congregations. Jewish Community leaders reported the public generally supported the community.

In May the Progress Party, the junior member in the governing coalition, expressed its support at a party convention for a law banning ritual circumcision of children under the age of 16. Domestic and international Jewish leaders spoke out against it, and the government stated it would not pursue the issue.

Under the government’s 2016 action plan to counter anti-Semitism, police must work toward including anti-Semitism as a separate category of hate crime in police statistics. The action plan also institutionalized the reporting of anti-Semitic attitudes in society every five years.

The Jewish Community expressed concern over a march of 50 neo-Nazis from the group Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) that took place in the town of Kristiansand in July.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other governmental services, and the government effectively enforced and implemented these provisions. The law mandates access to public buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. In 2016 there were 10 complaints of problems such as lack of ramps for wheelchair users where there are steps or stairs to enter a building.

In June parliament revised the Equality and Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination based on disability. The LDO noted the amended law should make identifying and investigating discrimination easier by consolidating several antidiscrimination statutes.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Discrimination against immigrants, including asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and ethnic minorities remained a problem. Ethnic discrimination occurred in employment.

Racial profiling is against the law, but authorities did not keep records relating to the stop and search of members of vulnerable groups. NGOs such as the Organization against Public Discrimination (OMOD) continued to report complaints of police profiling of members of ethnic and racial minority groups, particularly the young. According to the NGOs, many incidents went unreported to authorities because victims declined to pursue charges. OMOD also described racial discrimination in the housing market and by certain government authorities, such as the welfare service and customs authority.

During the year the NGO Norwegian Center against Racism and other NGOs observed an increase in hateful rhetoric directed at minorities in online commentaries and social media. The NGOs attributed this rise in part to the media’s coverage of perceived anti-immigrant statements by Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug.

The government continued to implement the national strategy against hate speech released in late 2016.

A survey of students with immigrant backgrounds conducted during the summer by the Norwegian Center against Racism found out that one in four such students experienced various forms of racism in school on a regular basis. Other NGOs echoed concerns of pervasive racist sentiments in society.

In June parliament revised the Equality and Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination based on ethnicity; the revised law was scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2018. The LDO noted that the amended law should make identifying and investigating discrimination easier by consolidating several antidiscrimination statutes.

In addition to the Sami, five ethnically non-Norwegian groups with a long-standing attachment to the country have a special protected status under the law: Kvens/Norwegian Finns, Jews, Forest Finns, Roma, and Romani/Tater people (a distinct group of travelers who emigrated to Norway and Sweden in the 1500s).

Roma representatives reported widespread discrimination in dealings with government agencies, especially the welfare, education, and child protective service authorities.

The government financially supported the development of a Romani culture house in Oslo, which the community expected to include a kindergarten as well as language and cultural resources. In 2016 an advisory group was formed to help facilitate communication between Romani representatives and the government.

Indigenous People

Although there is no official registry of Sami in the country, as of January 2015 (the latest data available), 55,600 persons of this ethnicity were estimated to live in the northern part of the country. In addition to participating freely in the national political process, the Sami elect their own parliament, the Samediggi. Elections for the Sami parliament were held in September.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While violence motivated by discriminatory attitudes towards transgender persons is not considered a hate crime, crimes based on discriminatory attitudes towards sexual orientation can be treated as aggravated crimes. In June parliament revised the Equality and Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation; the revised law was scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2018. The LDO noted that the amended law should make identifying and investigating discrimination easier by consolidating several antidiscrimination statutes.

One police station in Oslo had staff that had special training in hate crimes and reported 41 such cases towards the LGBTI community in 2016. In 2015 there were 33 such cases reported.

Members of the LGBTI community reported four cases of harassment during the Oslo pride event, including one threat of rape and two acts of violence. The Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity also reported a continued rise in online harassment from a neo-Nazi group, the NRM, which chanted slogans such as “crush the gay lobby” during a march in Kristiansand in July.

Transgender persons who are 16 and older (and from age 6 to 16 with parental permission) may change their gender on legal identification documents based on gender identity without having to undergo surgery or physical transformation. During the year 190 persons changed their gender on legal documentation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Norwegian Center against Racism reported continued anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in society. The Muslim community continued to allege that its complaints were largely ignored in public debate.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including migrant workers (those who have a work permit in the country), to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The right to strike excludes members of the military and senior civil servants. With the approval of parliament, the government may compel arbitration in any industrial sector if it determines that a strike threatens public safety. Trade unions criticized the government for intervening too quickly in labor disputes, although the law generally allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced laws against it. A maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment for violations of the law was sufficiently stringent to deter violations. As of September 1, police received 100 reports of violations of the labor law and no reports on forced labor from the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority (NLIA).

Trafficking discussions in the country generally focused on prostitutes, considered a large victim group. NGOs, such as NOAS, reported on unaccompanied minor asylum seekers who “disappeared” from asylum reception centers and were feared to be victims of trafficking and forced labor. During the year the same concerns applied to those who disappeared from asylum centers after receiving a final rejection of their asylum claims. Children were subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Children between the ages of 13 and 15 may be employed up to 12 hours per week in light work that does not adversely affect their health, development, or schooling. Examples of light work include assistant work in offices or stores. Children under age 15 need parental permission to work and those older than 15 can work as part of vocational training, as long as they are supervised. Between the ages of 15 and 18, children not in school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day. The law limits work by children who remain in school to only those hours “not affecting schooling” without specific limits, but less than 40 hours per week. No child may work at night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Working more than nine hours a week qualifies a child for health benefits.

While employers generally observed minimum age rules, there were reports that children were trafficked for forced labor (see section 7.b.). Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity, particularly drug smuggling and theft. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children). There were also reports of children forced to work as unpaid domestic help.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and ethnicity. Discrimination against Romani and migrant workers also occurred.

The law provides that women and men engaged in the same activity shall receive equal wages for work of equal value. In 2016 women earned on average 13.9 percent less than men on a monthly basis, according to Statistics Norway. The government attributed this to differences in the professions chosen by women and men and the predominance of women in part-time or public-sector work. The LDO expressed concern that many women were in part-time positions involuntarily because of a tendency in certain industries, such as health and services, to divide work into a large number of part-time positions with no meaningful opportunity for full-time employment. According to Statistics Norway, in the second quarter of the year, nearly 40 percent of women and 17 percent of men worked part time.

Equally qualified immigrants sometimes had more difficulty finding employment than ethnic Norwegians. As of August the unemployment rate among immigrants was 6.1 percent, compared with 2.6 percent among nonimmigrants, according to Statistics Norway. African immigrants had the highest unemployment rate at 10 percent, followed by immigrants from eastern EU countries at 6.9 percent, Asians at 6.6 percent, and South and Central Americans at 6.4 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not mandate an official minimum wage. Instead, minimum wages were set in collective bargaining agreements. Statistics Norway uses 60 percent of the median household income for the relative poverty limit, which in 2015 was 294,000 kroner ($36,000) per year. In 2015, the most recent year data were available, 13 percent of the total population had an income below the poverty limit.

The law provides for premium pay of 40 percent of salary for overtime and prohibits compulsory overtime in excess of 10 hours per week.

The law provides the same benefits for citizens and foreign workers with residency permits but forbids the employment of foreign workers who do not have residency permits. The law provides for safe and physically acceptable working conditions for all employed persons. The NLIA, in consultation with nongovernment experts, sets occupational safety and health standards. The law requires enterprises with 50 or more workers to establish environment committees composed of management, workers, and health-care personnel. Enterprises with 10 or more workers must have safety delegates elected by their employees. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment; authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The NLIA effectively enforced laws and standards regarding acceptable work conditions in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. The NLIA may close an enterprise immediately if the life or health of employees is in imminent danger and may report enterprises to police for serious breaches of the law. A serious violation may result in fines or, in the worst case, imprisonment. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Sultanate of Oman is a hereditary monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos al-Said since 1970. The sultan has sole authority to enact laws through royal decree, although ministries and the bicameral Majlis Oman (parliament) can draft laws on non-security-related matters, and citizens may provide input through their elected representatives. The Majlis Oman is composed of the Majlis al-Dawla (upper house/State Council), whose 84 members are appointed by the sultan, and the elected 85-member Majlis al-Shura (lower house/Consultative Assembly). In October 2015 more than 250 thousand citizens participated in the country’s Majlis al-Shura elections for the Consultative Assembly; there were no independent observers and no notable claims of improper government interference.

The Royal Office and Royal Diwan–the sultan’s personal offices–maintained control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included occasional allegations of torture of prisoners and detainees; political prisoners; restrictions on freedom of speech, including criminalization of libel and political content, censorship of media, and blocking of internet functions and content; limits on freedom of assembly and association, including funding of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); refoulement of refugees; limits on the ability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity.

Authorities generally held security personnel and other government officials accountable for their actions. The government acted against corruption during the year, with cases proceeding through the court system.

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.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The country’s law prohibits such practices; however, some prisoners occasionally reported sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, beatings, and solitary confinement.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions.

Administration: There was no established prison authority to which prisoners could bring grievances concerning prison conditions. There is no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees; this responsibility falls under the Public Prosecutor’s jurisdiction. Prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC), a quasi-independent government-sanctioned body, investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions through site visits. OHRC authorities investigated claims of abuse but did not publish the results of their investigations, purportedly to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. The law permitted visits by independent human rights observer groups, yet none existed in the country, and there were no reports of independent, nongovernmental observers from abroad requesting to visit the country. Consular officers from some embassies reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners, or delayed notification about detained citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits the government to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of the Royal Office controls internal and external security and coordinates all intelligence and security policies. Under the Royal Office, the Internal Security Service (ISS) investigates all matters related to domestic security. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), including the ROP Coast Guard, is also subordinate to the Royal Office and performs regular police duties, provides security at points of entry, and serves as the country’s immigration and customs agency. The Ministry of Defense, particularly the Royal Army of Oman (RAO), is responsible for securing the borders and has limited domestic security responsibilities. The Sultan’s Special Force (SSF) facilitates land and maritime border security in conjunction with the ROP, including rapid reaction anti-smuggling and anti-piracy capabilities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISS, the SSF, the RAO, and the ROP. There were no reports of judicial impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law does not require the ROP to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, but it stipulates that police must either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecution within specified timeframes. For most crimes, the public prosecutor must formally arrest or release the person within 48 hours of detention; however, in cases related to security, which is broadly defined, authorities can hold individuals for up to 30 days without charge. The law requires those arrested be informed immediately of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice. The state provided public attorneys to indigent detainees, as required by law. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. In cases involving foreign citizens, police sometimes failed to notify the detainee’s local sponsor or the citizen’s embassy.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, individuals can be held for up to 30 days without charge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a Court of Final Appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. Principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. The law allows women to serve as judges. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. While the vast majority of legal proceedings were open to the public, authorities sometimes closed cases concerning corruption, especially cases involving senior government officials and members of the royal family. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for all citizens; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no corroborated public reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, in an interview with Saudi newspaper Okaz in October 2016 and in response to a question on the number of political detainees, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi stated that the government held a “small number.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year. The Administrative Court reviews complaints about the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation.

Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Manpower for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

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

The law does not require police to obtain search warrants before entering homes, but they usually obtain warrants from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The government monitored private communications, including cell phone, email, and internet chat room exchanges. The government blocked most voice-over internet protocol sites, such as Skype and FaceTime. Authorities blocked the import of certain publications, e.g., pornography and religious texts without the necessary permit. Shipping companies claimed that customs officials sometimes confiscated these materials.

The Ministry of Interior requires citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, except nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, whom citizens may marry without restriction; authorities do not automatically grant permission, which is particularly difficult for Omani women to obtain. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse at the border and preclude children from claiming citizenship and residency rights. It also may result in a bar from government employment and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200).

Despite legal protections for women from forced marriage, deeply embedded tribal practices ultimately compel most citizen women towards or away from a choice of spouse.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or his rights;” “messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person’s safety;” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative.

Press and Media Freedom: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in media, the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.

In October the Supreme Court upheld previous court rulings and permanently shut down al-Zaman, an independent newspaper. In September 2016 a court had temporarily shut down the publication after it published an article detailing alleged corruption in the Supreme Court. The court sentenced the managing editor, Yousef al-Hajj to one year in prison and chief editor Ibrahim al-Maamari to six months. Journalist Zaher al-Abri was acquitted on appeal. Al-Maamari was released in April, and al-Hajj was released in October.

Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported near-daily harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official, nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products and books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. In May a court sentenced a local author to three years in prison for “insulting the Sultan,” and “undermining the status of the country” in books published in 2014 and 2016 on the country’s history. Some books were not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials and submit a copy for the ministry’s files.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws and national security concerns as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views. Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for a heavy fine and prison sentence.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “violates the security of the state.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were not transparent or consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most video and audio chat technologies, such as Skype.

The Law to Counter Information Technology Crimes allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and fines of not less than 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.

The government placed warnings on websites informing users that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, effectively increasing self-censorship. During times of regional turmoil, the government also shared posters in social media encouraging users to report others who sought to disturb the peace.

Website administrators or moderators were cautious concerning content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 70 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers. In June a Western diplomatic mission sought permission to host a college fair for students but was told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that interaction with students was forbidden. In October the Ministry allowed foreign diplomatic missions to participate in a government-hosted college fair.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. Dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit also was forbidden by law.

In August 2016 the government closed the AMIDEAST Muscat office, which had prepared local students for education abroad. The office had also facilitated cultural exchange.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Government approval more than one month in advance was necessary for all public gatherings of more than nine persons, although the mechanism to obtain approval for public demonstrations was unclear. Authorities enforced this requirement sporadically. A 2014 report from the UN special rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly expressed concern with government attempts to limit assembly and association rights and stated individuals seeking reform were “afraid to speak their minds, afraid to speak on the telephone, afraid to meet.”

Private-sector employees in the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors threatened strikes in isolated cases. However, company leadership used incentives like promises of job security and other material benefits to persuade organizers to call off strikes (see section 7.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities, such as the Indian Social Group. The Council of Ministers limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. A royal decree in 2014 promulgated a new nationality law that stipulates citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.

Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. Formal registration of nationality-based associations was limited to one association for each nationality.

Associations are forbidden from receiving funding from international groups or foreign governments without government approval. Individuals convicted of accepting foreign funding for an association may receive up to six months in jail and a fine of 500 rials ($1,300). Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.

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 movement within the country and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although that right is not codified. Citizens related to citizens living abroad who criticized the government reportedly were told not to leave the country. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Oman has a large number of female migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. NGOs based outside of Oman, such as Human Rights Watch, and embassies of labor-sending countries allege that domestic workers face discrimination, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The country criminalizes slavery and trafficking, but enforcement is weak. Although forced labor is punished under the country’s labor law, domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. Authorities prosecuted six individuals for forced labor, but it was unclear whether any of those cases involved domestic workers.

The government did not allow refugees to remain in the country. Refugees escaping conflict areas, such as Yemen, were allowed to remain in a border camp for a few days and then returned to their country of citizenship, where they could face persecution or torture. In the case of Syrians fleeing conflict in Yemen, the government allowed them to choose a third country as a destination.

In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports of many migrant domestic workers having their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers.

Employers have a great amount of control over these workers. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers cannot work for a new employer in Oman within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract and the current employer is abusive. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, and/or reentry bans.

Foreign Travel: Some foreigners must obtain an exit visa from their employer prior to leaving the country. Exit visas may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. Courts provided recourse to workers denied exit visas, but the process was opaque. In a few cases in 2016, travel bans–through confiscation of passports–were imposed on citizens involved in political activism.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection to refugees from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities apprehended and deported presumed economic migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea who sought to enter the country illegally by land and sea from the south. Afghans and Pakistanis generally came to the country by boat via Iran. Authorities generally detained these persons in centers in Salalah or the northern port city of Sohar, where they were held an average of one month before deportation to their countries of origin.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refuge for internally displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement is not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It is current policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones, such as Yemen, although temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens was provided by the government.

Access to Basic Services: Without an official sponsor, it was difficult for economic migrants to access basic services, such as health care. Many applied to their embassies for repatriation. Some asylum seekers developed strong relationships within their community that informally provided for them while they sought new employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues. With the exception of the military and other security forces, all citizens who have reached 21 years of age have the right to vote for candidates for the Majlis al-Shura and the provincial councils.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 approximately 250,000 citizens participated in the country’s Majlis al-Shura elections for the consultative assembly, or lower house of parliament. Electoral commissions reviewed potential candidates against a set of objective educational and character criteria (at least a high school education and no criminal history or mental illness) before they allowed candidates’ names on the ballot. The Ministry of Interior administered and closely monitored campaign materials and events. There were no notable or widespread allegations of fraud or improper government interference in the voting process. The government did not allow independent monitoring of the elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not allow political parties, and citizens did not attempt to form them.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. During the Majlis al-Shura elections in 2015, voters elected one woman as a representative. Government policy does not recognize minority groups to participate in political life and have roles in government. There were no self-identified minority communities.

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.

Corruption: There were reports of government corruption, including in police, ministries, and state-owned companies. Political and social favoritism were widespread in public and private institutions.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws. When selected for disclosure, officials are required to list their finances, business interests, and property, as well as that of their spouses and children. These records are made public, and there are fines associated with noncompliance. The State Audit Authority monitors this process.

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

No autonomous, officially sanctioned, domestic human rights organizations existed. There were civil society groups that advocated for persons protected under human rights conventions, particularly women and persons with disabilities. These groups were required to register with the Ministry of Social Development.

The government did not support international or domestic human rights organizations operating in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OHRC, a government-funded commission made up of members from the public, private, and academic sectors, reported on human rights to the sultan via the State Council. The OHRC also published an annual report summarizing the types of complaints it received and how it handled those complained. The OHRC also conducted prison visits and continued a community and school outreach program to discuss human rights with students.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape with penalties of up to 15 years in prison but does not criminalize spousal rape. The government generally enforced the law when individuals reported cases. Foreign nationals working as domestic employees occasionally reported that their sponsors or employees of labor recruitment agencies had sexually abused them. According to diplomatic observers, police investigations resulted in few rape convictions.

The law does not specifically address domestic violence, and judicial protection orders from domestic violence do not exist. Charges could be brought, however, under existing statutes outlawing assault, battery, and aggravated assault, which can carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Allegations of spousal abuse in civil courts handling family law cases reportedly were common. Victims of domestic violence may file a complaint with police, and reports suggested that police responded promptly and professionally. The government operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits health care practitioners and parents and guardians from performing “traditional practices” that may harm the health of a child, but does not explicitly ban female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of FGM/C, but some reports suggested it was practiced.

The government held outreach events at mosques, hospitals, and schools and aired television programs about the harm “traditional practices” may have on children.

Sexual Harassment: The country does not have a law against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been effectively prosecuted using statutes prohibiting offensive language and behavior.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law prohibits gender-based discrimination against citizens. Local interpretations of Islamic law and practice of cultural traditions, in social and legal institutions discriminated against women. In some personal status cases, such as divorce, a woman’s testimony is equal to half that of a man. The law favors male heirs in adjudicating inheritance. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children and cannot sponsor their noncitizen husband’s or children’s presence in the country.

The law provides for transmission of citizenship at birth if the father is a citizen; if the mother is a citizen and the father is unknown; or if a child of unknown parents is found in the country. The law provides that an adult may become a citizen by applying for citizenship and subsequently residing legally in the country for 20 years or 10 years if married to a male citizen.

Children from a marriage between an Omani woman and a non-Omani man are not eligible for citizenship and are vulnerable to being stateless.

Government policy provided women with equal opportunities for education, and this policy effectively eliminated the previous gender gap in educational attainment. Although some educated women held positions of authority in government, business, and media, many women faced job discrimination based on cultural norms. The law entitles women to paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work. The government, the largest employer of women, observed such regulations, as did many private-sector employers.

The Ministry of Social Development is the umbrella-organization for women’s issues. The ministry provided support for women’s economic development through the Oman Women’s Association and local community development centers.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from the father. Women married to noncitizens may not transmit citizenship to their children, and there were a few reported cases of stateless children based on this law. Children of unknown parents are automatically eligible for citizenship. Government employees raised abandoned children in an orphanage. Such children receive free education through the university level and a job following graduation. Citizen marriage to a foreigner abroad without ministry approval may preclude children from claiming citizenship rights (see section 1.f.).

Child Abuse: The Ministry of Health noted that sexual abuse most commonly involved children of both sexes between the ages of six to 12 and was committed by close relatives or friends of the family. According to the Child Law, any concerned citizen may report child abuse, and each governorate had an interagency committee that would meet to discuss the allegations and possibly take the child out of the parent’s custody until the allegations was investigated.

Early and Forced Marriage: The age of legal marriage for men and women is 18 years, although a judge may permit a person to marry younger when the judge or family deemed the marriage was in the minor’s interest. Child marriage occurred in rural communities as a traditional practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography are punishable by no fewer than five years’ imprisonment. All sex outside of marriage is illegal, but sex with a minor under age 15 carries a heavier penalty (up to 15 years’ imprisonment). Authorities do not charge minors. The country is not a destination for child sex tourism, and child prostitution was rare. Soliciting a child for prostitution is prohibited.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population. There were no pending cases of anti-Semitic acts, incidents against foreign resident Jews, or public statements by community leaders or officials during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides persons with disabilities the same rights as other citizens in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. Persons with disabilities, however, continued to face discrimination. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but many older buildings, including government buildings and schools, did not to conform to the law. The law also requires private enterprises employing more than 50 persons to reserve at least 2 percent of positions for persons with disabilities. Authorities did not systematically enforce this regulation.

The government provided alternative education opportunities for more than 1,900 children with disabilities, including overseas schooling when appropriate.

