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Eswatini

Executive Summary

Eswatini is an executive monarchy. King Mswati III and Queen Mother Ntombi, the king’s mother, rule as comonarchs and exercise varying levels of authority over the three branches of government. There is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and House of Assembly, each composed of appointed and elected members. The king appoints the prime minister. Political power remained largely vested with the king and his traditional advisors. International observers concluded the 2018 parliamentary elections were procedurally credible, peaceful, and well managed.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included restrictions on political participation, corruption, rape and violence against women linked in part to government inaction, criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced, and child labor.

The government often did not investigate, prosecute, or administratively punish officials who committed human rights abuses. With very few exceptions, the government did not identify officials who committed abuses. Impunity was widespread.

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

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

In contrast with 2017, 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 few credible reports that government officials employed them. During the year the government enacted the Police Service Act, which prohibits police from inflicting, instigating, or tolerating torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The new law also establishes a new disciplinary offense for officers who use violence or unnecessary force, or who intimidate prisoners or others with whom they have contact in the execution of their duties.

There were scattered reports throughout the country of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by “community police”–untrained, volunteer security personnel who exist outside the country’s formal legal structures and are empowered by rural communities to act as vigilantes, patrolling against rural crimes such as cattle rustling. In March three community police members in Manzini confronted and assaulted a young couple who had been walking together in a rural area. The assailants then raped the young woman, who was 17-years-old on the date of the incident. Each of the three community police members received sentences of 13 years’ imprisonment with no option of paying a fine to effect an earlier release. Two of the assailants received an additional year of imprisonment for the assault that preceded the rape.

In May the newspaper Times of Swaziland reported that a group of police arrested and abused a 35-year-old man whom they suspected of having committed a handful of home burglaries. When the accused reached the police station and denied responsibility for the break-ins, police allegedly tied him to a bench, where one officer sat on his chest while another wrapped plastic bags around his face. The accused told reporters that he confessed to the crimes to avoid further abuse. He led the officers to his sister’s home, where he had told them he hid the stolen items. Upon showing the officers an assortment of old furniture and other items, the accused reported that the police seemed to realize that they might have the wrong person. Police released him and reportedly told him not to tell anyone what had happened. The accused reported he sought medical treatment but lied to the nurses about how he had been injured, saying that he had fallen from a tree, because he did not want to be asked to file a police report. X-rays ultimately revealed the accused had suffered a broken rib and a dislocated shoulder. When reached for comment, a police spokesperson encouraged the accused to file a formal complaint with the station commander. There were no further media reports relating to the accused’s allegations, and it was unclear whether a police investigation ensued or resulted in disciplinary measures.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied and did not always meet international standards due to overcrowding and, in certain locations, facilities that require repair or modernization.

Physical Conditions: His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) stated in September that the total prison population was 3,453, exceeding the prison system’s designed capacity by 615 inmates. Facilities were of mixed quality; some were old and dilapidated; others such as the women’s prison were newer and well maintained. HMCS officials reported a growing incidence of prisoner-on-prisoner violence due to increased gang activity among inmates as prison populations have expanded and diversified in recent years. During larger incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence that involved multiple individuals, prison officials faced growing challenges in maintaining control.

In July and August 2017, media outlets reported that during a search for contraband, prison guards wearing surgical gloves ordered a dormitory of inmates to strip naked and face the wall. Wearing surgical gloves, they hit inmates on their buttocks with fists and, according to one inmate, “squeezed their (genitals) like one does when milking a cow.”

Administration: Authorities reportedly conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment and held prison officials accountable through appropriate disciplinary measures–primarily suspensions without pay.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, African Union, local nongovernmental organizations, and diplomatic missions. Independent monitoring groups generally received broad access to prison facilities and were able to conduct unchaperoned interviews of inmates and prison guards.

Improvements: During the year the government enacted the Correctional Services Act, which repealed the Prisons Act of 1964 and expanded opportunities for sentences to be served through community service. HMCS officers reported the new law already had begun easing congestion in the 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 his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The king is the commander in chief of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force (UEDF), holds the position of minister of defense, and is the commander of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) and HMCS. He presides over a civilian principal secretary of defense and a commanding general. Approximately 35 percent of the government workforce was assigned to security-related functions.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces. The REPS is responsible for maintaining internal security as well as migration and border crossing enforcement. The UEDF is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the royal family. The prime minister oversees the REPS, and the principal secretary of defense and the army commander are responsible for day-to-day UEDF oversight. The HMCS is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within HMCS institutions. HMCS personnel, however, sometimes worked alongside police during demonstrations and other large events, such as national elections, that call for a larger complement of personnel. While the conduct of the REPS, UEDF, and HMCS was generally professional, members of these forces were susceptible to political pressure and corruption.

Traditional chiefs supervised volunteer rural “community police,” who have the authority to arrest suspects concerning minor offenses for trial by an inner council within the chiefdom. For serious offenses suspects were handed over to the REPS for further investigations.

Impunity was a problem. Although there were mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, there were few prosecutions or disciplinary actions taken against security officers accused of abuses. The internal REPS Complaints and Discipline Unit investigated reports of police abuse and corruption but did not release its findings to the public. In most cases the REPS transferred police officers found responsible for violations to other offices or departments within the police system. Police academy training for recruits included human rights components in line with regional standards. Some officers also attended additional training programs that included a human rights component.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrests, except when police observe a crime being committed, believe a person is about to commit a crime, or conclude evidence would be lost if arrest is delayed. The law requires authorities to charge detainees with the violation of a statute within a reasonable time, usually within 48 hours of arrest or, in remote areas, as soon as a judicial officer is present to assume responsibility. Authorities sometimes failed to charge detainees within this time period, sometimes taking up to a week. There is a bail system, and suspects may request bail at their first appearance in court, except in serious cases such as those involving murder or rape. In general detainees could consult with lawyers of their choice, to whom they were generally allowed prompt access. Lawyers may be provided to indigent defendants at public expense in capital cases or if conviction of a crime is punishable by life imprisonment.