Additionally, the Ministry of Education collaborated with the International Council for Educational Reform and Development to create a curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities within the standard school system, which was in place throughout the year. The minister of education and the minister of health crafted a broad-based, prioritized strategy for various ministries to coordinate on the issue of child autism in the sultanate, including early autism diagnosis and intervention in children.

The Ministry of Social Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Directorate General of Disabled Affairs within the Ministry of Social Development creates programs for persons with disabilities, and implements these programs in coordination with relevant authorities. The directorate was authorized further to supervise all of the ministry’s rehabilitation and treatment centers for persons with disabilities.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced legal, institutional, and social discrimination. The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct with a jail term of six months to three years. Social and cultural norms reinforced discrimination against openly LGBTI persons.

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo, and authorities took steps to block LGBTI-related internet content.

Transgender persons were not recognized as a gender class by the government and were not afforded protection from discrimination.

There were no known LGBTI organizations active in the country; however, there were regional human rights organizations that focused on the human rights of LGBTI Omanis. There were no pride marches or LGBTI rights advocacy events.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Foreigners seeking residency in the country are tested for HIV/AIDS. If tested positive, the residency permission is denied, and foreigners must leave the country, but there were no known occurrences of this.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers can form and join unions, as well as conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, but with significant restrictions. The law provides for one general federation, to which all unions must affiliate, and which represents unions in regional and international fora. The law requires an absolute majority of an enterprise’s employees to approve a strike, and notice must be given to employers three months in advance of the intended strike date. The law allows for collective bargaining; regulations require employers to engage in collective bargaining on the terms and conditions of employment, including wages and hours of work. Where there is no trade union, collective bargaining may take place between the employer and five representatives selected by workers. The employer may not reject any of the representatives selected. While negotiation is underway, the employer may not act on decisions related to problems under discussion. The law prohibits employers from firing or imposing penalties on employees for union activity, although it does not require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Despite the legal protections in place for labor unions, no independent organized labor unions existed. Worker rights continued to be administered and directed by the General Federation of Oman Trade Unions.

Government-approved unions are open to all legal workers regardless of nationality. The law prohibits members of the armed forces, other public-security institutions, government employees, and domestic workers from forming or joining such unions.

The law prohibits unions from accepting grants or financial assistance from any source without the ministry’s prior approval. By law unions must notify the government at least one month in advance of union meetings. All unions are subject to the regulations of the government federation and may be shut down or have their boards dismissed by the federation.

The government generally enforced applicable laws effectively and respected the right to collectively bargain and conduct strikes, though strikes in the oil and gas industries are forbidden. The government provided an alternative dispute resolution mechanism through the Ministry of Manpower, which acted as mediator between the employer and employee for minor disputes such as disagreement over wages. If not resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, the employee could, and often did, resort to the courts for relief. The country lacked dedicated labor courts, and observers noted the mandatory grievance procedures were confusing to many workers, especially foreign workers. The Ministry of Manpower had sufficient resources to act in dispute resolution, and there were no complaints of lengthy delays or appeals. Foreign and local union leaders reported intimidation from companies for their activities and complained that they were passed over for promotion.

Freedom of association in union matters and the right to collective bargaining exist, but often the threat of a strike can prompt either company action to resolution, or spur government intervention. Strikes rarely occurred and were generally resolved quickly, sometimes through government mediation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor, but domestic workers are not covered by the law. All police officials underwent training in how to identify victims of trafficking in persons to help them identify cases of forced or compulsory labor. There were no reports of police taking actions directly to eliminate forced labor; their focus was on identifying and arresting foreign workers without proper work authorization.

Conditions indicative of forced labor were present. By law all foreign workers, who comprised approximately one-half of the workforce and the majority of workers in some sectors, must be sponsored by a citizen employer or accredited diplomatic mission. Some men and women from South and Southeast Asia, employed as domestic workers or low-skilled workers in the construction, agriculture, and service sectors, faced working conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, usurious recruitment fees, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. These situations were generally considered civil or contract matters by authorities, who encouraged dispute resolution rather than criminal action. Authorities continued to rely on victims to identify themselves and report abuses voluntarily, rather than proactively investigating trafficking in vulnerable communities.

Sponsorship requirements left workers vulnerable to exploitative conditions, as it was difficult for an employee to change sponsors (see section 2.d.). The “free visa” system allows sponsors to enable employees to work for other employers, sometimes in return for a fee. This system is illegal, but enforcement is weak and such arrangements left workers vulnerable. Sponsors of domestic workers are allowed to send the worker to another home to work. Some employers of domestic workers, contrary to law, withheld passports and other documents, complicating workers’ release from unfavorable contracts and preventing workers’ departure after their work contracts expired. In some cases employers demanded exorbitant release fees totaling as much as 700 rials ($1,820) before providing a “No-Objection Certificate” to permit the worker to change employers. Without this release letter, foreign workers were required to either depart the country for a minimum of two years, or remain in their current position. There were reports that sponsors were reluctant to provide release letters, which would result in loss of the foreign labor certificate for that position.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16 years, or 18 for certain hazardous occupations. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and are prohibited from working for more than six hours per day, on weekends, or on holidays. The law allows exceptions to the age requirement in agricultural works, fishing, industrial works, handicrafts, sales, and administration jobs, under the conditions that it is a one-family business and does not hinder the juvenile’s education or affect health or growth.

The Ministry of Manpower and ROP are responsible for enforcing laws with respect to child labor. The law provides for fines for minor violations and imprisonment for repeat violations. Employers are given time to correct practices that may be deemed child labor.

In 2016 the country made a moderate advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, and the government published a report on the state of child labor in the country. Although the problem does not appear to be widespread, children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation. The government does not publish information on the enforcement of child labor laws and lacks a reciprocal mechanism between the labor inspectorate and social services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not address discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, political views, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Discrimination occurred based on gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and gender identity. For further discussion of discrimination, see section 6.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for citizens was 325 rials ($845) per month. Minimum wage regulations do not apply to a variety of occupations and businesses, including small businesses employing fewer than five persons, dependent family members working for a family firm, or some categories of manual laborers. The minimum wage does not apply to noncitizens in any occupation. Most citizens who lived in poverty, about 8 percent, were engaged in traditional subsistence agriculture, herding, or fishing, and generally did not benefit from the minimum wage. The private-sector workweek is 45 hours and includes a two-day rest period following five consecutive days of work. Government workers have a 35-hour workweek. The law mandates overtime pay for hours in excess of 45 per week.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. The law states an employee may leave dangerous work conditions without jeopardy to continued employment if the employer was aware of the danger and did not implement corrective measures. Employees covered under the labor law may receive compensation for job-related injury or illness through employer-provided medical insurance.

Neither wage and hour nor occupational safety and health regulations apply to domestic workers.

The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws, and it employed approximately 90 inspectors in Muscat and an additional 70 around the country in 2016. It generally enforced the law effectively with respect to citizens; however, it did not effectively enforce regulations regarding hours of employment and working conditions for foreign workers.

Labor inspectors with arrest authority for egregious violations performed random checks of worksites to verify compliance with all labor laws. Approximately 180 inspectors from the Department of Health and Safety of the Labor Care Directorate are responsible for enforcement of health and safety codes, although limited inspections of private-sector worksites are required by law to deter or redress unsafe working conditions in the most dangerous sectors.

The Ministry of Manpower effectively enforced the minimum wage for citizens. No minimum wage existed for noncitizens. In wage cases the Ministry of Manpower processed complaints and acted as mediator. In a majority of cases, the plaintiff prevailed, gaining compensation, the opportunity to seek alternative employment, or return to their country of origin in the case of foreign laborers, although they rarely used the courts to seek redress. The ministry was generally effective in cases regarding minor labor disputes.

The government made insufficient efforts during the year to prevent violations or improve wages and working conditions, which disproportionately affected foreign workers.

Foreign workers were vulnerable to poor, dangerous, or exploitative working conditions. There were reports that migrant laborers in some firms and households who worked more than 12 hours a day without a day off for below-market wages. Employers often cancelled the employment contracts of seriously sick or injured foreign workers, forcing them to return to their countries of origin or remain in the country illegally. Frequently, labor inspections focused on enforcing visa violations and deporting those in an irregular work visa status rather than verifying safe and adequate work conditions.

There are no maximum work-hour limits for domestic workers nor any mandatory rest periods, although the contract between the employer and worker can specify such requirements. There were frequent reports that domestic workers were subject to overwork with inadequate rest periods. Separate domestic employment regulations obligate the employer to provide domestic workers with free local medical treatment throughout the contract period. Penalties for noncompliance with health regulations were insufficient to deter violations, ranging from approximately 10 to 100 rials ($26 to $260), multiplying per occurrence per worker and doubled upon recurrence. Some domestic workers were subjected to abusive conditions.

There was no data available on workplace fatalities or safety.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic. Voters elect the president, vice president, and members of the legislature (House of Delegates) for four-year terms. In November 2016 voters re-elected Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. president for a four-year term in a generally free and fair election.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included domestic violence and violence against women.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, although it did not punish any officials for involvement in human trafficking offenses.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards, but the Ministry of Justice continued efforts to improve them.

Physical Conditions: The country’s only jail in Koror with a capacity of 58 housed 82 inmates. A new jail on the island of Babeldaob was under construction. Authorities detain male and female prisoners in separate areas, but permit them to mingle together during daylight hours.

There were no reports of deaths in prison.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Justice maintained effective control over the national police and marine police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrests, and officials observed the law. The Office of the Attorney General prepares warrants and a judge signs them. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, a requirement authorities observed. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them and provided prompt access to family members and lawyers. If a detainee could not afford a lawyer, the public defender or a court-appointed lawyer was available. There is a functioning system of bail.

An arrested person has the right to remain silent and to speak to and receive visits from counsel, a family member, or employer. Authorities must release or charge those arrested within 24 hours, and authorities must inform detainees of these rights.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested and detained is entitled to challenge in court the legal basis for arrest or detention. The person could also file a civil lawsuit for unlawful arrest or damage to private property.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to consult with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense), and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 November 2016 voters re-elected Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. president and elected Raynold Oilouch vice president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no legal, cultural, or traditional obstacles to women’s participation in government and politics, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Government corruption was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. There were isolated reports of government corruption, and the government took steps to address them.

Corruption: In 2016 an immigration official pled guilty to charges of misconduct and criminal conspiracy to commit forgery. According to the Ministry of Justice, the immigration officer violated conditions of her probation by leaving the country without permission of the court. There is an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

Financial Disclosure: The government requires elected and some appointed public officials and public office candidates to file annual financial disclosure statements and applicable campaign statements with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $50,000 (national currency is U.S. dollar), or both. Domestic violence is a criminal offense. The law is enforced when police respond to calls of domestic violence; however, many people are reluctant to call police in these situations. The most recent government-sponsored research project on violence against women indicated that approximately 35 percent of women experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. There are no shelters for victims of rape and domestic violence. There was a domestic violence counselor available through the Bureau of Public Health. The government conducted public education efforts to combat abuse against women and children.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a maximum one-year’s imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both. There were no reported cases.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The constitution provides women and men equal parental rights, privileges, and responsibilities. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying positions of importance within the traditional system. There were no reports of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: At least one parent must be a citizen of the country in order to transmit citizenship to a child. Birth registration occurs immediately, and there were no reports of failure to register. Authorities register a child born to foreign national parents as a citizen of the parents’ countries.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no minimum age for marriage between two citizens. The minimum age for marriage between a citizen and a noncitizen is 18 years for a man and 16 years for a woman, and women younger than 18 years must obtain parental permission. Underage marriage was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children. The age of consensual sex is 17 years. Continuous sexual assault of a minor younger than 15 years is a felony and is subject to a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, a $50,000 fine, or both. Child sexual abuse is a felony with fines up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both. The law does not specifically address child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly fewer than 20 persons in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The Disabled Persons’ Antidiscrimination Act and the Programs and Services for Handicapped Children Act cover persons with mental disabilities and persons with physical disabilities, and the government enforced the provisions of these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had separate programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and there are no provisions for naturalization. Some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment, pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination (see section 7.d.). Authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.

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

No laws addressed sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including the right to join and organize labor unions and to bargain collectively; however, there are no laws regulating trade union organization. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue. There is no law concerning antiunion discrimination. The government enforced the laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were no active labor unions or other employee organizations. The majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor offenses include imprisonment and fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. The Office of the Attorney General, the Bureau of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources (all within the Ministry of Justice) are responsible for enforcing the law.

There were reports employers forced some foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers and unskilled laborers, to accept jobs different from those for which they had signed contracts. There were also reports of fraudulent recruitment onto fishing boats, with fishermen subsequently facing conditions indicative of forced labor. Employers sometimes verbally threatened or withheld passports and return tickets of foreign workers desiring to leave unfavorable work situations. Abuses most commonly reported included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There were also complaints of physical abuse. In several cases local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age of employment for citizens is 16 years, and the minimum age for noncitizens is 21 years, excluding entertainers applying for temporary identification certificates. The law provides that the government shall protect children from exploitation. By regulation no foreigner younger than 21 years may enter the country for employment purposes, and the government generally enforced this regulation. The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations related to child labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and the penalties were adequate to deter violations.

There were no reports children worked in the formal economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, marital status, place of origin, religion, or political grounds. The law protects women from job discrimination and provides for equal pay for equal work. The Bureau of Aging and Gender, under the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, promotes workplace gender equality. The law prohibits employment discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. There were no reports of employment discrimination.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The Office of the Attorney General and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources handle cases of workplace discrimination against foreign workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Effective October 2016 the law, which applies only to citizens, increased the minimum wage from $3.25 to $3.50 per hour. There was no data available regarding the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law does not include informal-sector work, such as domestic work; some categories of agricultural work; NGO workers, foreign workers, employees who are students, and temporary or probationary work of students and youths younger than 21 years.

The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources has established some regulations regarding conditions of employment for foreign workers, who are entitled to one day off per week, consisting of 10 continuous hours without working between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The bureau may inspect the conditions of the workplace and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of an employee, but enforcement was inconsistent, and working conditions varied.

Although the law states that employers shall adopt reasonable and adequate occupational safety and health rules, no law protects workers who file complaints regarding hazardous conditions. Foreign workers may self-censor complaints due to fear they could lose their employment if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety.

The Division of Labor had three labor inspectors responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws, regulations regarding working conditions of foreign employees, and safety standards and laws. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the law, employers are subject to a civil penalty for noncompliance with minimum wage requirements, in addition to the amount of taxes, social security contributions, and interest on unpaid wages. Penalties for other violations related to acceptable conditions of work include a range of monetary fines per violation and imprisonment, which were not sufficient to deter violations.

Wages for domestic helpers employed in private households generally were lower than the minimum wage. The country continued to attract foreign workers from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. An Immigration and Labor Monitoring Task Force was established in during the year, which has resulted in the departure of workers due to overstay, working without permits, or unsolvable disagreements between employee and employer.

There were continuing reports of the mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers. The foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, cashiers, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh.

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 most significant human rights issues included an instance of excessive use of force by prison officials; widespread corruption, including in the judiciary; and lethal violence against women.

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 disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. In July media reported the government was investigating the possible use of excessive force after 14 civilian correctional officers used batons and tear gas to control inmates who refused to be transported. The Ombudsman’s Office described the event as torture and said it was an uncommon use of force from correctional officers.

In August, four members of the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited for the first time after the country’s 2011 ratification of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. After the visit SPT members publicly exhorted the government to implement the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture according to international standards. In response the government opened the application process to hire the first National Mechanism director, who was to be embedded in the Ombudsman’s Office with an independent budget and staff.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: As of August the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,167 inmates, held 16,114 prisoners, down from approximately 17,000 prisoners in 2016. 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 inmate security, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Older facilities located in the provinces of Cocle and Veraguas lacked potable water and adequate ventilation and lighting. Women inmates had access to more rehabilitation programs than male inmates.

In adult prisons inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that staff shortages limited exercise time for inmates on certain days. Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials.

One prison, Punta Coco, falls under the control of the Ministry of Public Security rather than the Ministry of Government’s National Directorate of the Penitentiary System (DGSP). In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterated its request to close Punta Coco due to the lack of appropriate medical attention for inmates. Lawyers and relatives of the inmates had to travel 66 miles by boat to reach the island. In August authorities transferred 12 inmates temporarily from the Punta Coco facility to a Panama City prison while they upgraded it to international prison standards. The government did not have plans to close down the facility permanently.

During the year the Ministry of Health conducted vaccination campaigns in most prisons. Inmates received vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, influenza, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses continued to be the most common diseases among the prison population.

Prison medical care overall was inadequate due to the lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August there were only 55 medical staff (including physicians, dentists, nurses, and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Sixty percent of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office from January through August related to the lack of access to medical attention and medications. Officials complained that juvenile detention centers lacked medicines even after the Ministry of Government disbursed large sums to the Ministry of Health for their procurement. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including Panama National Police (PNP) members, to bypass the required clearances. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging inmate transportation. Because the DGSP did not have ambulances, inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available.

As of August, 10 male inmates had died in custody: four of heart attacks, two of HIV, one from cancer, one from tuberculosis, and one from a stroke. One inmate died in prison because of inmate-on-inmate violence. No information about medical care in these cases was available.

Administration: 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.

There were 1,264 prison guards nationwide, including 207 new guards hired during the year. DGSP officials estimated, however, the system required 1,400 guards to staff the prisons adequately. In April all monthly salaries for correctional officers increased from $460 and $690 to $800 (one Panamanian balboa is equal in value to one U.S. dollar).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) Justice and Peace visited a prison once between January and July. The NGO reported overcrowding and corrupt behavior by prison officials, which included smuggled weapons, cigarettes, and cell phones for the inmates. Human rights NGOs wanting access to prisons during visiting hours must send a written request to the DGSP 15 days in advance.

Improvements: After the September 2016 implementation of the new accusatorial penal system and sentencing reduction arrangements, the adult penitentiary population decreased during the year from 17,000 to approximately 16,000 prisoners. As of August, 247 inmates were granted reduced sentences and 41 were granted conditional releases. For largely similar reasons, the juvenile prison population decreased by almost 50 percent, compared with the previous year.

In September the DGSP began implementing Law 42, which provides a career path for civilian prison officials, technicians, and administrative personnel. The DGSP also opened a new Administrative Career Directorate and inaugurated new facilities for its academy for correctional officers in the central province of Cocle. The La Joyita prison’s 60-bed clinic was remodeled and better equipped, but it operated with limited hours.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Panama 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 sometimes 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

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 country completed its transition to an accusatory justice system in 2016, but cases opened prior to September 2, 2016, continued to be processed under the previous inquisitorial system, known for its inefficiencies and bureaucratic hurdles.

Under the accusatorial system, bail exists but is rarely granted. Under the inquisitorial system, a functioning bail procedure existed for a limited number of crimes but was largely unused. Most bail proceedings were at the discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office and could not be independently initiated by detainees or their legal counsel.

The law prohibits police from detaining adult suspects for more than 48 hours but allows authorities to detain minor suspects for 72 hours. In the accusatorial system, arrests and detention decisions were made on a probable cause basis.

Pretrial Detention: Under the inquisitorial system, the government regularly imprisoned inmates for more than a year before a pretrial hearing, and in some cases pretrial detention exceeded the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. According to the director of the DGSP, 54 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees as of September, compared with 66 percent in 2016. Some criticized the judiciary for applying unequal pretrial restrictive measures for individuals facing substantially similar charges. Prosecutors also reported internal pressure from the Public Ministry to prevent release of those accused of crimes pending trial. In an attempt to clear the backlog of thousands of inquisitorial system cases, in June the Supreme Court announced a decision allowing active inquisitorial system cases that had not started investigation by January 1, 2018, to be processed under the accusatory system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Courts proceedings for cases in process under the inquisitorial system were not publicly available, while accusatory system cases were. As a result nonparties to the inquisitorial case proceedings did not have access to these proceedings until a verdict was reached. Under the inquisitorial system, judges could decide to hold private hearings and did so in high-profile cases. Consequently the judiciary sometimes faced accusations, particularly in high-profile cases, of procedural irregularities. Since most of these cases had not reached conclusion, however, the records remained under seal. Interested parties generally did not face gag orders, but because of this mechanism, it was difficult to verify facts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. 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), to a trial without undue delay, to have counsel of their choice, to 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 all new criminal cases were tried under the accusatory system. Under the accusatory system, trials were 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 have a right of appeal. The judiciary generally enforced these rights.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear, especially those involving inmates processed under the old inquisitorial system. This was usually for administrative shortcomings, such as a dearth of PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. Authorities were also aware that available correctional officers and PNP agents focused more on inmates tried under the new accusatory system because the law fines police and correctional officers 100 balboas for failing to deliver an inmate to a hearing.

The judiciary continued to promote videoconference hearings. Judges were increasingly receptive to using this tool, and during the year the government continued to add video conference and hearing rooms to prison facilities.

Judicial response times generally decreased under the new accusatory system. As of June, 104,626 cases were tried under the accusatorial system. During the same period, judicial response time nationwide decreased from an average of 296 days under the inquisitorial system to 42 days under the accusatory system.

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 in 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.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the 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 Freedom: During the year media outlets owned by political and business leaders facing legal proceedings claimed those proceedings limited their freedoms of expression. Media outlets continued to publish and broadcast freely throughout the year. There were anecdotal reports of the government discouraging journalists from publishing stories critical of the administration.

Television channels owners and radio directors linked to opposition parties claimed to be victims of government retaliation for their political views through the opening of corruption investigation against them. In 2016 police arrested NexTV president and former president of the board of directors of the government-run national savings bank Caja de Ahorros, Riccardo Francolini, and former Caja de Ahorros board member and current NexTV anchor and news director Fernando Correa on embezzlement charges unrelated to their media activities.

Violence and Harassment: In 2016 the Ministry of Government submitted a bill that would fine media outlets that published material promoting violence against women. Several journalist unions condemned the bill as an attempt to censor and regulate media content. Pressure from civil society stalled the National Assembly’s approval of the bill. In March the National Assembly approved a revised version of the bill, which transfers responsibility for the fines from the Ministry of Government to the judicial branch.

In April the National Assembly passed a law regulating sexual content in classified advertisements of newspapers, forbidding the publication of sex-work advertisements, in an effort to prevent sex trafficking. Some critics viewed it as a form of censorship.

New media journalists often faced challenges similar to their traditional media counterparts. For example, ClaraMente (a platform launched from Facebook, with a widespread audience) reporters Mauricio Valenzuela and Hugo German reportedly received death threats over the telephone regarding their publications critical of anti-immigration right-wing groups and religious organizations.

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.

The government provided free, wireless internet in public spaces that, when working, reached 86 percent of the population. According to government statistics, two million persons had fixed internet access, representing 50 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 peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The government provided permits for organized groups to conduct peaceful marches. 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, 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 three to four years, during which asylum seekers did not have the right to work and could not access basic services.

As of July the National Office for the Attention of Refugees (ONPAR) received 2,613 refugee applications, compared with 2,619 in 2016. In 2016 ONPAR reviewed 784 cases for admission and admitted 10 into the asylum process. Approximately 77 percent of the applicants were from Venezuela, and the remaining 23 percent were Colombians, Salvadorans, and Nicaraguans.

In August, following a separate process not involving ONPAR, the country granted asylum to three Venezuelan judges and a consul of the Venezuelan embassy. In September the government approved the asylum request of a Venezuelan Supreme Court alternate justice.

As of September the National Border Protection Force had apprehended 4,833 irregular migrants in the Darien region. Apprehensions were down from 17,306 in 2016 and 31,749 in 2015. Cuban nationals accounted for 716 of the migrants, compared with 5,083 in 2016. In March the government announced it would deport hundreds of Cuban migrants, and in August the government stated that 76 Cuban migrants accepted the offer and would receive 1,600 balboas and a Panamanian tourist visa once back in Cuba. In September authorities began arranging repatriation flights for Cuban migrants. The government continued to manage 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.

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 refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by 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 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 continued to enforce 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.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government worked with Colombia to recognize approximately 200 stateless persons on the border. In July the governments of Panama and Costa Rica, with the cooperation of UNHCR, set up a mobile registry office on the border with Costa Rica to register indigenous Ngabe and Bugle seasonal workers who travel between Costa Rica and Panama and who had never registered their births in either country.

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. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez 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. Electoral reforms passed in May, however, require that political parties obtain the equivalent of 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing, a 2 percent reduction from previous requirements. The Revolutionary Democratic Party, Panamenista Party, Democratic Change Party, and Popular Party all complied with the requirement. During the year new political groups registered with the Electoral Tribunal, including the Broad Front for Democracy, the Alliance Party, the Independent Social Alternative Party and Creemos. The Electoral Tribunal provided oversight of internal party elections. On October 15, the Democratic Change Party held internal elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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. Corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches as well as in the security forces. During the year, however, the government took steps to address corrupt practices among government employees and security forces. Anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules exist.

Corruption: During the year there were several credible allegations of corruption against current or former members of the government. More than a dozen high-ranking officials under the previous administration faced charges of corruption.

Investigations under the inquisitorial system continued of Panama Canal Authority board member Lourdes Castillo and her business partners for alleged payment of bribes in 2014 in exchange for a contract with the Panama Maritime Authority. The administration filed a complaint for alleged overpayment of 12 million balboas made to Castillo and her partners’ corporations.

Corruption and a lack of accountability among police continued to be a problem, although the government took steps to address violations. Agents were dismissed on corruption grounds and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. In January officials dismantled a human trafficking organization and arrested two National Migration Service inspectors suspected of receiving bribes.

In September, Eudocio “Pany” Perez, mayor of La Villa de Los Santos, was arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering for drug trafficking organizations. His assistant, a PNP major, a PNP agent, and seven other individuals were also detained in an operation in which 2.1 tons of illicit substances, 30 cars, and approximately one million balboas were seized.

In 2016 the former Agriculture Institute director general under the current administration, Edwin Cardenas, was detained under charges of mismanagement of more than six million balboas of public funds. The fourth anticorruption prosecutor charged Cardenas for wrongdoings from July 2014 through April 2015. Cardenas was released on bail in February. The case continued under the inquisitorial system.

In August the Second Superior Court ordered the separation from office of the mayor of Chagres in Colon Province on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. The 2012 case was under the inquisitorial system.

Former minister of the presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu and former minister of public works Jaime Ford, both in the Martinelli administration, were detained in September for alleged links to bribes paid by Brazilian multinational construction company Odebrecht. Both faced money-laundering charges. The cases were under the inquisitorial system.

After two years in a private hospital undergoing medical treatment for an undisclosed illness, former internal revenue director under the Martinelli administration, Luis Cucalon, was taken to prison. Cucalon faced embezzlement charges for favoring a company with a direct contract for tax collection. The case was being processed under the inquisitorial system and saw several delays. Cucalon claimed medical problems and changed lawyers several times to keep moving hearing dates. After four postponements, the judge called for a closed-door hearing in October. Only prosecutors and defense lawyers, in addition to Cucalon, were able to attend. The hearing was closed to media since judges have discretion on whether to allow media presence or not under the inquisitorial system.

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.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, elected by the National Assembly, has moral but not legal authority. The Ombudsman’s Office received government cooperation and operated without government or party interference; it referred cases to the proper investigating authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, with prison terms of five to 10 years. The government generally implemented criminal aspects of the law better than protection aspects. Rapes constituted the majority of sexual crimes investigated by the PNP and its Directorate of Judicial Investigation.

The law against gender violence stipulates stiff penalties for harassment and both physical and emotional abuse and provides for prison terms of up to 30 years for murder. Officials and civil society organizations agreed that domestic violence continued to be a serious crime.

As of September the Attorney General’s Office reported 13 killings of women in domestic violence-related crimes.

The Ombudsman’s Office continued its program “Mujer Conoce tus Derechos” (Woman, Know Your Rights), which included a wide distribution of flyers.

There was a lack of shelters for victims of domestic abuse. In June the government, through the National Institute for Women’s Affairs, opened a shelter in Puerto Escondido, Colon, for victims of domestic abuse and offered social, psychological, medical, and legal services.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in cases of employer-employee relations in the public and private sectors and in teacher-student relations. Violators face a maximum three-year prison sentence. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, because convictions for sexual harassment were rare, pre-employment sexual harassment was not actionable, and there was a lack of formal reports.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law recognizes joint property in marriages. The law mandates equal pay for men and women in equivalent jobs. The Ministry of Social Development and the National Institute of Women promoted equality of women in the workplace and equal pay for equal work, attempted to reduce sexual harassment, and advocated legal reforms. Although an illegal hiring practice, some employers continued to request pregnancy tests.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides citizenship for all persons born in the country, but parents of children born in remote areas sometimes had difficulty obtaining birth registration certificates. The National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents, and the Family estimated the registration level of births at 92 percent.

Child Abuse: The Ministry of Social Development maintained a free hotline for children and adults to report child abuse and advertised it widely. The ministry provided funding to children’s shelters operated by NGOs in seven provinces and continued a program that used pamphlets in schools to sensitize teachers, children, and parents about mistreatment and sexual abuse of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. The government prohibits early marriage even with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Officials continued to prosecute cases of sexual abuse of children in urban and rural areas, as well as within indigenous communities. Officials believed that commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred, including in tourist areas in Panama City and in beach communities, although they did not keep separate statistics.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jewish community leaders estimated there were 15,000 Jews in the country. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the constitution permits the denial of naturalization to persons with mental or physical disabilities. The law mandates access to new or remodeled public buildings for persons with disabilities and requires that schools integrate children with disabilities. Despite provisions of the law, persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in a number of these areas.

Panama City’s bus fleet was not wheelchair accessible. Metro elevators were frequently locked and could not be used. A lack of ramps further limited access to the stations. Most businesses had wheelchair ramps and accessible parking spaces as required by law, but in many cases, they did not meet the government’s size specifications.

Some public schools admitted children with mental and physical disabilities, but most did not have adequate facilities for children with disabilities. Few private schools admitted children with disabilities. The high cost of hiring professional tutors to accompany children to private schools–a requirement of all private schools–precluded many students with disabilities from attending.

The government-sponsored Guardian Angel program continued to provide a monthly subsidy of 80 balboas for children with significant physical disabilities. To qualify, the parents or guardian of a child must be living in poverty and must submit a medical certification specifying the degree of the disability and the child’s dependency on another person. Authorities conducted home visits to ensure the beneficiaries’ guardians used the funds for the intended purpose.

In June and July, the Ministry of Labor hosted job fairs for persons with disabilities for positions in the logistics field. Twenty persons were reported hired.

In August experts with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities visited the country and found that the classification of disabilities by medical authorities did not take into consideration the barriers faced by the individuals with each disability.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minority groups were generally integrated into mainstream society. Prejudice was directed, however, at recent immigrants, the Afro-Panamanian community, and indigenous Panamanians. Cultural and language differences and immigration status hindered the integration of immigrant and first-generation individuals from China, India, and the Middle East into mainstream society. Additionally, some members of these communities were reluctant to integrate.

The Afro-Panamanian community continued to be underrepresented in positions of political and economic power. Areas where they lived lagged in terms of government services and social investment. The government created the National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians, focused on the socioeconomic advancement of this community. The secretariat was designed to work with the national census to ensure an accurate count of Afro-descendant Panamanians.

The law prohibits discrimination in access to public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, and other privately owned establishments; few complaints were filed. The Ombudsman’s Office intervened in several cases before students with Rastafarian braids were permitted entry into public school classrooms.

There were reports of racial discrimination against various ethnic groups in the workplace. Lighter-skinned persons continued to be overrepresented in management positions and jobs that required dealing with the public, such as bank tellers and receptionists.

Indigenous People

The law affords indigenous persons the same political and legal rights as other citizens, protects their ethnic identity and native languages, and requires the government to provide bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities. Indigenous individuals have the legal right to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Nevertheless, they continued to be marginalized. Traditional community leaders governed legally designated semiautonomous areas (called comarcas) for five of the country’s seven indigenous groups. The government also unofficially recognized eight other traditional indigenous government authorities. Government institutions recognize that these eight regions have traditionally been and still are organized indigenous settlements and territories not included when the original comarcas were created. Government officers still meet with traditional organized authorities from the community and many have requested recognition of their land via collective titles.

In August the Naso community was granted collective title to 423 acres of land in Bocas del Toro Province. Approximately 30 indigenous communities await grants for collective land titles.

The Ngabe and Bugle continued to oppose the Barro Blanco dam project, which was nearing completion. The Ngabe-Bugle and the government continued to negotiate details of the dam’s operation.

Although the country’s law is the ultimate authority in indigenous comarcas, many indigenous persons misunderstood their rights and, due to their inadequate command of the Spanish language, failed to use available legal channels. In response the government with NGO support conducted information sessions on the accusatory justice system in indigenous comarcas. The government also translated disability rights legislation into indigenous languages.

Societal and employment discrimination against indigenous persons was widespread. In September a Ngabe youth leader alleged that two local celebrities used racial slurs and discriminatory rhetoric to denigrate him and the Ngabes. The youth leader filed a formal complaint at the Public Ministry. Employers frequently denied indigenous workers basic rights provided by law, such as a minimum wage, social security benefits, termination pay, and job security. Laborers on the country’s agricultural plantations (the majority of whom were indigenous persons) continued to work in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The Ministry of Labor conducted limited oversight of working conditions in remote areas.

Education continued to be deficient in the comarcas, especially beyond the primary grades. There were not enough teachers in these remote and inaccessible areas, with many multigrade schools often poorly constructed and lacking running water. In June, two teachers died in an accident on the road to their schools in the Ngabe comarca. This sparked a 60-day strike in 43 of the schools in the comarca as teachers demanded better work conditions, including safety bonuses, better life insurance, and improved roads. Access to health care was a significant problem in the indigenous comarcas, despite government investment in more health infrastructure as well as staff. This was reflected in high rates of maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition. The government continued to execute the Indigenous Development Plan jointly developed with indigenous leaders in 2013.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which often led to denial of employment opportunities.

The PNP’s internal regulations describe homosexual conduct by its employees as against policy and potentially grounds for dismissal. Harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons by security forces was a major complaint of LGBTI rights organizations.

On July 1, LGBTI rights advocates organized without impediment the 13th annual pride parade. For the first time, the president’s spouse participated and was a flag bearer during the parade. For the third year in a row, the Panama City mayor and vice mayor were joined by members of the diplomatic corps.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS in employment and education. Discrimination continued to be common due to ignorance of the law and a lack of mechanisms for ensuring compliance. LGBTI individuals reported mistreatment by health-care workers, including unnecessary quarantines.

The 2015 government’s National Network for the Continued Integral Attention of Persons with HIV/AIDS continued during the year. The Ministry of Social Development collaborated with the NGO PROBIDSIDA to conduct HIV/AIDS outreach to students in public junior and high schools. During the year PROBIDSIDA also worked with the Ministry of Public Security “Barrios Seguros” program to provide HIV/AIDS training and free testing services to at-risk youth from vulnerable communities. Youth who tested positive received medical treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice subject to the union’s registration with the government. Public servants may not form unions but may form associations that can bargain collectively on behalf of members. In August the Ministry of Labor submitted to the National Assembly a draft law to allow public servants to form unions and bargain collectively.

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to strike. The Administrative Career Law grants public-sector employees the same right when the strike has been deemed legal and when a minimum percentage of workers cover essential positions, as set out in the law. The right to strike does not apply in areas deemed vital to public welfare and security, including police. The law provides all private-sector and public-sector workers the right to bargain collectively, prohibits employer antiunion discrimination, and protects workers engaged in union activities from loss of employment or discriminatory transfers. It requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

The law places several restrictions on these rights, including requiring Panamanian citizenship to serve on a trade union’s executive board, requiring a minimum of 40 persons to form a private-sector union (either by company across trades or by trade across companies), and permitting only one trade union per business establishment. The International Labor Organization continued to criticize the 40-person minimum as too large for workers wanting to form a union within a company; domestic unions, as well as the government and private sector, reiterated their support for keeping the figure at 40 individuals.

Forty public servants are required to form a worker’s association. Member associations represent public-sector workers such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, and administrative staff in government ministries. The law stipulates there may not be more than one association in a public-sector institution and permits no more than one chapter per province.

In the private sector, the labor code provides that if the government does not respond to a registration application within 15 days, the union automatically gains legal recognition. In the public sector, unions gain legal recognition automatically if the General Directorate for Administrative Public Sector Careers does not respond to registration applications within 30 days.

A majority of employees must support a strike, which must be related to the improvement of working conditions, a collective bargaining agreement, or in support of another strike of workers on the same project (solidarity strike). In the event of a strike, at least 20 to 30 percent of the workforce must continue to provide minimum services, particularly public services as defined by the law, such as transportation, sanitation, mail delivery, hospital care, telecommunications, and public availability of essential foodstuffs.

Strikes in essential transportation services are limited to those involving public passenger services. The law prohibits strikes for the Panama Canal Authority’s employees but allows unions to organize and bargain collectively on such issues as schedules and safety. It also provides for arbitration to resolve disputes. By law the National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP), an umbrella federation of 21 public-sector worker associations, is not permitted to call strikes or negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Individual associations under FENASEP may negotiate on behalf of their members. FENASEP leaders noted that collective bargaining claims were heard and recognized, but they reported a lack of changes afterwards, particularly regarding firings without cause. FENASEP discussed structural changes with President Varela to promote equity and provide adequate treatment of the public sector as a sector with established rights like that of unionized groups. During the year FENASEP focused on the lack of job stability, the lack of a policy for salary beyond the minimum wage, salary gap and equal pay for men and women, and the lack of indemnity pay for unjustified firings.

Supreme Court decisions recognize that collective agreements negotiated between employers and unorganized workers have legal status equivalent to collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions. Executive decrees provide that an employer may not enter into collective negotiations with nonunionized workers when a union exists and that a preexisting agreement with nonunionized workers cannot be used to refuse negotiations with unionized workers. The labor ministry’s Manual of Labor Rights and Obligationsprovides that unorganized workers may petition the ministry regarding labor rights violations and may exercise the right to strike.

An executive decree protects employees from employer interference in labor rights, specifically including “employer-directed unions,” and mandates that workers be able to choose unions freely, without penalty.

Since the beginning of the Varela administration in 2014, the government approved more than 20 applications it received for union formations and denied two based on evidence of company owners’ influence.

In addition to the court system, the Conciliation Board of the labor ministry has the authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry in the case of a collective dispute in a public-service company. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The separate Labor Foundation’s Tripartite Conciliation Board has sole competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than 1,500 balboas.

For public-sector workers, the Board of Appeal and Conciliation in the Ministry of the Presidency hears and resolves complaints. The board refers complaints it cannot resolve to an arbitral tribunal, which consists of representatives from the employer, the workers’ association, and a third member chosen by the first two. Tribunal decisions are final.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; however, the inspections and notifications departments lacked funding and inspectors to enforce labor laws adequately. Employers often hired employees under short-term contracts to avoid paying benefits that accrue to long-term employees. Employers in the maritime sector also commonly hired workers continuously on short-term contracts but did not convert them to permanent employees as required by law. The law states that employers have the right to dismiss any employee without justifiable cause before the two-year tenure term. As a result employers frequently hired workers for one year and 11 months and subsequently laid them off to circumvent laws that make firing employees more difficult after two years of employment. This practice is illegal if the same employee is rehired as a temporary worker after being laid off, although employees rarely reported the practice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor of adults or children. The law establishes penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for forced labor involving movement (either cross-border or within the country) and six to 10 years’ imprisonment for forced labor not involving movement.

While prostitution is legal, according to media reports, forced labor continued to be a problem in the commercial sex industry, often due to disputes between women and their employers over wage amounts agreed in oral contracts.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under age 14, although children who have not completed primary school may not begin work until age 15. The family code permits children ages 12 to 14 to perform domestic and agricultural work with regard to schedule, salary, contract, and type. The labor code allows children ages 12 to 15 to perform light work in agriculture if the work is outside regular school hours. It also allows children over the age of 12 to perform light domestic work and says employers must ensure the child attends school through primary school. The law does not limit the total number of hours these children may work nor define the light work children may perform. The law prohibits 14- to 18-year-old children from engaging in potentially hazardous work such as work with electrical energy, explosives, or flammable, toxic, and radioactive substances; work underground and on railroads, airplanes, and boats; and work in nightclubs, bars, and casinos.

Youths under age 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week, while those 16 and 17 may work no more than seven hours per day or 42 hours per week. Children under 18 may not work between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced the law effectively in the formal sector, enforcing child labor provisions in response to complaints and ordering the termination of unauthorized employees. It did not do so in the informal economy. By law violators can be fined up to 700 balboas for a first-time violation. Employers who endanger the physical or mental health of a child may face two to six years’ imprisonment. The law includes punishment of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for anyone who recruits children under age 18 or uses them to participate actively in armed hostilities.

The National Office for Children, Youth, and Family implemented programs to identify children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, to remove them from exploitative situations, and to provide them with services. The Ministry of Labor offered training on the topic of child labor and lessons learned to various stakeholders.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, HIV status and other communicable diseases, but they do not do so on the basis of sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. In October the Ministry of Labor announced the adoption of the UN Development Program’s Gender Equality certification program in the public and private sectors to promote gender equality in the workplace.

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).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage for private-sector employees does meet the monthly poverty line. Public servants’ monthly minimum wage does meet the monthly poverty line. Food and the use of housing facilities were considered part of the salary for some workers, such as domestic and agricultural workers. Minimum monthly salaries for domestic workers ranged from 225 balboas to 250 balboas. The agricultural sector and the marine and aviation sectors received the lowest and highest minimum wages, respectively.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 48 hours, provides for at least one 24-hour rest period weekly, limits the number of hours worked per week, provides for premium pay for overtime, and prohibits compulsory overtime. There is no annual limit on the total number of overtime hours allowed. If employees work more than three hours of overtime in one day or more than nine overtime hours in a week, excess overtime hours must be paid at an additional 75 percent above the normal wage. Workers have the right to 30 days’ paid vacation for every 11 months of continuous work, including those who do not work full time. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards. Standards set were generally current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The labor code requires employers to provide a safe workplace environment, including the provision of protective clothing and equipment for workers.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced these standards in the formal sector. The inspection office comprises two groups: the Panama City-based headquarters group and the regional group. As of November within the headquarters there were 34 inspectors reported, including nine general labor inspectors, four child labor inspectors, and 12 safety inspectors in the construction industry. The construction industry paid the salaries of construction industry inspectors, although the inspectors remained ministry employees. The regional branches had 55 inspectors. As of September the Ministry of Labor had conducted labor inspections nationwide. Allowable fines for violations were low and generally insufficient to deter violations. During the year, however, the government levied fines according to the number of workers affected, resulting in larger overall fines. The ministry issued fines for migration violations, for safety and security violations, for general labor issues violations, and for violations related to child labor.

Reports of violations relating to hours of work existed, especially in the maritime sector, where unions reported shifts of 14 to 24 hours. These long shifts reportedly resulted in fatigue-based occupational safety and health risks. Reports also indicated that neither the Maritime Authority nor the labor ministry conducted inspections regarding working conditions in the maritime sector. Canal Zone unions and workers experienced difficulties accessing the justice system to adjudicate complaints due to delays and other deficiencies of the Labor Relations Board, which is the court of first instance on labor matters in the Canal Zone. Reports also indicated violations relating to hours of work for coffee harvest workers, who often lacked formal contracts and were vulnerable to coercion from the employer.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and the occupational health section of the Social Security Administration reported conducting periodic inspections of hazardous employment sites. The law requires the resident engineer and a ministry construction industry inspector to remain on construction sites, establish fines for noncompliance, and identify a tripartite group composed of the Chamber of Construction, SUNTRACS (the largest union of construction workers in the country), and the ministry to regulate adherence.

Most workers formally employed in urban areas earned the minimum wage or more. Approximately 40 percent of the working population worked in the informal sector, and many earned well below the minimum wage. In most rural areas, unskilled laborers, including street vendors and those involved in forestry, fishing, and handicraft production, earned three to six balboas per day without benefits. The Ministry of Labor was less likely to enforce labor laws in most rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Some construction workers and their employers were occasionally lax about basic safety measures, frequently due to their perception that it reduced productivity. Equipment was often outdated, broken, or lacking safety devices, due in large part to a fear that the replacement cost would be prohibitive.

Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers in this situation.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional, federal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections took place in June, and the People’s National Congress won a majority in the 111-seat unicameral parliament, led by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. In some parts of the country, electoral contests involved widespread violence, fraud, bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence.

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

The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings by police; severe police abuse of detainees and citizens; harsh and sometimes violent conditions of detention for refugees and asylum seekers, including in the Australian-run regional refugee processing center (RPC) on Manus Island; restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly; arbitrary and violent displacement of people from their homes; government corruption; violence against women and girls; abuse and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of sexual activities between men, although the law was not enforced; intertribal violence; vigilante killings and abuses; child labor; and forced labor.

The government frequently failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was pervasive.

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

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

During the year there were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In May police officers shot and killed a man near his home in West New Britain Province. The four officers involved alleged the victim was involved in an armed robbery but provided no evidence. All four officers were charged with murder and remained in detention pending a court date.

Public concern about police and military violence against civilians and about security forces’ impunity persisted.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits torture, individual police officers frequently beat and otherwise abused citizens or suspects before or during arrests, during interrogations, and in pretrial detention. There were numerous press accounts of such abuses, particularly against young detainees. In May drunk police officers from the Waigani police station in Port Moresby beat a prominent doctor. The Police Internal Affairs Unit suspended the officers involved after the National Doctors Association threatened to go on strike in protest of widespread police brutality. In June, four of the officers involved in the incident were arrested, and in October, one of them was charged.

There were reports that police raped and sexually abused women while in detention. In December 2016 a police officer and male detainees in a Port Moresby police station raped a woman who was in detention. Authorities terminated the officer, while most of the detainees remained at large after breaking out of the police station immediately after the incident.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Despite minor physical improvements and increased attention to rehabilitation programs, prison conditions remained poor, and the prison system continued to suffer from serious underfunding, inadequate medical facilities, and overcrowding in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: The country’s prisons were overcrowded. Infrequent court sessions, slow police investigations, and bail restrictions for certain crimes exacerbated overcrowding. The Correctional Service Commissioner also suggested that the difficulty and high cost of transporting detainees between provinces could lead to overcrowding. Two prisons, in Wabag, Enga Province, and Tari, Hela Province, remained closed due to tribal conflicts and unresolved land disputes. Facility closures forced the relocation of prisoners to other facilities, which the National Court considered a human rights concern. The Mukurumanda Correctional Institution in Enga could not open during the year because of a dispute between the court and Correctional Services. The court alleged that Correctional Services was unable to meet the basic human rights of prisoners by providing them with water and sanitation, adequate space, and sufficient food.

Pretrial detainees frustrated by the slow processing of their cases were the leaders of prison breaks, which were common. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same prisons as convicted prisoners but in separate cells. In eight prison breaks throughout the year, 177 persons escaped, and prison guards shot and killed 19 of the escapees. The largest breakout was from Buimo jail in Lae, where 58 persons escaped and prison guards shot and killed 17 of the escapees. A Correctional Services report on the incident concluded that the officers were acting in self-defense, and no disciplinary action was taken against the officers. In May after the Buimo prison escape, data obtained by a news agency revealed that many of the pretrial detainees who escaped had been waiting up to nine years for a trial.

All of the operating prison facilities had separate accommodations for juvenile offenders. The Department of Justice and attorney general operated four juvenile facilities, and the Roman Catholic Church operated three juvenile reception centers to hold minors awaiting arraignment prior to posting of bail. Human Rights Watch reported authorities routinely held juveniles with adults in police detention cells, where older detainees often assaulted the younger detainees. In February, seven inmates physically and sexually assaulted two juvenile detainees in Buimo jail. Police sometimes denied juvenile court officers access to detainees. Authorities usually held male and female inmates separately, but some rural prisons lacked separate facilities.

Sanitation was poor, and prisoners complained that rations were insufficient. In August the national court ruled that food provided at the country’s largest prison did not meet nutritional standards set out by law. The court ordered Correctional Services to provide more nutritionally balanced meals in all prisons. A number of prisons experienced problems with inadequate ventilation and lighting.

The Manus Island regional refugee processing center, paid for by the Australian government, officially closed on October 31. On November 20, approximately 350 men remained in the RPC and refused to leave. Immigration authorities stopped providing water, electricity, and food services to the RPC when it closed on October 31, leaving those that remained with dwindling supplies. The government continued to encourage the holdouts to transfer voluntarily to newer facilities, the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center (ELRTC), which had been built for refugees, and Lorengau West, which had been constructed primarily to house rejected asylum seekers.

In June the Australian government reached a court settlement with the nearly 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers who had been held on Manus Island starting in 2012 for illegally detaining them in dangerous and hostile conditions. Australia claimed that the settlement was not an admission of liability, but media and independent reports revealed those in the RPC were often subjected to physical abuse by security forces and were living in overcrowded and substandard accommodations for prolonged periods. Furthermore, detainees had inadequate access to basic services throughout the duration of their time in the RPC, including water and hygiene facilities, education, and health services, including for mental health.

Administration: The government mandated the Ombudsman Commission to visit prisons, but the commission lacked adequate resources to effectively monitor and investigate prison conditions. Their most recent prison visit was in 2015, funded by the government of Australia. Authorities generally allowed family visits, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted family visits to Bougainville prisoners held in Kerevat Correctional Institution in East New Britain Province and Bekut Correctional Institution on Buka Island.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent observers. During the year the ICRC and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited facilities in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but police frequently detained citizens arbitrarily without evidence. In some cases police detained family members of suspects to force their surrender. In April, six reserve police officers arrested a mother and daughter who were selling food and drink on the street. The officers stole their items and sexually assaulted the mother. Police arrested the six officers after the woman’s husband filed a formal complaint. Persons have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always respect this right.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) is responsible for maintaining internal security in all regions of the country. The RPNGC commissioner reports to the minister of police. The Autonomous Region of Bougainville maintains its own police force and minister of police with authority to enforce local law, but the RPNGC retains authority over the Bougainville police in enforcement of national law. The Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF) is responsible for maintaining external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Clan rivalries and a serious lack of resources and discipline diminished police effectiveness and hampered internal security activities throughout the country. Societal violence, particularly among tribes, was commonplace, and in many cases police lacked sufficient personnel or resources to prevent attacks or respond effectively to them. Warring tribal factions in rural areas often were better armed than local police, and authorities often tolerated intertribal violence in isolated rural areas until the tribes themselves agreed to a negotiated settlement. Security for national elections was the responsibility of police with limited additional funding or manpower.

Civilian authorities maintained control over the RPNGC and PNGDF, although impunity was a serious problem. In February police assaulted a man who was at a police station to report an incident. He was physically and verbally abused, locked up for eight hours, and later released. The case was reported to the RPNGC Internal Affairs Office, but no action was taken against the officers, according to media reports.

The RPNGC Internal Affairs Office investigates, and a coroner’s court reviews, police shootings of suspects and bystanders. If the court finds the shooting was unjustifiable or otherwise due to negligence, authorities may try the officers involved. Families of persons killed or injured by police may challenge the coroner’s finding in the National Court, with the assistance of the Office of the Public Solicitor. Investigations remained unresolved in many cases, largely due to a lack of funding and resources to complete investigations, especially in rural areas where such shootings often occurred. Additionally, police officers’ reluctance to give evidence against one another and witnesses’ fear of police retribution undermined investigations.

The Ombudsman Commission deals with public complaints and concerns regarding police officers. In January the Police Internal Affairs unit established a partnership with the State Solicitor, Ombudsman Commission, and Transparency International to address police conduct and allegations of police brutality. During the launch police told media that in 2016 more than 100 officers were referred to the unit for disciplinary action and 54 were terminated as a result. The other 46 were dealt with administratively through suspension and/or demotion.

To improve the RPNGC’s professional capacity, it accepted training, including on human rights, from a number of foreign governments and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As part of the Papua New Guinea-Australia Policing Partnership, Australian Federal Police officers provided advisory support to the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption unit and national police training through the Bomana Police College. All training provided under the partnership applied human rights principles. The Australian Federal Police also provided advisory officers to police in Port Moresby and Lae to improve law enforcement capacity. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had an agreement to provide training for new police recruits on human rights, human trafficking, and exploitation. The ICRC facilitated workshops on international human rights law and policing standards for officers from the RPNGC in Port Moresby, Mount Hagen, and Bougainville. The OHCHR developed human rights modules and delivered them to police mobile response units in seven provinces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police must have reason to believe that a crime was, is being, or is expected to be committed before making an arrest. A warrant is not required, but police, prosecutors, and citizens may apply to a court for a warrant. Police normally do so only if they believe it would assist them in carrying out an arrest. Judicial authorization is usually provided promptly but is not requested in the majority of cases. There were numerous reports of persons detained for weeks without charges or judicial authorization. These suspects may be charged with minor offenses and released after bail is paid. Only national or Supreme Court judges may grant bail to persons charged with murder or aggravated robbery. In all other cases, police or magistrates may grant bail. If bail is denied or prolonged, suspects are transferred to prisons and can wait for years before they appear before a judge. Arrested suspects have the right to legal counsel and to be informed of the charges against them; however, the government did not always respect these rights. Detainees may have access to counsel, and family members may have access to detainees.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 40 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Due to very limited police and judicial resources and a high crime rate, authorities often held suspects in pretrial detention for lengthy periods. According to correctional services data, detainees waited up to three years before trial, sentencing, or release, but there were media reports of detainees waiting up to nine years. Although pretrial detention is subject to strict judicial review through continuing pretrial consultations, the slow pace of police investigations, particularly in locating witnesses, and occasional political interference or police corruption frequently delayed cases for years. In addition, there were delays due to infrequent circuit court sittings because of shortages of judges and travel funds.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a presumption of innocence and due process, including a public trial, and the court system generally enforced these provisions. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants have the right to an attorney, to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, to be present at their trial, to free interpretation services if desired, and to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The Public Solicitor’s Office provides legal counsel for those accused of “serious offenses” (charges for which a sentence of two years or more is the norm) who are unable to afford counsel. Defendants and their attorneys may confront witnesses, present evidence, plead cases, and appeal convictions. The shortage of judges created delays in both the trial process and the rendering of decisions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The national court established a human rights track to fast-track cases of alleged human rights abuses. Through this track the national court may award civil remedies in cases of human rights abuses. District courts may order “good behavior bonds,” commonly called “protection orders,” in addition to ordering that compensation be paid for violations of human rights. Courts had difficulty enforcing judgments. In addition, largely unregulated village courts adjudicated many human rights matters. Village and district courts often hesitated to interfere directly in domestic matters. Village courts regularly ordered payment of compensation to an abused spouse’s family in cases of domestic abuse rather than issuing an order to detain and potentially charge the alleged offender.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, there were instances of abuse. Police raids, searches, and forced evictions of illegal squatter settlements and suspected criminals often were marked by a high level of violence and property destruction. In June police in Port Moresby forcefully evicted settlers using firearms and allowed bulldozers to demolish homes to make way for a commercial project. The operation destroyed 218 homes, 10 stores, and five chicken farms. In March a human rights association made up of persons living close to the Porgera Mine alleged that police working for the mining company carried out forced evictions, burning up to 50 homes. The company denied any involvement with the raid, and police claimed the homes were illegal.

Police units operating in highland regions sometimes used intimidation and destruction of property to suppress tribal fighting. Police threatened and at times harmed family members of alleged offenders.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, the secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election took place in June, and local government elections took place in 2013. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the general elections. There were also many incidents of violence and destruction of property, primarily in the Highlands, during the voting period, causing the deaths of at least 40 individuals, including four police officers. The Electoral Commission announced the results of the winner of the last seat (Southern Highlands) in parliament in late September, two months after voting concluded. According to media reports, this set off a new wave of violence and unrest, which sent the town of Mendi into a “state of chaos” as supporters of the losing candidate destroyed and damaged local offices and businesses.

An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges, which were partly to blame for significant problems with the voter registration process. A large number of voters’ names were missing from the voter rolls, which delayed voting in multiple provinces. The campaign period was competitive and broadly peaceful, and media coverage of the election was robust and largely unrestricted. Papua New Guineans turned out in large numbers to cast their votes, although there were variations in voting practices across the country. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and there was group voting. All observer groups expressed disappointment that the government did not implement recommendations provided after the 2012 national elections, which included an immediate and thorough updating of the voter rolls.

After the general election, the National Court registered 77 election petitions that alleged illegal practices.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no restrictions on party registration, and 45 parties contested the national elections. Several parties alleged that sitting members of parliament used government resources for campaigning, although the lack of transparency in accounting for funds made this claim hard to verify. The Ombudsman Commission issued a directive to freeze public funds controlled by parliamentarians starting when the election officially opened on April 20. The commission reported after the election, however, that there was an unusually high amount of money withdrawn from these accounts in the 30 days before the freeze went into effect.

In some areas tribal leaders determined which candidate a tribe would support and influenced the entire tribe to vote for that candidate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected to the 111-seat parliament. The political participation of women was often limited, since there were social expectations for them to vote along tribal and family lines. The Electoral Commission instructed polling officials to create separate lines for women in order to allow them to vote more freely. There were five female judges in the national and supreme courts, and the Chief Magistrate and Deputy Chief Magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. In general, minorities did not face limitations in running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; 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. Corruption at all levels and in all organs of government was a serious problem due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and misuse of public resources by officials to meet traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The Public Accounts Committee generally operated independently of government influence but lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission. The government appointed a chief ombudsman in May after a two-year delay. The former chief ombudsman believed his appointment was allowed to lapse due to his efforts to investigate the prime minister for corruption-related offenses.

In April the temporary interagency body known as Investigation Task Force Sweep officially ceased operations, citing a complete lack of funding and political support.

Corruption: In February the prime minister suspended two cabinet ministers, four department heads, the state solicitor, and other senior government executives for their involvement in the Manumanu land scandal. According to leaked government memos, a company belonging to family members of one of the ministers received 46.6 million kina ($14.6 million) for land that it did not legally own. Outcry from the general public and customary owners of the land led the prime minister to announce a commission of inquiry. The Ombudsman Commission also announced it would investigate the deal, but as of September neither report was complete. The government did not file criminal charges or pursue sanctions against these executives, and both ministers were re-elected in July and given new ministerial portfolios.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence was a serious and widespread problem. In a 2015 World Health Organization report, approximately 70 percent of women reported that they had experienced rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women have been struck by their partners. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, most women did not report rape or domestic violence to authorities. Gangs used rape and violence against women as part of initiation.

Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by imprisonment ranging from 15 years to life. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation in lieu of trials for rapists. The law criminalizes family violence and imposes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment and up to 5,000 kina ($1,570) in fines in an effort to end the cultural practice of providing compensation to victims. Implementing regulations were not complete, however, and the law was not in effect despite being passed in 2013.

Police committed widespread sexual violence, and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare. Implementation of the law remained incomplete.

There were 17 family and sexual violence units in police stations across the country to provide victims with protection, assistance through the judicial process, and medical care. Police leadership in some provinces led to improved services for victims of gender-based violence. Nevertheless, comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were lacking in most of the country. This lack of services, along with societal and family pressure, often forced women back into violent and abusive homes.

Those convicted of rape received prison sentences, but authorities apprehended and prosecuted few rapists. The willingness of some communities to settle rape cases through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution made the crime difficult to combat.

Human Rights Watch reported there were five shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, which were often full and had to refuse women in need of counseling and shelter. The situation was worse outside the capital, where small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained the shelters.

Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged an increasing number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husbands or another woman.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued. This contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal, and was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experience harassment in public locations and the workplace. In Port Moresby the government and UN Women worked together to provide women-only public buses to cut down on sexual harassment on public transportation.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life.

Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law, however, requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposition of the sentence, and judges frequently annulled such village court sentences.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth to a citizen parent. Birth registration often did not occur immediately due to the remote locations in which many births took place. Failure to register did not generally affect access to public services such as education or health care.

Education: The law provides free education through grade 10 and for subsidies thereafter under the government’s tuition-free policy. There were many complaints that the government did not adequately fund education, leading to overcrowded classrooms, too few teachers, and a decline in the quality of education. Many schools charged fees and only one-third of children completed primary school. Primary and secondary education completion rates tended to be slightly higher for boys than for girls. Recent reports confirmed that girls were at high risk of domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment in schools, commercial exploitation, and HIV infection, which posed serious threats to their education.

Child Abuse: In 2016 Save the Children released the results of a small-scale study showing that 70 percent of children faced physical or emotional violence and that 50 percent faced sexual violence or family violence in the home; child protection systems, especially in rural areas, were not adequate to meet the needs of children facing abuse. Other studies found that only the most egregious forms of sexual and physical abuse of children were reported to police, as family violence is viewed as a domestic matter. Although the country passed a Child Protection Act in 2015 to strengthen child protection efforts and compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, implementing regulations were incomplete.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. There is a lower legal marriage age (16 for boys and 14 for girls) with parental and court consent. A UNICEF survey covering the years 2005-13 found that 21 percent of women from ages 20 to 24 had married before the age of 18 and 2 percent had married before the age of 15.

Customary and traditional practices allow marriage of children as young as age 12, and early marriage was common in many traditional, isolated rural communities. Child brides frequently were taken as additional wives or given as brides to pay family debts and often were used as domestic servants. Child brides were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The maximum penalty for violators is 25 years’ imprisonment or, if the victim is under age 12, life imprisonment. Child pornography is illegal; penalties range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, but enforcement remained a problem. There were cases of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children in urban areas, including of minors working in bars and nightclubs. There were reports of exploitation of children through the production of pornography and that both local and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking. NGO sources reported increased prevalence of child sex trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and provision of other state services. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for individuals with disabilities. Children with disabilities suffered from the underresourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited.

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family structure (see section 7.d.).

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

Consensual same-sex sexual relations and acts of “gross indecency” between males are illegal. The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual relations is 14 years’ imprisonment; for acts of gross indecency between male persons (a misdemeanor), three years. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions during the year. There were unconfirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against such persons, and they were vulnerable to societal stigmatization, which may have led to underreporting.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of government discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; however, there was a strong societal stigma attached to HIV/AIDS infection, which prevented some persons from seeking HIV/AIDS-related services.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Press reported vigilante killings and abuses continued to increase and became more common in urban areas. Many killings were related to alleged involvement in sorcery and witchcraft and typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. The government repealed the controversial Sorcery Act in 2013, which had provided a defense for violent crime if the accused was acting to stop witchcraft. The government established the Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) in 2016, to be implemented by a national committee. The committee, however, lacked funding to carry out its mandate fully, and despite efforts by some provincial governments, police often lacked the capacity to stop sorcery-related killings.

Church leaders and policy makers observed that the number of persons reportedly tortured and killed for alleged sorcery was increasing. Some suggested internal migration and urban drift led to sorcery-related killings in districts formerly without such violence. Many also believed perpetrators used sorcery-related violence to mask violence against vulnerable members of the community, including women, or for revenge. Reliable data on the issue remained elusive.

Long-standing animosities among isolated tribes, a persistent cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs, and the lack of law enforcement were factors underlying frequent violent tribal conflict in highland areas. During the year tribal fighting continued in highlands provinces. The numbers of deaths and IDPs resulting from such conflicts continued to rise due to the increased availability of modern weapons (see section 2.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, related regulations, and statutory instruments protect the right of workers in the public and private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government has limited influence over trade union formation and registration. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the labor force, most of which were engaged in small-scale farming.

The law requires unions to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR). An unregistered union has no legal standing and thus cannot operate effectively. Unions were generally independent of both the government and political parties, whose influence diminished from previous years. Although the law provides the right to strike, the government may, and often did, intervene in labor disputes, forcing arbitration before workers could legally strike or refusing to grant permission for a secret ballot vote on strike action. Some union leaders complained that DLIR’s refusal to allow for votes on strike action constituted undue influence. By law the government has discretionary power to intervene in collective bargaining by canceling arbitration awards or declaring wage agreements void when deemed contrary to government policy.

The law prohibits both retaliation against strikers and antiunion discrimination by employers against union leaders, members, and organizers. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. In cases of retaliation or unlawful dismissal for union activity, the court may fine an employer and may order the reinstatement of the employee and reimbursement of any lost wages. If an employer fails to comply with such directives, the court may order imprisonment or fines until the employer complies.

The DLIR is responsible for enforcing the law but did so selectively. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations since the maximum fine was 1000 kina ($313). With two labor inspectors per province and inadequate resources, inspectors usually monitored and enforced the law on an ad hoc basis. The DLIR did not always act to prevent retaliation against strikers or protect workers from antiunion discrimination, which remained widespread in the logging sector and in state-owned enterprises. Observers attributed its ineffectiveness to lack of sufficient manpower and resources.

Employees of some government-owned enterprises went on strike on several occasions during the year, primarily to protest against privatization policies, terminations, and appointments of managers or board members, or in pay disputes. In most cases the strikes were brief due to temporary agreements reached between the government and workers. In 2016 the state-owned airline Air Niugini fired eight pilots for their stop-work action during a time of political tension. The chief executive officer of the airline said that the pilots’ action had damaged the reputation of the airline, since many flights had to be cancelled. In February the Supreme Court ruled the employment decision was not reviewable since Air Niugini is not a public body.

Workers in both the public and private sectors engaged in collective bargaining. The DLIR and courts were involved in dispute settlement. There were no reports of violations of collective bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties are sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. There were reports that foreign and local women and children were subjected to forced labor as domestic servants and as beggars or street vendors. Foreign and local men were subjected to forced labor, including through debt bondage, in the logging, mining, and fishing sectors.

The law allows officials, on order of a judge or magistrate, to apprehend a noncitizen crewmember of a foreign-registered ship who fails to rejoin the crewmember’s ship during its time in the country. The crewmember is placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of the country in which the ship is registered (or, if no such representation exists, the ship’s owner or representative) for the purpose of returning him to the ship. Observers noted this practice may prevent foreign workers from reporting or escaping situations of forced labor.

In 2015 authorities identified 21 victims of labor trafficking on foreign fishing vessels, yet prosecuted and imprisoned 12 for immigration violations, further limiting forced labor victims’ ability to obtain redress. In 2016 authorities returned the victims to their country of origin.

There were instances of women and children forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.), often by members of their immediate family or tribe, and of men forced to work in logging and mining camps. There also were reports that the number of foreign workers, particularly from China and other Pacific nations, entering the country with fraudulent documents and being subjected to forced labor was increasing.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the minimum working age is 16, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. Children between the ages of 11 and 16 may be employed in a family business or enterprise provided they have parental permission, medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. This type of employment was rare, except in subsistence agriculture. Work by children between the ages of 11 and 16 must not interfere with school attendance, and children under age 16 may not be employed in working conditions dangerous to their health.

The DLIR is responsible for enforcing child labor law provisions; however, enforcement was not effective due to lack of resources and weak penalties.

There was a high rate of child labor in urban and rural areas, including in hazardous occupations. Poverty, inadequate health care and education, and urbanization contributed to the problem. Children sold cigarettes, food, CDs, and DVDs on the street and in grocery stores near mining and logging camps. There were reports of boys as young as 12 being exploited as “market taxis” in urban areas, carrying extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may have been victims of forced labor. Some children (primarily girls) worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes, often to repay a family debt to the “host” family, in situations that sometimes constituted domestic servitude. In some cases the host was a relative who informally “adopted” the child. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination on the basis of disability, but the government did not take measures to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination. The law bans discrimination on the basis of gender for employment and wages in the workplace. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law explicitly precludes women from employment in certain occupations, allows the government to recruit only men or women for certain civil service positions, and discriminates by sex in eligibility for certain job-related allowances. No law prohibits discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. Discrimination occurred based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation (see section 6). Widespread discrimination with respect to women occurred, especially in the attainment of management positions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was 3.50 kina ($1.10) per hour for all workers. The law regulates minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holiday leave, and overtime work. The law limits the workweek to 42 hours per week in urban areas and 44 hours per week in rural areas, and it provides for premium pay for overtime work. Labor laws do not apply to workers in the informal sector.

The DLIR is responsible for enforcing the law regarding minimum wage and work hours and occupational safety and health. The DLIR sets occupational safety and health standards and is required by law to inspect work sites on a regular basis. Due to a lack of resources, however, inspections took place only when requested by workers or unions. They are entitled to wages while the inspection takes place, although the law does not specify further protection for employees who seek to remove themselves from conditions they deem hazardous. The number of occupational health and safety and industrial relations inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Although the DLIR and the courts attempted to enforce the law regarding minimum wage and hours of work, they were not effective, in part because penalties were insufficient to deter violations. In the case of a second or subsequent, continuing offense, the employer is liable for a fine for each day or part of a day for which the offense continues. Where an employer fails to obey an order, direction, or requirement, the court may order imprisonment of the offender until the directive is obeyed.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health laws and regulations were common in the logging, mining, agricultural, and construction sectors due to the government’s lack of enforcement capacity. The logging industry in particular was known for extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including cramped and unhygienic worker housing. Workers in the mining sector were also subjected to hazardous and exploitative conditions, including exposure to toxic metals such as mercury. During 2016 fatal accidents occurred at the Ok Tedi mine and the Chinese-operated Ramu nickel mine.

According to World Bank statistics, 90 percent of the 2.9 million workers labored in rural areas, where law enforcement and monitoring were weak.

Paraguay

Executive Summary

Paraguay is a multiparty, constitutional republic. In 2013 Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party, also known as the National Republican Association (ANR), won the presidency in elections recognized as free and fair. Legislative elections took place at the same time.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Critics asserted the government did not deploy or monitor forces effectively, particularly in the northeastern section of the country and during a protest in the capital on March 31 that resulted in the burning of the national congress building.

The most significant human rights issues included isolated reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption of prosecutors and judges and police involvement in criminal activities; violent intimidation of journalists by organized crime groups and government officials; legal impunity and widespread corruption in all branches and all levels of government; widespread and sometimes lethal violence against women and violence against indigenous persons, as well as police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The executive branch took steps to prosecute and punish low- and mid-ranked officials who committed abuses, but general impunity for officials in the police and security forces continued to be widely reported.

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.

On March 31, police officer Gustavo Florentin shot and killed Liberal Party official Rodrigo Quintana in a police raid on the party’s headquarters following protests and the burning of the national congress building. The protests stemmed from an extra-official senate session on March 31 to advance a public referendum on a constitutional amendment that would have permitted President Cartes and former presidents to run for re-election. The UN Committee against Torture declared Quintana’s death an extrajudicial execution in its seventh periodic review of the country on August 11. Florentin was in custody, charged with homicide, and the case was pending as of October 5.

On May 29, the court of appeals in Salto del Guaira upheld the sentences of all 11 defendants found responsible for the 2012 Marina Cue confrontation near Curuguaty that resulted in the death of 11 farmers and six police officers. Authorities did not prosecute any members of the police. The defendants’ appeal was pending with the Supreme Court as of October 13.

According to press reports, on July 3 Diego Bertolucci, head of a Senate-appointed independent commission to investigate the role of the police in the Marina Cue events, formally submitted his findings to Senate President Fernando Lugo. The document criticized the prosecution’s lack of objectivity, irregularities associated with the initial eviction action, the lack of a credible investigation into police action, and insufficient evidence, suggesting the state sought to close the case quickly and find the farmers guilty. Senate President Lugo did not follow up on the report as of October 13.

b. Disappearance

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

The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated cases of forced disappearance and kidnapping.

On August 21 and September 1, respectively, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) reportedly kidnapped Franz Hiebert Wieler and Bernhard Blatz Friessen, both farmers residing in San Pedro Department. An eyewitness reported five armed assailants wearing military-style uniforms, including one woman, kidnapped Wieler from his tractor. Authorities arrived later to find the tractor burned and an EPP pamphlet claiming responsibility. In the case of Blatz, the press and government authorities reported armed individuals opened fire on his truck and seized him as his father watched from another vehicle. Additionally, the government alleged the EPP still held Eladio Edelio Morinigo (a police officer kidnapped in 2014), Abraham Fehr (a Paraguayan-Mexican farmer kidnapped in 2015), and Felix Urbieta (a rancher kidnapped in 2016). The abductees’ whereabouts and conditions were unknown as of October 5.

On February 25, the EPP released Franz Wiebe Boschman, a farmer from San Pedro Department, after 214 days in captivity. Press reports and government statements indicated that as part of the EPP’s demands, Wiebe’s family and community provided approximately 137 million guaranies (Gs.) ($24,400) worth of food and basic supplies to 14 indigenous communities in the northeastern part of the country.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions, but there were credible reports that some government officials employed such practices. The Attorney General Office’s Special Human Rights Unit opened torture investigation cases during the year, but there were no convictions, and all investigations were pending as of October 13. Unlike criminal cases not involving torture, torture charges do not have a statute of limitations or a defined period within which charges, an investigation, or the oral trial must be completed. The unit was investigating more than 100 open cases as of October 13, including many from the Stroessner dictatorship and that of the farmers detained after the fatal confrontation in Curuguaty/Marina Cue in 2012.

Several civil society groups publicly criticized, and called for, the disbandment of, the Joint Task Force (FTC) for human rights violations in the northeastern region of the country. The FTC operated in northeast with the principal goal of eliminating the EPP and included personnel from the armed forces, National Police, and National Anti-Narcotics Secretariat (SENAD).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and, at times, life-threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions. Government authorities in the northeastern region of the country along the border with Brazil reported inmate recruitment within the prisons there by members of the Brazilian First Capital Command gang.

Physical Conditions: According to the government’s quasi-independent watchdog agency, the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (NMPT), prisons were overcrowded, with inmates at some facilities forced to share bunks, sleep on floors, and sleep in shifts. As of August 11, the Ministry of Justice reported the country’s 18 penitentiaries housed 37 percent more inmates than their design capacity allowed. The NMPT also reported that three of the 11 facilities for juveniles had exceeded their design capacity during the same period. Penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities.

The justice ministry’s Directorate for the Care of Convicted Juveniles assigned minors convicted of juvenile crimes to one of 11 youth correctional facilities in the country, one of which was dedicated to young women. Some juvenile offenders served their sentences in separate youth sections in adult prisons, such as the women’s penitentiary in Ciudad del Este.

Prisons and juvenile facilities generally lacked adequate temperature control systems, of particular concern during the exceedingly hot summer months. Some prisons had cells with inadequate lighting, in which prisoners were confined for long periods without an opportunity for exercise. Although sanitation and medical care were generally considered adequate, some prisons lacked sufficient medical personnel. Adherence to fire prevention norms was lacking.

Administration: Visitors reportedly needed to offer bribes frequently to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. During the year the justice ministry’s Internal Affairs Office continued random, unannounced visits to several prisons. Although married and unmarried heterosexual inmates were permitted conjugal visits, the Ministry of Justice prohibited such visits for homosexual inmates.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted the media, independent civil society groups, and diplomatic representatives access to prisons with prior coordination. Representatives of the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted regular prison visits. Government agencies, such as the NMPT, the Public Defender’s Office, and representatives of the Judicial Branch, also conducted independent visits. By law the Judicial Branch is responsible for overseeing the funds it transfers annually to the Ministry of Justice.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements. The law stipulates that persons detained without a judge-ordered arrest warrant must appear before a judge within 24 hours for an initial hearing. Police may arrest a person apprehended in the act of committing a crime and detain the suspect for up to six hours, after which the Attorney General’s Office may detain persons up to 24 hours. In some cases police ignored requirements for a warrant by citing obsolete provisions that allow detention if individuals are unable to present personal identification upon demand (although the law does not obligate citizens to carry or show identity documentation).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for preserving public order, protecting the rights and safety of persons and entities and their property, preventing and investigating crimes, and implementing orders given by the judiciary and public officials. The constitution charges military forces with guarding the country’s territory and borders. By law civilian authorities are in charge of the security forces.

The law authorizes the president to mobilize military forces domestically against any “internal aggression” endangering the country’s sovereignty, independence, or the integrity of its democratic constitutional order. The law requires the president to notify congress within 48 hours of a decision to deploy troops. By law the president’s deployment order must define a geographic location, be subject to congressional scrutiny, and have a set time limit. As of October 13, the government deployed more than 700 personnel from the FTC to the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay in accordance with the law that allows military mobilization domestically.

The Ministry of National Defense, also under the president’s authority but outside the military’s chain of command, handles some defense matters. The ministry is responsible for the logistical and administrative aspects of the armed forces, especially the development of defense policy.

The law authorizes SENAD and units within the National Police, all under the president’s authority, to enforce the law in matters related to narcotics trafficking and terrorism. The law provides for SENAD to lead operations in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office and the judiciary. To arrest individuals or use force, SENAD must involve members of the National Police in its operations, but reportedly it often did not do so.

The Special Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office and the Disciplinary Review Board of the National Police are responsible for determining whether police killings legitimately occurred in the line of duty. The military justice system has jurisdiction over active military personnel.

Several human rights NGOs and the media reported incidents of police involvement in homicides, rape, arms and narcotics trafficking, soliciting bribes, robbery, extortion, and kidnapping, with reported abuses particularly widespread in Ciudad del Este and other locations on the border with Brazil, where authorities dismantled a major bribery scheme by a network of corrupt police.

During the year the Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated hundreds of cases of excessive use of force, torture, and other abuses by security forces. No information was available whether any of these cases resulted in convictions or penalties.

Although the National Police reportedly struggled with inadequate training, funding, and widespread corruption, it continued to investigate and punish members involved in crimes and administrative violations.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest individuals with a warrant or with reasonable cause. The law provides that after making an arrest, police have up to six hours to notify the Attorney General’s Office, at which time that office has up to 24 hours to notify a judge if it intends to prosecute. The law allows judges to use measures such as house arrest and bail in felony cases. According to civil society representatives and legal experts, in misdemeanor cases judges frequently set bail too high for many poor defendants to post bond, while they set minimal or no bail for the wealthy or for those with political connections.

The law grants defendants the right to hire counsel, and the government provides public defenders for those who cannot afford counsel. According to the NGO Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator (CODEHUPY) and the NMPT, heavy caseloads adversely affected the quality of representation by public defenders. Detainees had access to family members.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year NGOs reported several cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of persons without a warrant.

On April 1, police arrested 213 individuals for alleged involvement in the March 31 protests that set fire to the national congress building. Detainees included individuals at the central protest site and in other locations around the capital including gas stations and office buildings. Authorities released all 213 within days of their detentions, with some minor reports of abuse and mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits detention without trial for a period equivalent to the minimum sentence associated with the alleged crime, a period that could range from six months to five years. Some detainees were held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum allowed time. According to the Ministry of Justice and the NMPT, 78 percent of the total number of prisoners continued to await trials and sentencing as of July 17.

The NMPT alleged the high number of prisoners in pretrial detention was principally a result of legislation that disproportionately affects low-level drug offenders. Specifically, it claimed the legislation prohibits judges from applying alternative measures to pretrial detentions for crimes with a potential sentence of five or more years. It also said the legislation sets overly strict guidelines on preventive detention for suspects in drug cases. As of August 11, 21 percent of inmates awaiting trial and 65 percent of all women in jail were low-level drug offenders.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial rulings.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Undue external influence, however, often compromised the judiciary’s independence. Interested parties, including politicians, routinely attempted to influence investigations and pressure judges and prosecutors. Judicial selection and disciplinary review board processes were often politicized. The law requires that specific seats on the board be allocated to congressional representatives, presidential nominees, lawyer’s union representatives, law professors, and Supreme Court justices.

Courts were inefficient and subject to corruption, and NGOs and government officials alleged that some judges and prosecutors solicited or received bribes to drop or modify charges against defendants. Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, which the judiciary nominally provided, albeit through a lengthy trial process exacerbated by legal defense tactics that remove or suspend judges and prosecutors working on cases. Impunity was common due to politicization of and corruption within the judiciary and regular manipulation of the judicial process by defense attorneys that pushed statutes of limitations to expire before trials reach conclusion.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal. Both defendants and prosecutors may present written testimony from witnesses and other evidence. Defendants may confront adverse witnesses, except in cases involving domestic or international trafficking in persons, in which case victims may testify remotely or in the presence of the defendant’s lawyers, in lieu of the defendant. Defendants have the right to prompt information and detail of the indictments and charges they face, but some defendants received notification only when they faced arrest charges or seizure of their property.

Defendants have the right to access free interpretation services as necessary, including translation to Guarani–the country’s second official language. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay, although trials were often protracted, as well as the right to be present at the trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defense and to access their legal files. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and may choose to remain silent.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities generally granted them to citizens. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the injured party; however, the government experienced problems enforcing court orders in such cases. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government generally enforced court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation for taking private property. Systemic inadequacies within the land registry system, however, prevented the government from compiling a reliable inventory of its landholdings. Registered land far exceeded the size of the country, and there were allegations of corruption within local government and National Institute for Rural Development and Land, the government agency charged with implementing land reform, and reports of forced evictions.

On June 10 and 12, private security contractors allegedly fired rifles and pistols to intimidate small-scale farming families occupying disputed land in Colonia Guahory, Caaguazu Department. The incident followed a May 22 presidential veto of a law that would have allowed the state to expropriate the land for distribution under larger land reform efforts, as well as a violent encounter on January 3 between farming families and police that resulted in rubber bullet injuries to 20 individuals. Seventy Brazilian-Paraguayan families claimed title to the 555,436 acres of land, and alleged the farming families began occupying 222,965 acres of it in 2014 and were renting it to local and national political figures. From September to December 2016, police conducted three separate eviction operations. Legal counsel for the small-scale farming families alleged the Brazilian-Paraguayan families illegally purchased land titles. The case brought by the 70 families regarding ownership of the land was pending as of October 5.

Despite the government’s acceptance of the donation of the disputed land on which the 2012 Curuguaty/Marina Cue confrontation occurred, the Public Registry refused to register the property. Officials explained they could not act until lawsuits establishing previous ownership were resolved.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions, but there were reports that members of the security forces failed to respect the law in certain instances. NGOs, local Roman Catholic church organizations, and some national legislators alleged FTC personnel in the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay searched homes and schools without warrants. The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated several cases of unlawful interference with private correspondence during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law and constitution provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press for the most part, although widespread corruption in the judiciary hindered protections in court.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists occasionally suffered harassment, intimidation, and violence, primarily from drug-trafficking gangs and criminal groups, but also from politicians and police. The media and international NGOs reported several such incidents against journalists.

On September 2, citing lack of evidence, Judge Leongino Benitez released Brazilian drug trafficker, Felipe “Baron” Escurra Rodriguez, who had reportedly planned to kill well known journalist Candido Figueredo Ruiz. In 2012, Brazilian police intercepted a call involving Escurra in which he discussed killing Figueredo for reporting on Escurra’s illicit activities along the Paraguay-Brazil border. Escurra had been in custody since his arrest after a shootout with SENAD agents in August 2016. An appeal against Escurra’s release was pending as of October 13.

On June 23 and July 1, President Cartes publicly called for the imprisonment of radio journalists Mercedes Menchi Barriocanal and Oscar Acosta, accusing them of inciting the March 31 protests that resulted in the burning of the national congress building. Barriocanal and Acosta had been critical of Cartes’ legislative push to amend the constitution to allow for presidential re-election. The push for re-election sparked the March 31 protests.

On December 14, a Paraguayan court found Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta, former mayor of Ypejhu, guilty of ordering the assassination of ABC Color journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Chaparro in 2014. On December 19, Acosta was sentenced to 39 years in prison. Authorities continued to search for Acosta’s brother, Wilson Acosta Marques, whom they accused of participating in the assassination, but Flavio Acosta Riveros, the alleged assassin (nephew of Wilson and Vilmar), remained in a Brazilian prison awaiting extradition.

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.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported 51 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2016. This did not reflect the existing and growing number of individuals who had access to the internet at work or through mobile phones. According to the ITU, there were 105 cell phones for every 100 citizens in 2016.

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.

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’s National Commission of Refugees 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, and other persons of concern. The NGO Committee of Churches for Emergency Aid acted as the local legal representative of the UNHCR.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: As of August 15, the government received 29 asylum requests, with 18 pending review. Authorities permitted persons whose asylum or refugee status cases were refused to seek other migration options, including obtaining legal permanent residency in the country or returning to the most recent point of embarkation. The government did not assist in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes, but rather relied on UNHCR assistance to facilitate such returns.

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 December 17, the country held nationwide party primaries with technical experts from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights-Center for Electoral Promotion and Assistance. Both OAS characterized the elections as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ANR and the Liberal Party maintained long-standing control of the political process. The parties politicized the Supreme Court, lower courts, and the selection and disciplining of judges and prosecutors, including the nomination and selection process for the attorney general. On June 14 and 15, both chambers of congress changed their respective members of the eight-member Council of Magistrates, which helps choose judges, prosecutors, and public defenders throughout the judicial system as well as the attorney general, for two politically connected politicians.

As of November 7, more than 550 public employees filed complaints with a nongovernmental public employee association for being harassed, dismissed, or transferred for not actively supporting President Cartes’ Colorado Party faction in advance of the December 17 internal party primaries. The electoral commission had not commented publicly as of November 30.

New, small, and nontraditional political parties faced hurdles in securing sizable congressional representation due to seat allocation formulas in the electoral code, which favor larger parties.

The electoral code requires voters to select slates of candidates that party leaders rather than individual candidates draw up. There was extensive public discussion about discontinuing the use of these closed party lists as a possible means of increasing accountability and exposing allegedly corrupt or compromised candidates. Candidates running for executive office run on individual ballots, but with strong and direct party affiliations aligned with lists of congressional candidates. In the country’s list-based voting system whereby winners are decided via their ranking in a popular vote, voters do not select individual congressional representatives. Independent candidates for any office face obstacles in setting up and running campaigns, since by law they must form a movement or political party and present a minimum number of candidates in a slate in order to compete.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The electoral code requires that at least 20 percent of each party’s candidates in internal party primaries be women, and parties followed the requirement. Although the parties met this requirement, they placed the majority of female candidates towards the end of the closed party lists, effectively limiting their chances of actually being elected. Women served in both the legislature and the Supreme Court; however, there were only 20 women in the congress (nine of 45 senators and 11 of 80 national deputies, or 16 percent overall).

Although there were no legal impediments to participation by minorities or indigenous persons in government, no clearly identifiable individuals from those groups served as a governor or in the cabinet, legislature, or Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Corruption in all branches and at all levels of government remained widespread, with investigative journalists and NGOs reporting on hundreds of cases of embezzlement, tax evasion, illicit enrichment, breach of public confidence, falsifying documents, and criminal association. Criminal cases typically spent several years in the courts. Under a law that prohibits court cases from lasting longer than four years, politicians and influential individuals convicted in lower courts routinely avoided punishment by filing appeals and motions until reaching the statute of limitation or by successfully requesting the removal or suspension of judges and prosecutors working on their cases. Although indictments and convictions for corruption of low- and mid-level public officials occur more frequently, high-ranking public officials enjoy a high degree of impunity. Sometimes such officials are indicted or forced to resign or repay embezzled funds, but formal complaints rarely lead to active prosecutions or convictions.

Politicization and corruption were pervasive throughout the judicial branch, hampering the institution’s effectiveness and undermining public trust. As of September 5, the Supreme Court had not ruled on outstanding cases concerning the constitutionality of the re-election amendment process, the eligibility of former president Fernando Lugo to run for president, the irregular June sessions of congress that brought new leadership to both houses and two judicial oversight bodies, or the recusals of the 13 prosecutors working on the Megalavado money-laundering case. From January to September 5 of the reporting year, the Justice Tribunal, which ostensibly provides disciplinary oversight for judges and prosecutors, ruled to apply sanctions in only seven of 476 cases brought before it. NGOs, legal associations, government officials, and the press reported repeated instances in which the Justice Tribunal refused to discipline judges and prosecutors who had released or absolved defendants with ties to narcotics trafficking and financial crime. Voting records for individual tribunal members were not available to the public.

Corruption: Impunity was endemic for former and current high-level government officials accused of crimes. There were no convictions of high-profile officials during the reporting period, but NGOs and the press continued to report on several former government ministers, mayors, governors, and current elected officials accused of, and indicted for, corruption and other crimes who had avoided prosecution in the justice system. As of October 13, there were unresolved cases involving 10 indicted former ministers and 10 indicted current members of congress.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires all public employees, including elected officials and employees of independent government entities, to disclose their income and assets within 15 days of taking office or receiving an appointment and again within 15 days of finishing their term or assignment. Public employees must also disclose assets and income of spouses and dependent children.

The law mandates the Comptroller’s Office monitor and verify disclosures; the Comptroller may make income and asset disclosures public only at the request of the executive branch, congress, the Attorney General’s Office, or judicial authorities. The Attorney General’s Office opened several investigations for inconsistencies related to these disclosures.

The law bars public employees from holding government positions for up to 10 years for failure to comply with financial disclosure laws and imposes monetary fines of up to Gs. 19.1 million ($3,400), but this was generally not enforced. Legislators generally ignored the law with impunity, using political immunity to avoid investigation or prosecution. The Comptroller’s Office did not investigate cases with incriminating financial information, including those of eight customs officials who allegedly skimmed millions of dollars of import duties and bribes over decades of service. The cases were pending with the Attorney General’s Office as of October 13.

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

More than 50 domestic and international human rights groups operated, generally without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with domestic NGOs and international organizations and met with domestic NGO monitors and representatives, but they often did not take action in response to their reports or recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Human Rights Ombudsman Miguel Godoy Servin continued overhauling his office after 10 years of inactivity prior to his term, including launching outreach campaigns and investigations into misuse of public money and abuse of authority by public officials. Godoy filed a formal complaint leading to the indictment of former ombudsman Manuel Paez Monges for misusing approximately Gs. 1.375 billion ($245,200) of funds set aside as reparation funds for victims of the Stroessner dictatorship from 1954 to 1989 and their families. Paez Monges’ case was pending as of October 13.

Several human rights NGOs complained there was no single, reliable point of contact within the government to discuss human rights issues. They stated they were not approached for consultations on human rights policies, planning, and legislation. Although several government ministries had human rights offices to monitor compliance with human rights legislation, there was no coordinator to serve as the point of contact with civil society.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and provides penalties of up to 10 years in prison for rape or sexual assault. If the victim is a minor, the sentence ranges from a minimum of three years to 15 years in prison. According to the Attorney General’s Office, rape continued to be a significant and pervasive problem, and it was believed that many rapes went unreported. The government generally prosecuted rape allegations and sometimes obtained convictions. Police generally did not prioritize reports of rape.

Although the law criminalizes domestic violence, including psychological abuse, and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine if convicted, it requires the abuse to be habitual and the aggressor and victim to be “cohabitating or lodging together.” Judges typically issued fines, but in some cases they sentenced offenders to jail to provide for the safety of the victim. In some instances the courts mediated domestic violence cases. According to NGOs and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, domestic violence was widespread, and thousands of women received treatment for injuries sustained in domestic altercations. The ministry promoted a national 24-hour telephone hotline for victims.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs operated a shelter coordinated victim assistance efforts, public outreach campaigns, and training.

According to the latest information available, the National Police had 16 specialized units to assist victims of domestic violence, and 118 officers were assigned to these stations.

Femicide remained a serious problem. In December 2016 President Cartes signed Law 5777 for the Comprehensive Protection of Women against Violence, including femicide. The law criminalizes femicide and assigns sentences of between 10 and 30 years in prison upon conviction. As of October 25, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported 34 cases of femicide, a significant increase from previously reported numbers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine; however, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for many women, especially in workplace environments. Prosecutors found sexual harassment and abuse claims difficult to prove because of victims’ fear of workplace retaliation and societal pressures against victims. Many dropped their complaints or were unwilling to continue cooperating with prosecutors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. There is no comprehensive law against discrimination, thus no legal basis for enforcement of the constitutional clause against discrimination.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. Nonetheless, gender-related discrimination was widespread. Women experienced more difficulty than men did in securing employment and occupation.

Children

Birth Registration: Nationality derives from birth within the country’s territory, from birth to government employees in service abroad, or from birth to a citizen residing temporarily outside the country. Hospitals immediately register births, but this is not the case for many children born in rural areas and in indigenous communities with limited access to health-care facilities. Citizenship conveys to all nationals who attain the age of 18 as well as to older persons upon naturalization. Birth certificates and national identity documents are a prerequisite to access government services, including obtaining a passport.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal from kindergarten through secondary school. According to the government, girls from rural families tended to leave school at a younger age than did boys. Approximately 10 percent of children from poor families did not have access to schooling, due to economic hardship, geographic isolation, or early entry into the workforce.

Child Abuse: The NGO Coalition for the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the Secretariat of Children and Adolescents (SNNA) stated that violence against children was widespread and equally prevalent among rural and urban families. As of October 13, the Attorney General’s Office reported 596 cases of child abuse.

There was one government shelter for abused children, mainly girls, comanaged by a Roman Catholic organization. In many cities the municipal council for children’s rights assisted abused and neglected children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but the law permits marriage for those ages 16 to 18 with parental consent, and for those younger than age 16 only with judicial authorization under exceptional circumstances. There were no reports of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: According to the SNNA, child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced domestic service remained problematic. The law provides penalties of up to eight years of imprisonment for persons responsible for pimping or brokering victims younger than 17 years.

The minimum age of consent is 14 when married and 16 when not married. While there is a statutory rape law for those under 14, the maximum penalty is a fine for opposite-sex offenders and prison for same-sex offenders. The law was not effectively enforced. The penal code provides for fines or up to three years in prison for the production, distribution, and possession of pornography involving children or adolescents younger than age 18. Authorities may increase this penalty to 10 years in prison depending on the age of the child and the child’s relationship to the abuser.

For nonintercourse sexual abuse of a minor, the maximum sentence is up to three years or a fine. For cases involving intercourse, authorities can increase the sentence to 10 years. As of September 30, the Attorney General’s Office received 295 complaints of rape of minors.

Child Soldiers: The government as well as NGOs, including the Coordinator for the Rights of Infants and Adolescents and the Peace and Justice Service, alleged that the EPP continued recruitment of children, most of whom reportedly were relatives of adult EPP members. The children started in logistical support roles, carrying supplies to members in the field and serving as lookouts, before later being incorporated as full-time combatants, usually between 14 and 16 years of age. The number of youth recruited was unknown but expected to be relatively low, given the small size of the EPP, estimated to be 20 to 50 members in total.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has fewer than 1,000 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law nominally prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law generally does not mandate accessibility for persons with disabilities, nor does it specifically provide for access to information or communications, and most of the country’s buildings remained inaccessible, although some municipalities made progress.

Many persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment; others were unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. The law mandates the allocation of 5 percent of all available public-employee positions to persons with disabilities; in practice less than 1 percent were employed. The Ministry of Education and Sciences estimated more than 50 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school because of lack of access to public transportation.

The National Secretariat for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is responsible for certifying disability status.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Anecdotally, ethnic minorities reported discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, equal pay, owning and/or managing businesses, education, and housing.

Indigenous People

The law provides indigenous persons the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the country, but the law was not effectively enforced. Discrimination, coupled with a lack of access to employment, education, health care, shelter, and sufficient land, hindered the ability of indigenous persons to progress economically while maintaining their cultural identity.

Indigenous workers engaged as laborers on ranches typically earned low wages, worked long hours, received pay infrequently or not at all, and lacked medical or retirement benefits. This situation was particularly severe in the Chaco region.

The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), the Attorney General’s Office; the Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security; the Social Action Secretariat; and the Ombudsman’s office are responsible for protecting and promoting indigenous rights. The law mandates that INDI negotiate, purchase, and register land on behalf of indigenous communities who claim lack of access to their ancestral lands. In some instances INDI claimed it lacked sufficient funding to purchase land on behalf of indigenous persons or required them to register land in the Asuncion office rather than locally.

The law authorizes indigenous persons to determine how to use communal land. There were insufficient police and judicial protections from encroachments on indigenous lands. This often resulted in conflict between indigenous communities and large landowners in rural areas, which at times led to violence.

CODEHUPY and other NGOs documented widespread trafficking in persons, rape, sexual harassment, and physical abuse of women in indigenous communities. Perpetrators were often neighboring workers and employers from ranches and farms. NGOs also alleged agribusiness operations in the Chaco exploited and violated the rights of indigenous workers.

On May 7-9, a group of 12 to 15 armed private security personnel forcibly evicted 20 families of the Ava Guarani indigenous community from 740 acres on the disputed Colonia Colorado’i property near Itakyry, Alto Parana Department. Press reports indicated the armed group, allegedly contracted by Paraguayan Alcohol Industries S.A., burned buildings and crops and destroyed the community school and temporary tents in the presence of idle police officers on the scene. The Attorney General’s Office charged three individuals associated with the Paraguayan Alcohol Industries S.A. (Marcos Torales, Javier Torales, and Robert de Souza) and one member of the Ava Guarani indigenous community (Ismael Barrios), for participating in and organizing the eviction operation. The case was pending as of October 5.

The government did not fully comply with obligatory rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on access to land. In January it made the third and final payment to purchase 19,030 acres of land for the Xakmok Kasek community in accordance with a 2010 Inter-American Court ruling. The government had not, however, provided sufficient land and titles for the Sawhoyamaxa community pursuant to a 2006 ruling or suitable access to the Yakye Axa community pursuant to a 2005 ruling.

The government and representatives of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode People, a community in voluntary isolation, held a series of formal meetings to discuss the implementation of the February 2016 request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the government adopt precautionary measures in favor of the rights of this indigenous community. The Ayoreo Totobiegosode People continued to allege local cattle ranchers conducted intrusions and deforestation activities on their land.

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

No laws explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons; discrimination, including societal discrimination, occurred frequently. Several NGOs, including SomosGay, the Center for Studies and Documents, and Aireana, reported police harassment and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

On March 31, police allegedly assaulted patrons outside an LGBTI nightclub after the protests that led to the burning of the congress building. The nightclub was 1.2 miles from the site of the protests. Victims reported police officers approached the exterior of the nightclub and assaulted patrons with clubs and rubber bullets. The case was pending as of September 5.

According to press and NGO reporting, police officers regularly beat, robbed, and implicated transgender individuals as suspects in serious crimes, including drug trafficking and armed robbery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV-positive status and protects the privacy of medical information. The law also specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees based on their HIV-positive status. Labor ministry regulations forbid employers from requiring HIV testing prior to employment, but many companies still did so.

NGOs, including CODEHUPY and the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Counseling and Reporting Center, noted that persons with HIV/AIDS who sought access to health care, education, and employment opportunities faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, demand for HIV testing, or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions (with the exception of the armed forces and police), bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits binding arbitration or retribution against union organizers and strikers. There are several restrictions on these rights. The law requires that industrial unions have a minimum of 20 members to register. All unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security, a process that often takes more than a year. The ministry, however, typically issued provisional registrations within weeks of application to allow labor unions to operate. Unions with provisional registrations had the same rights and obligations as other unions. Workers cannot be members of more than one union, even if they have more than one part-time employment contract. Strikes are limited to purposes directly linked to workers’ occupations. Candidates for trade union office must work for a company and be active members of the union.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing labor rights, registering unions, mediating disputes, and overseeing social security and retirement programs. Penalties, fines, and remedies associated with discrimination against unions were generally ineffective. Investigations of antiunion discrimination to protect labor rights were rare, lacked sufficient resources, and reportedly occurred only if requested by an aggrieved party. The ministry does not have jurisdiction to initiate or participate in antiunion litigation. Employers who fail to recognize or to bargain collectively with a registered union face fines of 50 days’ wages, or approximately Gs. 3.5 million ($624). Employers who blacklist employees face fines of only 30 days’ wages, or approximately Gs.2.1 million ($374). These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government often did not prevent retaliation by employers who took action against strikers and union leaders. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays, mishandling of cases, and corruption.

The government did not always respect unions’ freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain. Employers and professional associations heavily influenced some private-sector unions. The leadership of several unions representing public-sector employees had ties to political parties and the government.

While union workers from the steel and maritime industries were unionized and often received relevant legal protections, most workers, including farmers, ranchers, and informal-sector employees, did not participate in labor unions. Many of these workers were members of farm-worker movements.

Beginning in early July, thousands of small-scale farmers mounted protests in the capital seeking debt forgiveness. On August 4, President Cartes vetoed a bill that offered up to $10,000 of relief per farmer with less than 74 acres of land. The veto was due to the lack of a mechanism to identify appropriate beneficiaries and the lack of a source of funding. Protesters peacefully left the city center August 15, after the senate failed to overturn the veto.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security lacked adequate resources to conduct inspections, especially in remote areas where forced labor was reportedly more prevalent. Penalties for violations include up to 20 years in prison. Minimal enforcement and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

During the year the labor ministry’s regional office in the Chaco received complaints for unjustified firings, nonpayment of wages, and other labor violations. The ministry did not confirm instances of debt bondage in the Chaco but would not dismiss the possibility that it continued to exist. In that region there were reports that children worked alongside their parents in debt bondage on cattle ranches, on dairy farms, and in charcoal factories. The government continued antitrafficking law enforcement and training efforts and provided limited protective services to female and child trafficking victims.

Forced child labor, particularly in domestic service, was a significant problem (see section 7.c.). Reports of “criadazgo” continued throughout the year. Criadazgo is the practice where middle- and upper-income families informally “employ” child domestic workers, often from impoverished families, and provide them with shelter, food, some education, and a small stipend.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for full-time employment is 18. Children 14 to 17 years old may work with written parental authorization, if they attend school and do not work more than four hours a day (14-15 years old) or six hours (16-17 years old), and do not work more than a maximum of 24 hours per week.

The maximum administrative penalty for employing a child under age 14 is a fine of Gs. 3.78 million ($674). The law stipulates those who employ adolescents between ages 14 and 17 under hazardous conditions must pay the maximum administrative penalty and/or serve three to five years in prison, but the potential penalties and lax enforcement were insufficient to deter violations.

The government did not effectively enforce laws protecting children from exploitation in the workplace. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security is responsible for administratively enforcing child labor laws, and the Attorney General’s Office prosecutes violators. The Ombudsman’s office and the Child Rights Committee receive complaints and refer them to the Attorney General’s Office. As of September 30, the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security received 17 complaints regarding child and adolescent workers. Of the 17 complaints, 12 were for boys and five for girls. Most worked as metalworkers, cashiers, sales clerks, helpers, and in other service jobs. In 2016 the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security received 28 complaints from child workers.

Child labor continued to be a problem in retail, sugar, brick, and limestone manufacturing, domestic service, and small-scale agricultural sectors. Children, primarily boys, also worked in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and in the restaurant and other service industries. According to both the government and the NGO community, 45,000-47,000 children, primarily girls, worked as domestic servants and received no pay under the criadazgo system. In exchange for work, employers promised child domestic servants room, board, and financial support for school. Some of these children were victims of forced child labor, did not receive pay or the promised benefits in exchange for work, suffered from sexual exploitation, and often lacked access to education.

On January 15, the Attorney General’s Office indicted Rosa Delvalle and Anderson Rios for serious bodily damage, attempted homicide, sexual abuse, and torture for forcing a 15-year-old minor to drink caustic soda in Pedro Juan Caballero, Amambay Department. Reports indicated the minor had been living with the couple as a domestic worker under the criadazgo system. Delvalle and Rios remained at large, and the case was pending as of October 13.

On June 14, a court condemned Tomas Eligio Ferreiro Rojas and his common-law wife, Ramona Triflacion Melgarejo Figueredo, to 15 and seven years in prison, respectively, for killing 14-year-old Carolina Marin, who was employed as a domestic worker under the criadazgo system, in January 2016. Defense attorneys for the couple were appealing the sentences.

The worst forms of child labor occurred where malnourished, abused, or neglected children worked in unhealthy and hazardous conditions selling goods or services on the street, working in factories, or harvesting crops. Children were used, procured, and offered to third parties for illicit activities, including commercial sexual exploitation (see also section 6, Children), sometimes with the knowledge of parents and guardians, who received remuneration. Some minors were coerced into acting as drug smugglers for criminal syndicates along the border with Brazil. There were also reports of child soldiers with the EPP. Children reportedly work in debt bondage alongside their parents in the Chaco region (see section 7.b.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, political opinion, or social origin. Other legislation prohibits discrimination based on disability and HIV-positive status. No specific legislation forbids labor discrimination based on national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, or having a communicable disease.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The fines for discrimination range from 10 to 30 daily wages per affected worker. Fines are doubled for multiple offenses.

The press and civil society reported on employment discrimination based on sex, race, disability, age, language, weight, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and pregnancy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The mandatory national minimum wage was approximately Gs. 2.04 million ($364) per month. The law stipulates that domestic employees work a maximum of eight hours per day, are entitled to overtime if they exceed these hours, and have the right to enjoy a weekly rest of 36 hours, as well as all national holidays paid. The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours (42 hours for night work) with one and one-half days of rest. The law also mandates payment of at least one annual bonus of one month’s salary and a minimum of 12 days’ and a maximum of 30 days’ vacation per year, depending on total years of service. There are no prohibitions of, or exceptions for, excessive compulsory overtime.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security and NGOs, many domestic workers suffered discrimination, routinely worked 12-hour workdays (when eight is the maximum), were not paid for overtime work (as required by law), were allowed to rest less than the 36 hours mandated by law, were not entitled to publicly provided retirement benefits, and did not routinely attain job stability after 10 years, unlike other workers covered by the labor code. Domestic workers were eligible for government-sponsored medical care and retirement programs through small payroll and employer contributions.

The government sets appropriate occupational health and safety standards stipulating conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort. Although these standards were current and appropriate for light-manufacturing and construction industries, enforcement was inadequate.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security did not effectively enforce provisions for overtime pay, the minimum wage, or limitations on hours of work in the formal or the informal sector. It launched public awareness campaigns, however, aimed at employers to remind them of their labor obligations. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance with all labor laws, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

As of September 9, the labor ministry’s Department of Mediation of Private Conflicts received 5,571 labor complaints and mediation requests. Men filed the majority of these complaints, which involved illegal dismissals or the failure of employers to pay the legally mandated end-of-year bonuses. The General Directorate for Statistics estimated the percentage of workers who received the minimum wage or more increased from 71.1 percent in 2015 to 73.7 percent in the second semester of 2016. Many formal and informal employers violated provisions requiring overtime pay, particularly in the food and agricultural sectors and for domestic services. From January to September 30, the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security received 100 complaints of occupational safety and health violations, some associated with workplace accidents or fatalities. Most workplace accidents or fatalities occurred in the construction and light-manufacturing industries.

Employers are obligated to register workers with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security. As of October 13, however, approximately 2,160 employers had registered 7,090 workers with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security, a very low number compared with the country’s population of approximately 6.7 million.

The government considers the informal economy to be economic activities performed by persons not registered under the laws governing tax, employment, and social security. In some cases workers received a formal salary, on which they and their employers paid social security tax, and an additional, undeclared salary. Some businesses were formally registered to operate and pay taxes, but they did not register or declare their entire staff to the employment authorities.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. The presidential and 2013 midterm national elections were generally free and fair. The 2016 local elections were twice postponed until May 2018. Proponents of delaying the elections cited several reasons, among them the continued influence of drug money on local elections.

Civilian control over the Philippine National Police (PNP) improved but was not fully effective. The government confirmed a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service in December 2016, after an eight-year hiatus.

In May members of the terrorist Maute Group and supporters of other extremist organizations attacked Marawi City, on the southern island of Mindanao. In response President Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) restored government control of the city on October 23. Approximately 360,000 persons were displaced as a result of the crisis.

Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017. From January to the end of September, media reports chronicled more than 900 fatalities in police operations suspected to be connected with the government’s antidrug campaign. Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings. As of August, police claimed to have resolved 1,889 cases, and 4,373 remained under investigation.

The most significant human rights issues included: killings by security forces, vigilantes and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; often harsh and life threatening prison conditions; warrantless arrests by security forces and cases of apparent government disregard for legal rights and due process; political prisoners; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; threats of violence against human rights activists; violence against women; and forced labor.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of police killings, but he said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures.

Conflicts continued between the government and Muslim separatist, communist insurgent, and terrorist groups, displacing communities and resulting in deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, and the organizations operated shadow governments in areas they controlled. The government called off negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the New People’s Army, early in the year after clashes between the armed forces and New People’s Army guerilla fighters in violation of a 2016 ceasefire. The government resumed peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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 numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents and unknown assailants also continued.

From July 2016 through October 25, 2017, law enforcement agencies reported that 3,967 “drug personalities” died in connection with antidrug operations. In one case, on June 30, police killed Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, his wife, and 10 others in a series of predawn antidrug raids. The operation drew condemnation from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as well as some legislators, but the Senate did not launch an inquiry on the grounds that the mayor was not detained in a government facility.

In killings attributed to vigilantes, many victims were found adorned with cardboard signs, plastic wrap, garbage bags, or other markers designating them as drug dealers.

The reported number of alleged extrajudicial killings varied widely, as government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The CHR, an independent government agency responsible for investigating alleged human rights violations, investigated 139 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 174 victims as of August. The rising death toll from the government’s antidrug campaign compelled the CHR to separate politically motivated killings from drug-related cases in its reporting. From January to June, the CHR investigated 44 cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings involving 56 victims. The CHR suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) involvement in 112 of these new complaints and AFP or paramilitary personnel in one case. The CHR attributed many of the remaining cases to insurgent/terrorist forces.

The PNP’s Task Force Usig, responsible for investigating and monitoring killings of media members, labor activists, and foreigners, reported no new cases from January to August. Police also changed the language they used with respect to deaths outside official police actions, to refer to them uniformly to as “homicide cases.” Previously, the police had used the term “deaths under investigation” to refer to deaths outside police operations but which appeared connected to the antidrug campaign. Beginning in May, government data on the antidrug campaign were provided through #RealNumbersPH, operated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs.

As of June 30, the NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) documented four cases of state-perpetrated, politically motivated killings carried out by unspecified security forces. The TFDP noted that these cases were separate from killings in the antidrug campaign. The increase in cases of alleged drug-related extrajudicial killings resulted in the expansion of TFDP documentation, which began to include drug-related killings. As of June 30, the TFDP had documented 55 drug-related killings involving 67 victims.

President Duterte continued his anticrime campaign, specifically targeting the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics. President Duterte made numerous public statements suggesting that killing suspected drug traffickers and users was necessary to meet his goal of wiping out drug-related crime. On October 10, the president issued a memorandum designating the PDEA as the sole agency for conducting operations in the government’s war on drugs, sidelining the police in antidrug operations and prompting a drop in reported extrajudicial killings. President Duterte publicly challenged the CHR’s authority to investigate allegations of police abuse without his approval. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service reported that manpower and resource limitations hampered the legally required investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, but it asserted that 100 percent of the deaths in police shootings resulted from legitimate, lawful police actions. In specific cases, President Duterte commented that if police were found guilty, they should go to jail. Some civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings.

President Duterte stated publicly, for example in an August 16 speech on the anniversary of the founding of “Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption,” that he continued to maintain lists of suspected drug criminals, including government, police, and military officials and members of the judiciary. The government did not reveal the source of this information, leading some to question its accuracy and the legitimacy of the lists.

b. Disappearance

As reported by the AFP Human Rights Office, there was one report of a forced disappearance by or on behalf of government authorities (see section 1.g.).

The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know regarding the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases, evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient; a minority of previously reported cases were prosecuted.

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the CHR, however, members of the security forces and police allegedly routinely abused and sometimes tortured suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of August the CHR investigated 25 cases of alleged torture involving 58 victims; it suspected the police in a majority of the cases. The CHR investigated four cases of torture and mistreatment by prison guards. Some of these cases involved two or more categories of accused perpetrators. In the same period, the TFDP documented two cases of torture involving 11 victims. There were reports that AFP soldiers detained and interrogated children and in one instance tortured a child suspected of associating with armed groups.

There were no convictions during the year, but a few cases continued under the antitorture law.

According to NGOs and press reports, mental abuse, including shaming–illegal under the Anti-Torture Act–reportedly occurred, especially in drug cases. In March local media published photographs of hundreds of prisoners at the Cebu provincial jail sitting naked while being searched for contraband. In a predawn operation dubbed “Operation Greyhound,” prisoners were awakened and forced to remove their clothes while officials searched their jail cells. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the search, conducted in the open and publicized, was inhumane and violated the prisoners’ right to privacy.

As part of the antidrug campaign, authorities called on drug criminals to turn themselves in to police to avoid more severe consequences. As of July the government social media campaign #RealNumbersPH reported 1,308,078 surrenders facilitated, although civil society actors questioned the official figures. Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender due to fear for their lives.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and potentially life threatening and, in some cases, included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, food shortages, and physical abuse.

NGOs reported that abuses by prison guards and other inmates were common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, declined to lodge formal complaints.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. During the year BuCor facilities operated at approximately 2.5 times the official capacity of 16,010, holding 41,244 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, controlled 926 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The BJMP reported its jails operated at an average of more than four times their designated capacity. The Quezon City Jail, for example, had an official capacity of 261 inmates, yet as of July held 2,916 prisoners, approximately 70 percent of whom were detained on drug charges, according to international media sources. Several NGOs observed that overcrowding was more severe in smaller cities, a condition that reportedly triggered violence among inmates and promoted gang rivalries. The prison population increased by 22 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.

At the Manila Police District in Tondo in April, the CHR discovered 12 individuals detained in a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf. The cell had inadequate lighting, sanitation, food, and water. According to media reports, several detainees said they were tortured and beaten while detained, and some were subjected to extortion in exchange for release. A May 26 CHR visit found the cell vacant. As of September 13, nine of the detainees were released on bail; the remaining three were transferred to the Manila City Jail Male and Female Dormitory.

Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in BJMP and PNP jails were pretrial detainees; the balance were convicted criminals serving less than three-year sentences.

Juveniles under the age of 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. As of July, juveniles made up less than 1 percent of the prison population.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce BJMP and BuCor regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities, and in national prisons overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities, authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The BJMP and BuCor reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with 60 to 70 prisoners to each custodial staff member.

Reports indicated that poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, BuCor and the BJMP reported 804 inmate deaths, a death rate of 0.42 percent. Most deaths were the result of illness. Authorities provided BuCor inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases, authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 10 Philippine pesos ($0.20) per day.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.

Administration: The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program, authorities released 27,396 inmates from BJMP jails as of July.

Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some political detainees. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors.

Muslim officials reported that, while Muslim detainees were allowed to observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees. BuCor has a rehabilitation program that focuses on inmates’ moral and spiritual concerns.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center denied prompt access to a team from the CHR in March and required the commission to write a letter to provincial authorities before the visit could proceed. The CHR Region VII team visited the facility to investigate the forced stripping incident during the antidrug-focused Operation Greyhound.

Improvements: The BJMP launched the Revised Time Allowance Manual for Persons Deprived of Liberty. This entitles inmates to reductions in their sentences based on good conduct. More than 18,300 inmates benefited from this program. BuCor had a tie-in project with the Department of Justice to digitize inmates’ records for ease of access and preservation.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. As of July, the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, reported 75 arbitrary detention violations committed by law enforcement agencies or the AFP. Investigations into 74 of these cases were pending, while the remaining case was dismissed. One case involved a high-ranking official.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The AFP, which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly in areas of Mindanao. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The PNP Special Action Force is responsible, in particular, for urban counterterrorism operations. President Duterte’s May declaration of martial law for the entire region of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago remained in effect as of October, giving the military expanded powers. Human rights groups expressed concern about the potential for human rights abuses, recalling the period of martial law for the entire country during the Marcos regime.

Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources, an arrangement that often resulted in graft and corruption.

The 176,000-member PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption was endemic within the force continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service, mandated to ensure police operate within the law, remained largely ineffective.

Despite criticism from domestic and international human rights groups for its role in the antidrug campaign, as of October no criminal complaints had been filed by the Public Attorney’s Office or the National Bureau of Investigation against PNP officers accused of unlawful killings.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remained largely ineffective. President Duterte publicly condemned corruption in government and security forces, but oversight mechanisms were poorly resourced, and there was little effort to target corrupt security officials. From January to August, the Office of the Ombudsman received 133 complaints concerning 229 cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority (97 percent) of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of September all cases remained open pending additional investigation. There were no convictions recorded against high-ranking police or military officials.

From January to June, the PNP recorded a total of 2,112 administrative cases involving 3,704 officers, including both uniformed and nonuniformed personnel. Of these, 778 were resolved with various penalties. From January to July, the PNP recorded 203 criminal cases involving 212 PNP personnel, of which 67 were filed in court, 126 were referred to the Prosecutor’s Office, and five remained under investigation.

In a prominent example of police abuse and misconduct, on September 15, National Capital Region Police Chief Oscar Albayalde ordered the reassignment or retraining of more than 1,200 police officers following rising concerns about corruption within the Caloocan police force. This included unsanctioned drug raids, evidence mismanagement, and the August 18 killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos at the hands of plainclothes police officers in Caloocan City. The Caloocan City police received additional scrutiny on September 14 when a closed-circuit video of 13 Caloocan police officers robbing a house during a September 7 drug raid became public.

The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through August, the office identified and investigated four reported incidents, including an indiscriminate discharge of a weapon, two murders, and a forced disappearance. As of August, the AFP had settled the indiscriminate weapon case when the suspect was found guilty. The three other cases remained pending.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights-based modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing.

The military also routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. The AFP used its revised Graduated Curricula on Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law for the Military to provide a uniform standard of training across service branches. The AFP adhered to a 2005 Presidential Memorandum requiring the incorporation of human rights and international humanitarian law into all AFP education and training courses. Successful completion of these courses is required to finish basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. From January to August, various AFP service units conducted a total of 55 human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops.

The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Human rights groups noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection through the witness protection program managed by the Department of Justice due to inadequate funding or procedural delays or failure to step forward because of doubts about the program’s effectiveness. The CHR operated a smaller witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antidrug campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward, or failed to cooperate, in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The AFP controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), while Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) fell under PNP command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited CVO and CAFGU members into those armies.

Human rights NGOs linked state-backed militias and private armies to numerous human rights abuses. The trial of 105 suspects in the 2009 massacre of 58 civilians in Maguindanao Province continued. As of July, three of the remaining suspects were acquitted of 58 counts of murder for lack of evidence. The chief suspect, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., died in 2015.

Such delays reinforced the perception of impunity for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of human rights abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official are required for an arrest unless the suspect is observed in the act of committing an offense, there is probable cause that the suspect had just committed an offense, or the suspect is an escaped prisoner. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours for arrests made without warrants, depending on the seriousness of the crime. In terrorism cases, the law permits warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to three days.

Detainees have the right to bail, except when held for offenses punishable by a life sentence. The bail system largely functioned as intended, and suspects are allowed to appeal a judge’s decision to deny bail. The law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer and, if indigent, to have the state provide one. Due to an underresourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, indigent persons had limited access to public defenders.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to detain individuals, including juveniles, arbitrarily and without warrants on charges other than terrorism, especially in areas of armed conflict.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. The average pretrial detention time was 18 months. Large jails employed paralegals to monitor inmates’ cases, prevent detention beyond the maximum sentence, and assist with decongestion efforts.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to a judicial review of the legality of their detention. The constitution contains severe financial penalties for law enforcement officers found to have unlawfully detained individuals. Some human rights observers linked these penalties to extrajudicial killings, asserting that law enforcement officers often viewed killing a suspect as less risky than detaining him/her.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial. An independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although not in a timely manner. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays continued to hinder the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. Judgeship vacancy rates were approximately 30 percent. Courts in Mindanao and poorer provinces had higher vacancy rates than the national average. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because of the requirement that applicants be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Although the Prosecutor General was given authority to hire hundreds of new prosecutors for sharia courts, training for them was short and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate the resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty would not exceed six years in prison. In 2016 the judiciary instituted new court rules and procedures for case processing that limit the postponement of hearings and made other procedural changes to expedite case processing. The most significant part of the reform, Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases in Pilot Courts, was approved in May for nationwide rollout as part of the Supreme Court’s efforts to decongest court dockets. Implementation began in September.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law requires that all persons accused of crimes be informed of the charges against them and grants rights to counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, and a speedy and public trial before a judge. No criminal proceeding goes forward against a defendant without the presence of a lawyer. The law presumes defendants are innocent. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, be present at their trial, present evidence in their favor, appeal convictions, and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The court may appoint an interpreter if necessary. If the court’s interpreter makes serious mistakes, a party can challenge the interpretation. The government generally implemented these requirements, except for the right to a speedy trial.

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a decision.

Authorities respected a defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer, but poverty often inhibited access to effective legal counsel. The Public Attorney’s Office, which reports to the Department of Justice, did not have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional mandate and used its limited resources to represent indigent defendants at trial rather than during arraignments or pretrial hearings. During pretrial hearings courts may appoint any lawyer present in the courtroom to provide on-the-spot counsel to the accused.

Sentencing decisions were not always consistent with legal guidelines, and judicial decisions sometimes appeared arbitrary.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Under law enacted in 1945, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, BuCor reported 162 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The BJMP does not track political prisoners and defines prisoners based only on security risk.

Various human rights NGOs maintained lists of incarcerated persons they considered political prisoners. The TFDP was tracking 337 political detainees as of June. The majority of those tracked were pretrial detainees, 14 of whom were arrested from January to June. The TFDP noted that, in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the National Bilibid Prison, where they held the majority of political prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

The government used NGO lists as one source of information in the conduct of its pardon, parole, and amnesty programs. The TFDP reported that 14 political prisoners had been released from prisons or detention centers as of July. None of these releases resulted from executive action (pardons or amnesties).

The government permitted regular access to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Most analysts regard the judiciary as independent and impartial in civil matters. Complainants have access to local trial courts to seek civil damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for civil complaints, although overburdened local courts often dismissed these cases. There were no regional human rights tribunals that could hear an appeal from the country.

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

The government generally respected the privacy of its citizens, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs alleged routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informant systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and for the antidrug campaign. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued to occur. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents on the basis of criminality, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute themselves for placeholders if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country conducted nationwide elections in May 2016 for the presidency, both houses of congress, provincial governors, and local government officials. Barangay, or village-level, elections originally scheduled for October 2016 were twice postponed and rescheduled, as of year’s end, for May 2018. International and national observers viewed the 2016 elections as generally free and fair but reported that vote buying was widespread and that dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices. The PNP reported 28 incidents of election-related violence that led to 50 deaths during the campaign and on election day, but overall security incidents were few compared to many previous elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Participation by these groups did not change significantly compared with the national election in 2010 or the midterm elections in 2013.

Political life is male dominated, and observers commented that some female politicians served as “placeholders” when male members of their dynastic political families had to leave office due to term limits. Media commentators also expressed concern that political dynasties limited the opportunities for female candidates not connected to political families to seek nomination.

There were no Muslim or indigenous cabinet members or senators, but there were 11 Muslim members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Muslim-majority provinces, and one member of indigenous descent in the House of Representatives. Muslims, indigenous groups, and others maintained that electing senators from a nationwide list favored established political figures from the Manila area. They advocated election of senators by region, which would require a constitutional amendment.

The law provides for a party-list system, designed to ensure the representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society, for 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of corruption.

Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution establishes the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate-level anticorruption court (the Sandiganbayan), and the Commission on Audit. All three organizations were underresourced, but they actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

Investigation of allegations continued in the expanding “pork barrel” scandal of 2014 about the diversion of congressional funds to fake NGOs. The Department of Justice committed to review the previous administration’s probe of alleged misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund. As of October the Office of the Ombudsman charged 32 persons, including congressmen, NGO officials, and private individuals, in the Sandiganbayan.

As of August the Office of the Ombudsman had won 34 convictions in 164 corruption cases, including that of former chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, Camilo Sabio, for entering into two lease agreements that cost the government 12.1 million pesos ($242,000). Sabio received a sentence of six to 10 years in prison. Melchor Maderazo, the former mayor of Caibiran, Biliran, was also convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for continuing to receive salaries and benefits in contravention of a series of orders by the Sandiganbayan and provincial council.

Reports continued of widespread corruption among prison guards and some prison officials and of solicitation of bribes by PNP members and judicial workers, who were accused of extorting bribes by threatening to delay or derail cases if not paid bribes. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported as of May that 166 PNP personnel were involved with illegal drugs and facing dismissal from service.

Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires all public officials and employees to file under oath a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth and to disclose their personal business interests and financial connections, as well as those of their spouses and unmarried children living in their households. Nondisclosure is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine not exceeding 5,000 pesos ($100), or both, and at the discretion of the court, disqualification from holding public office. The Civil Service Commission implements and enforces the law, forwarding nondisclosure cases to the Office of the Ombudsman for prosecution. In 2016 the congressional bicameral Commission on Appointments confirmed 24 military officers, despite noting that many had failed to submit sufficient statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction can also result in a lifetime ban from political office. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment, but difficulty in obtaining convictions remained a challenge for effective enforcement. The Department of Social Welfare and Development provided shelter, counseling, and health services to female survivors of rape. There continued to be reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women and children committed by their spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or fines. From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare assisted 199,218 women categorized as “women in especially difficult circumstances.” Of these, the great majority of cases involved physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and the number included 1,434 female victims of trafficking in persons. The department also assisted many women with disabilities and female victims of other abuses, including emotional and economic battery. As of June the PNP reported 15,742 cases of domestic violence against women and children. Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the PNP. The PNP-Directorate for Police Community Relations conducted three orientation seminars in March and July entitled “Men Opposed to Violence Against Women Everywhere” with 100 participants from different police units.

NGOs noted that, in smaller localities, perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.

The PNP and the Department of Social Welfare both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and encourage reporting. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers continued to receive gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The PNP maintained a women and children’s unit with 1,918 desks throughout the country to deal with abuse cases. The PNP increased the number of personnel assigned to these Women and Children Protection Desks because of their increased responsibilities for handling trafficking cases; 4,576 officers were assigned to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than six months, and/or a fine of not less than 10,000 pesos ($200) and not more than 20,000 pesos ($400). But sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: In law but not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grant men more property rights than women.

In March the CHR denied a motion for reconsideration submitted by President Duterte related to its 2016 finding that the words and actions of then president-elect Duterte violated the law. The CHR found that Duterte’s joke during the presidential campaign about the rape and murder of an Australian citizen was in violation of the law because it amounted to violence against women. In accordance with the law, the CHR called on the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Interior and Local Government to recommend appropriate sanctions.

No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring (see section 7.d.).

The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized foreign divorces if one of the parties is a foreigner. These options, however, are costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation is common, but brings with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent and, in certain circumstances, from birth within the country’s territory to alien parents. The government promoted birth registration, and authorities immediately registered births in health facilities. Births outside of facilities were less likely to be registered promptly, if at all. NGOs previously estimated that more than 2.5 million children were unregistered, primarily among Muslim and indigenous groups. The Department of Social Welfare continued working closely with local governments to improve registration; the Philippines Statistics Authority operated mobile birth registration units to reach rural areas.

Education: Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary education is free and compulsory through age 18, but the quality of education was often poor, and access difficult, especially in rural areas where substandard infrastructure makes traveling to school challenging.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. From January to June, Department of Welfare offices served 2,396 victims of child abuse, 69 percent of whom were girls. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18; anyone below 21 must have parental consent. Under Muslim personal law, Muslim boys may marry at 15 and girls may marry when they reach puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial exploitation of children and child pornography and defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. Authorities endeavored to enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 12. The statutory rape law criminalizes sex with minors under 12 and sex with a child under 18 involving force, threat, or intimidation. The maximum penalty for child rape is 40 years in prison plus a lifetime ban from political office. The production, possession, and distribution of child pornography are illegal, and penalties range from one month to life in prison, plus fines from 50,000 to five million pesos ($1,000 to $100,000), depending on the gravity of the offense.

Despite these penalties, law enforcement agencies and NGOs reported that criminals and family members continued to use minors unlawfully in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities. The country is the top global internet source of online child pornography.

Child prostitution continued to be a serious problem, and the country remained a destination for child sex tourism by domestic and foreign clients. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles and deport those who were foreigners. Additionally, the live internet broadcast of young Filipino girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Labor Department to target and close facilities suspected of prostituting minors.

Displaced Children: The most recent UNICEF data, from 2012, estimated there were approximately 250,000 street children. From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare provided residential and community-based services to 1,018 street children nationwide, of whom 528 were served in residential facilities and 490 were served under the Comprehensive Program for Street Children, Street Families, and Indigenous Peoples. This program included activity centers, education and livelihood aid, and community service programs.

Under the juvenile justice law, children 15 years old and younger who commit a crime are exempt from criminal liability. Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the Department of Social Welfare provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. As of June, the department assisted 1,862 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 16 rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

The PNP’s Women and Children’s Protection Center reported in late 2016 that approximately 38,000 minors surrendered to authorities in response to the antidrug campaign. As the legal status of those voluntarily surrendering remained ambiguous, it was not clear that these minors were being treated as required by law.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 500 to 5,000 persons of Jewish heritage, mostly foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Laws, such as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, provide for equal access for persons with both physical and mental disabilities to all public buildings and establishments, but many barriers remained.

The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated the activities of government agencies for the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream of society.

Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and other challenges in finding employment (see section 7.d.).

From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare provided services to 517 persons with disabilities in assisted-living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, significantly fewer than reported in the previous year.

Advocates for persons with disabilities contended that equal access laws were ineffective due to weak implementing regulations, insufficient funding, and inadequately focused integrative government programs. The great majority of public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many schools had architectural barriers that made attendance difficult for persons with disabilities.

Some children with disabilities attended schools in mainstream or inclusive educational settings. The Department of Education’s 448 special education centers were inaccessible and the government lacked a clear system for informing parents of children with disabilities of their educational rights and did not have a well defined procedure for reporting discrimination in education.

Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities were limited.

The constitution provides for the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote. The Commission on Elections determines the capacity of persons with mental disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions and inclusions in court. A federal act authorizes the commission to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

Indigenous People

Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the geographical remoteness of the areas that many inhabit and cultural bias prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. Government officials indicated that approximately 80 percent of the country’s government units complied with the long-standing legal requirement that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, a government agency staffed by tribal members, was responsible for implementing constitutional provisions to protect indigenous peoples. It has authority to award certificates identifying “ancestral domain lands” based on communal ownership, thereby stopping tribal leaders from selling the land. Additionally, the commission studies “ancestral sea” claims, since some indigenous groups, such as the Sama-Bajau, who customarily lived in western Mindanao, traditionally practiced migratory fishing. Approvals of “ancestral sea” claims were limited, and the lack of access to traditional fishing grounds contributed to the displacement of many Sama-Bajau.

Armed groups frequently recruited from indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples’ lands were also often the site of armed encounters related to resource extraction or intertribal disputes, which sometimes resulted in displacement.

Forces from the indigenous Lumad group with alleged ties to the AFP reportedly closed or occupied schools for alleged ties to the NPA, thereby hampering access to education for indigenous children.

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

National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Twenty-four cities or municipalities have a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–rights.

Officials prohibit transgender individuals from self-reporting their gender on passport applications. Authorities print the sex assigned at birth, as reported on the certificate of birth, in the individual’s passport, which posed difficulty for transgender persons seeking to travel, including instances of transgender individuals forced from planes.

NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against LGBTI persons, including in employment (see section 7.d.), education, health care, housing, and social services.

Human Rights Watch reported that LGBTI students continued to face many forms of bullying in schools, such as physical, verbal, sexual, and cyber.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services (see section 7.d.). In August the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Health Department’s research facility, declared the HIV epidemic a national emergency, and the department declared the epidemic a health priority.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center reported in January that 31 minors were killed in either police operations or vigilante-style killings as part of the antidrug campaign.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, with the exception of the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights.

Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive and urged the government to lower minimum membership. The scope of collective bargaining in the public sector is limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment negotiable between management and public employees. These are items requiring appropriation of funds, including health-care and retirement benefits, and those that involved the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation, and disciplinary action, are nonnegotiable.

Strikes in the private sector are legal. Unions are required to provide strike notice, respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members before calling a strike. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Relations reported 140 notice of strike/lockout and preventive mediation cases from January to June. Of the total, 57 cases were settled and 55 cases were withdrawn by the filer.

The law subjects all problems affecting labor and employment to mandatory conciliation-mediation for one month. Parties to a dispute must attempt mediation before giving notice to strike; if that fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Parties may bring any dispute to mediation; but strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, a requirement that the ILO urged the government to amend.

The law permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike. Union officers convicted of striking illegally are subject to imprisonment for up to three years, although there has never been such a conviction.

The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.

The secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment, and in certain cases the president, may intervene in labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Vital sectors include hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of vital services that were broader than international standards.

By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties (although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties).

The government generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining and enforced laws that provided for protection of these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s (NLRC) labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to the NLRC. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasi-judicial NLRC, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the Labor Department secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.

Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws are imprisonment of not less than three months or more than three years with a fine of not less than 1,000 pesos ($20) or more than 10,000 pesos ($200). Such penalties were generally not sufficient to deter violations.

Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Before disputes reach the NLRC, the Labor Department provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.

The NTIPC serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment. It functions primarily as a forum for advice and consultation among organized labor, employers, and government in the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity to monitor recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The Labor Department, through the NTIPC, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases pending before the ILO concerning allegations of violence and harassment directed at labor leaders and trade union activists.

Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed that the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or SEZs to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in SEZs used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. Local SEZ directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special SEZ labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed-term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the SEZs.

There were no reports of labor-related violence during the year. In 2016 a union leader and trade union organizer were killed in separate incidents. In both cases it was speculated that their positions provided a motive for the violence.

Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The NGO Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Employers also often abused contractual labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The Department of Labor reported that there were multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Legal penalties for forced labor were sufficiently stringent.

Trade unions reported continued poor compliance with the law, due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy. The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, in an effort to prevent forced labor. In 2016 the Labor Department began an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.

Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). Unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries.

There were reports that some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the violent antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor, exercise, or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children younger than the age of 15, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. Children between the ages of 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The law sets the minimum age for domestic workers at 15.

Although the government supported programs that sought to prevent, monitor, and respond to child labor, resources remained inadequate. The government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for law violations in the formal sector, such as in manufacturing. Fines for child labor law violations were not sufficient to deter violations. From January to August, the Labor Department, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program, conducted six operations and removed 13 minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of August the department closed one establishment for violations of child labor laws.

The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The Labor Department continued its efforts to deliver appropriate interventions aimed at reducing the worst forms of child labor and removing children from hazardous work under the H.E.L.P.M.E. (Health, Education, Livelihood, and Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution, Monitoring and Evaluation) Convergence Program.

Despite these efforts, child labor remained a common problem. Cases reported to the Labor Department centered in the service and agricultural sectors, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugarcane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including pyrotechnic production), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments.

NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation. Findings from the joint National Statistics Office-ILO 2011 Survey on Children, the most recent data available, estimated that 5.5 million of the country’s 29 million children between the ages of five and 17 were working and that three million worked in hazardous jobs. The survey also found the highest incidence of child labor (60 percent) in the agricultural sector.

Child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, creed, disability, and HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, or marital status. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to color, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, other communicable disease status, or social origin. While some local antidiscrimination ordinances existed at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT–but not intersex–persons, there was no prohibition against such discrimination in national legislation.

The law requires most government agencies and government-owned corporations to reserve 1 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities; government agencies engaged in social development must reserve 5 percent. The law commits the government to providing “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities, for example in workshops providing special facilities. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Local Employment maintained registers of persons with disabilities that indicate their skills and abilities and promoted the establishment of cooperatives and self-employment projects for such persons.

Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in hiring and employment. The Labor Department estimated that only 10 percent of employable persons with disabilities were able to find work.

There were few cases filed to test how effectively the law was enforced. The government did not effectively monitor and enforce laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability, and the National Council for Disability Affairs and the Labor Department did not monitor the regulation regarding the employment of persons with disabilities effectively. The effectiveness of penalties to prevent violations could not be assessed.

The government had limited means to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment, and the cost of filing a lawsuit and lack of effective administrative means of redress limited the recourse of such persons when prospective employers violated their rights. In 2016 an HIV-positive worker won a case against his employer for having been fired as a result of his HIV-positive diagnosis. The court ordered that the individual be reinstated and receive approximately 600,000 pesos ($12,000) in damages and back wages.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to LGBTI persons. A number of LGBTI organizations submitted anecdotal reports of discriminatory practices that affected the employment status of LGBTI individuals. Discrimination cases included the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTI persons in the workplace. For example transgender women were told by recruitment officers that they would be hired only if they presented themselves as males by cutting their hair short, dressing in men’s clothes, and acting in stereotypically masculine ways. In August local media reported workplace discrimination against an LGBTI person whose new employer, a popular local fast food chain, stated that the company was not yet ready to accept LGBTI staff or culture in its office because of the company’s Roman Catholic beliefs.

Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they continued to occupy positions at all levels of the workforce.

Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring practices.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of July tripartite regional wage boards of the National Wage and Productivity Commission had made no increases to the daily minimum wage rates for agricultural and nonagricultural workers. Minimum wages ranged from 491 pesos ($9.82) per day for nonagricultural workers in the Manila region to 243 pesos ($4.86) per day for agricultural workers in the Ilocos region. The law did not cover many workers, since wage boards exempted some newly established companies and other employers from the rules because of factors such as business size, industry sector, export intensity, financial distress, and capitalization level.

Domestic workers worked under a separate wage and benefit system, which lays out minimum wage requirements and payments into social welfare programs, and mandates one day off a week. A 2010 survey, the most recent data available, reported that 1.9 million people were employed as domestic workers, with nearly 85 percent being women and girls as young as 15.

According to the government, in 2015, the latest year for which such data was available, a family of five needed an average income of 8,022 pesos ($160) per month to avoid poverty.

Penalties for noncompliance with increases or adjustments in the wage rates as prescribed by law are a fine not exceeding 25,000 pesos ($500), imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral suasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily.

By law the standard workweek is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an eight-hour per day limit. The law mandates one day of rest each week. The government mandates an overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days, 130 percent on special nonworking days, and 200 percent on regular holidays. There is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours that an employer may require.

The law provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. Regulations for small-scale mining prohibit certain harmful mining practices, including the use of mercury and underwater, or compressor, mining. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Most labor laws apply to foreign workers, who must obtain work permits and may not engage in certain occupations.

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC) monitors and inspects compliance with labor law in all sectors, including workers in the formal sector, nontraditional laborers, and informal workers, and inspects SEZs and businesses located there. The number of labor law compliance officers, who monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages, increased slightly. Nonetheless, the number of compliance officers was insufficient to enforce compliance for the workforce of 42 million workers. The Labor Department prioritized increasing the number of officers, however, acknowledging that insufficient inspection funds continued to impede its ability to investigate labor law violations effectively, especially in the informal sector and in small and medium-size enterprises.

The Department of Labor continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and occupational safety and health standards investigations. Labor Department inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. The Labor Department and the ILO also continued to implement an information management system to capture and transmit data from the field in real time using mobile technology. Of the 30,874 establishments jointly assessed by the labor inspectors and worker and employer representatives, 16,113 were found to be deficient in enforcing labor standards, including core labor standards and minimum wage rates. Following a deficiency finding, the Labor Department may issue compliance orders that can include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations. The BWC also reported 29 establishments were found deficient with respect to child labor law.

Violations of minimum wage standards were common, as was the use of contract employees to avoid the payment of required benefits, including in the SEZs. Many firms hired employees for less than minimum wage apprentice rates, even if there was no approved training in their work. Complaints about payment under the minimum wage and nonpayment of social security contributions and bonuses were particularly common at companies in the SEZs. In March the Labor Department issued Department Order 174, setting stricter guidelines on the use of labor contracting and subcontracting. Some labor unions, however, criticized the order for not ending all forms of contractual work.

There were also gaps and uneven applications of the law. Media reported problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic worker’s law, including a tedious registration process, an additional financial burden on employers, and difficulty in monitoring employer compliance.

During the year various labor groups criticized the government’s enforcement efforts, in particular the Labor Department’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and July, the BWC recorded 11 work-related accidents that caused 38 deaths and 11 injuries. Statistics on work-related accidents and illnesses were incomplete, as incidents were underreported, especially in agriculture.

The government and several NGOs worked to protect the rights of the country’s overseas citizens, most of whom were Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract or temporary workers. Although the POEA registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide worker protection overseas. The government, nonetheless, launched an interagency humanitarian mission to provide assistance to thousands of citizen workers laid off or stranded in Saudi Arabia and facilitated the repatriation of hundreds. As of September the Department of Social Welfare reported “hundreds” of citizens still needed repatriation from Saudi Arabia.

The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices. From January to August, the POEA reported a total of 100 suspension orders issued to 57 licensed recruitment agencies for various violations. Foreigners were generally employed in the formal economy and recruited for high-paying, specialized positions. They typically enjoyed better working conditions than citizens.

Poland

Executive Summary

Poland is a republic with a multiparty democracy. The bicameral parliament consists of an upper house, the senate (Senat), and a lower house (Sejm). The president, the prime minister, and the Council of Ministers share executive power. Observers considered the May 2015 presidential elections and the October 2015 parliamentary elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included some incidents of torture, which were punished by authorities; the imposition of criminal penalties for “defamation;” claims that recent legislative amendments could infringe on judicial independence; and incidents of violence based on ethnic, religious, or sexual orientation. The government took action in response to these problems.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights 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.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were problems, however, with police misconduct and corrections officers’ abuse of prisoners. The law lacks a clear legal definition of torture, which authorities did not report as a separate crime, but all actions that could be considered “torture” are prohibited and penalized in criminal proceedings under other provisions of the law that directly apply the country’s obligations under international treaties and conventions prohibiting torture. The law outlines disciplinary actions for police, including reprimand, demotion in rank, and dismissal. Civil society groups noted cases of police misconduct against persons in custody.

On September 12, the Poznan regional prosecutor’s office charged four former police officers with abuse of power and physical and psychological violence against a 25 year-old man who died in police custody in Wroclaw in May 2016. Video footage shows police beating and using a stun gun on the man who was handcuffed in a jail cell. In May the interior and administration minister dismissed the Lower Silesia regional police commander, deputy commander, and the Wroclaw city police chief in response to the incident. As of September 30, the case against the officers was pending.

As of October 1, prosecutors had charged 18 police officers in Olsztyn with the use of violence and threats to extract testimony from 35 detainees in 2015.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were adequate. Vacancies in the prison medical staff and limited prisoner access to specialized medical treatment continued to be problems.

Physical Conditions: While authorities generally separated juveniles from adults, the law allows shared housing in prisons and detention centers in exceptional cases. Juveniles were at times held together with adult prisoners. Authorities usually sent juveniles between the ages of 17 and 21 accused of serious crimes to pretrial detention.

Authorities often held pretrial detainees in prisons pending trial, but in areas separate from convicts.

In 2013 the CPT found that authorities at the Municipal Police Department in Lublin, the Metropolitan Police Department in Warsaw, and the Warsaw-Bialoleka Police Department did not respect the privacy of communal toilets and showers. At the Bydgoszcz Municipal Police Department, the closed-circuit television coverage included the in-cell toilets. These problems persisted. The criminal code authorizes prison directors to install cameras if the directors determine the cameras are required to prevent criminal activity in the prison.

In May the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation published a report describing systemic problems with medical care in prisons. These included inadequate medical services, including a lack of specialized medical care, too few doctors to handle the workload, and poor medical infrastructure.

According to a July 2016 report by the human rights defender, most prisons and detention facilities did not meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Although prisoners with disabilities may be placed in cells modified for their disability, prisoners with disabilities had limited access to shower rooms, community rooms, and walking areas.

The law permits authorities to commit prisoners to the National Center for the Prevention of Dissocial Behaviors who have served their prison sentences and undergone a custodial therapy program, but who have mental disabilities believed to create a high probability they would commit another serious crime against a person. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights pointed out that mandatory detention after completion of sentence may violate the person’s freedom and be retroactive. In November 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled the law constitutional.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made their findings publicly accessible. The human rights defender may join proceedings in civil and administrative courts on behalf of prisoners and detainees, either when these file a complaint or when information otherwise leads to an allegation of inhuman conditions. The human rights defender administers the national preventive mechanism, an independent program responsible for monitoring conditions and treatment of detainees in prisons and detention facilities. During the first nine months of the year, the National Preventive Mechanism team visited five prison and detention facilities, including pretrial detention centers and prison facilities. The human rights defender’s office separately visits prisons, including in response to individual prisoner complaints. During the first nine months of the year, the defender’s team visited 10 detention facilities. The National Preventive Mechanism and the human right’s defender’s office published their findings and recommendations to relevant authorities in annual reports.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed independent monitoring of prison conditions and detention centers on a regular basis by local human rights groups as well as by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). The Helsinki Human Rights Foundation and other local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made occasional visits to prisons.

Improvements: On January 1, a new prison administration modernization law entered into force, allocating 1.5 million zloty ($409,000) to improve the security of detention facilities, prison infrastructure and working conditions for prison guards from 2017 to 2020.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police force is a national law enforcement body with regional and municipal units overseen by the Ministry of the Interior and Administration. The border guard is responsible for border security and combating irregular migration; it reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Administration. The Internal Security Agency (ABW) has responsibility for investigating and combating organized crime, terrorist threats, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) is responsible for combating government, business, and financial corruption. The prime minister appoints the head and deputy heads of the CBA and supervises the bureau, which may investigate any matter involving public funds. The prime minister supervises the heads of both ABW and CBA, which also report to parliament.

The 2016 counterterrorism law designates the ABW as the primary authority for combatting terrorism and increased its law-enforcement powers. The human rights defender referred the law to the Constitutional Court, arguing it violates the right to privacy and freedom of communication and was not sufficiently clear on the legal grounds for collecting data on individuals, making arrests, banning demonstrations, disconnecting citizens from the internet, and for surveillance of non-Polish nationals without a court order. The case remained pending before the Constitutional Court at year’s end.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, the border guard, the ABW, and the CBA, and 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.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and the law require authorities to obtain a court warrant based on evidence to make an arrest, and authorities generally complied with the law. The constitution and the law allow detention of a person for 48 hours before authorities must file charges and an additional 24 hours for the court to decide whether to order pretrial detention. The law allows authorities to hold terrorism suspects without charges for up to 14 days. The law sets a five-day limit for holding a juvenile in a police establishment for children if the juvenile escaped from a shelter or an educational or correctional facility. It allows police to hold for up to 24 hours in a police establishment for children a juvenile who is being transferred to a shelter or an educational or correctional facility, in case of a “justified interruption of convoy.” The law provides that police should immediately notify a detained person of the reasons for his detention and of his rights. Usually this information is initially delivered orally; later, at the police station, the detainee signs a statement that he has been advised of his rights and duties. Police give the detained person a copy of the report on his detention. Authorities generally respected these rights. Only a court may order pretrial detention.

There was a functioning bail system, and authorities released most detainees on bail. Defendants and detainees have the right to consult an attorney at any time. The government provided free counsel to indigent defendants. The law provides for free legal counsel, including at the pretrial stage, to poor, young, and senior citizens, veterans, members of multichild families, and victims of natural disasters. On February 7, the Public Affairs Institute issued a written appeal to the justice minister to revise the free legal aid law, as eligibility restrictions rendered the law ineffective. Authorities did not hold suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits authorities to detain persons charged with a crime for up to three months. A court may extend pretrial detention, but the law specifies that the total time in detention may not exceed two years, except in certain complex cases, when the court may petition an appellate court for an extension beyond two years. In January 2016 the human rights defender referred to the Constitutional Court several provisions of the code of criminal proceedings that provide for the possibility of extending pretrial detention without specifying the maximum length of detention and without providing specific justification. The case remained pending at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, extension beyond two years may occur if criminal proceedings are suspended, there is a need to identify or confirm the identity of the detainee, a very complicated investigation must be performed outside the country, or the detainee purposefully prolongs the proceedings. As of June 30, authorities had custody of eight persons who had served more than two years in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Arrested persons are entitled to challenge before a court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention within seven days of the court’s decision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. During the year it introduced judicial reform legislation that drew strong criticism from some judicial experts, NGOs, and international organizations. On July 24, the president signed into law amendments to the common courts law. The revised law gives the justice minister the power to appoint court presidents (chief judges) in lower courts as well as to approve service extension requests for lower court judges who have reached the mandatory retirement age. The revised law also introduces different retirement ages for female (60) and male (65) judges, although they may request extensions from the justice minister to serve longer. On July 26, the European Commission issued a rule of law recommendation directing the state to revise the amended law on common courts and initiated an infringement procedure against the state on the grounds that the law may undermine the courts’ independence by granting the justice minister discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges who have reached retirement age.

On December 20, President Andrzej Duda signed into law legislation reforming the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council. In July the president had vetoed draft legislation, stating the proposed legislation gave the prosecutor general/justice minister too much power and did not require a parliamentary three-fifths majority vote to select judges to serve on the National Judicial Council. In September the president formally proposed his own legislation reforming the Supreme Court and National Judicial Council. Governing Law and Justice party representatives held extensive negotiations with the president and his office to reach an agreement on the proposed reforms and submit them to parliament. Many NGOs, Polish legal experts, and international organizations were critical of the law, arguing that the National Judicial Council reform act and the Supreme Court reform act would put judicial independence at serious risk, as they had the ultimate effect of allowing the government to replace a majority of justices on the constitutional court within short order. On December 20, the European Commission proposed the Council of the European Union adopt a decision under Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, due to the commission’s conclusion that there is a “clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law” in Poland and giving the government three months to address the commission’s concerns. The government denied these claims and insisted that its reforms do not infringe rule of law.

On June 8, the CBA detained former chief judge of the Krakow Appellate Court for abuse of powers, participating in an organized criminal group, and accepting bribes. By October 1, the CBA had arrested 16 persons as part of the investigation, including former appellate court and justice ministry officials, eight of whom were placed in pretrial detention.

On April 4, the Katowice prosecutor’s office indicted the former head of the appeals prosecutor’s office and regional prosecutor on charges of accepting bribes and abuse of power following a disciplinary court’s final decision to remove her from office. The CBA detained the accused official on June 22. As of the end of September, the trial had not started.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed notification of the charges against them, with free interpretation for defendants who do not speak Polish from the moment charged through all appeals. They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and the right to be present at their trial. Trials are usually public, although the courts reserve the right to close a trial in some circumstances, including divorce proceedings, cases involving state secrets, and cases whose content may offend public morality.

Defendants have the right to legal representation, and indigent defendants may consult an attorney provided without cost. The government must provide defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They may confront and question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Prosecutors may grant witnesses anonymity if they express fear of retribution from defendants. The prosecutor general may release to media information concerning any investigation, except if such information is classified, with due consideration to important public interests. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

After a court issues a verdict, a defendant has seven days to request a written statement of the judgment; courts must provide a response within 14 days. A defendant has the right to appeal a verdict within 14 days of the response. A two-level appeal process is available in most civil and criminal matters.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The government’s implementation of court orders, particularly for payment of damages, remained slow, and cumbersome.

After they exhaust remedies available in the domestic courts, persons have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court for Human Rights.

The dispute regarding judicial appointments to the Constitutional Court in 2015 and 2016 was not resolved by the end of the year.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law provides for restitution of communal property, such as synagogues and cemeteries, seized during the Communist era or under Nazi occupation, but the process proceeded very slowly during the year. By the end of September, the property commissions resolved 6,914 of slightly more than 10,500 communal pr