Most citizens who encountered the legal system did so through the 13 traditional courts. Each court has a presiding judicial officer appointed by the king. These courts adjudicate minor offenses and violations of traditional law and custom. Authorities generally respected traditional court rulings.

The director of public prosecutions has the legal authority to determine which court should hear a case. The director delegated this responsibility to public prosecutors. Rather than refer a case to the director, police often referred cases not properly investigated to one of the traditional courts because the standard of evidence required for conviction was not as high as in the civil judicial system. Persons convicted in the traditional courts may appeal to the High Court. Prolonged delays during trials in the magistrate courts and High Court were common.

Military courts are not allowed to try civilians. They do not provide the same rights as civil criminal courts. For example, military courts may use confessions obtained under duress as evidence and may convict defendants based on hearsay.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials.

Judicial powers are based on two systems: Roman-Dutch law and a system of traditional courts that follows traditional law and custom. Neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court, which interprets the constitution, has jurisdiction in matters concerning the Offices of the King or Queen Mother, the regency, chieftaincies, the Swati National Council (the king’s advisory body), or the traditional regiments system. Unwritten traditional law and custom govern all of these institutions. Courts were unwilling to recognize many of the fundamental rights provided for in the constitution and instead relied on antiquated civil laws, which often reduce or disregard these rights. The king appoints Supreme Court justices on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by the chief justice. Supreme Court justices must be Swati citizens and are subject to mandatory retirement at age 75. The Supreme Court hears cases throughout the year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed of charges promptly, in detail, and with free interpretation if necessary. The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, except when exclusion of the public is deemed necessary in the “interests of defense, public safety, public order, justice, public morality, the welfare of persons under 18, or the protection of the private lives of the persons concerned in the proceedings.” The judiciary enforced this right. Court-appointed counsel is provided to indigent defendants at government expense with free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak English or SiSwati if the crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence, generally obtained from the Public Prosecutor’s Office during pretrial consultations. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal up to the Supreme Court. The law extends the foregoing rights to all persons.

The traditional courts operate under traditional authorities, including local chiefs. In general, chiefs preside over traditional courts as court presidents. Traditional courts hear both civil and minor criminal matters. By law traditional courts may not impose fines above 240 emalangeni ($17) or prison sentences longer than 12 months.

Traditional courts are empowered to administer customary law only “insofar as it is not repugnant to natural justice or morality” or inconsistent with the provisions of any civil law in force, but some traditional laws and practices violate civil laws, particularly those involving women’s and children’s rights. Defendants in traditional courts are not permitted formal legal counsel but may speak on their own behalf, call witnesses, and be assisted by informal advisors. Traditional law and custom provide for an appeals process, but the process is long and cumbersome. Under the constitution, the High Court has review and appellate jurisdiction over matters decided in traditional courts. Judicial commissioners within the traditional legal system may adjudicate appeals themselves or refer appeals to a court within the civil judicial system on their own volition. Appellants and appellees also have the right to seek High Court review of traditional court decisions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, including appeal to international courts or bodies. Administrative remedies are also available under civil service rules and regulations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions except “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, use of mineral resources, and development of land in the public benefit.” The government did not always respect these prohibitions and broadly construed exceptions to the law. The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before searching homes or other premises, but officers with the rank of subinspector or higher have authority to conduct a search without a warrant if they believe delay might cause evidence to be lost.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In June, August, and September, REPS officials used nonlethal measures to control and disperse crowds when protesters deviated from agreed routes or provoked the police by throwing stones or trying to enter government facilities without authorization. Some protesters experienced non-life-threatening injuries during these incidents.

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

Political rights were severely restricted, although citizens have the ability to choose 59 of the 69 members of the House of Assembly in procedurally credible, periodic elections held by secret ballot.

Legislation passed by parliament requires the king’s consent to become law. Under the constitution the king selects the prime minister, the cabinet, two-thirds of the Senate, 10 of 65 members of the House of Assembly, many senior civil servants, the chief justice and other justices of the superior courts, members of commissions established by the constitution, and the heads of government offices. On the advice of the prime minister, the king appoints the cabinet from among members of parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the year peaceful and generally well managed parliamentary elections took place. International observers concluded the elections were credible, peaceful, and well managed.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government stated it was not yet ready to allow political parties to register and contest political power. The constitution provides for freedom of association but does not address how political parties may operate and contest elections. While political parties existed, there was no legal mechanism for them to register or contest elections. The constitution also states candidates for public office must compete on their individual merit, which courts have interpreted as blocking competition based on political party affiliation.

Participation in the traditional sphere of governance and politics takes place predominantly through chiefdoms. Chiefs are custodians of traditional law and custom, report directly to the king, and are responsible for the day-to-day running of their chiefdoms and maintenance of law and order. Although local custom mandates that chieftaincy is hereditary, the constitution, while recognizing that chieftaincy is “usually hereditary and is regulated by Swati law and custom,” also states the king “may appoint any person to be chief over any area.” As a result many chieftaincies were nonhereditary appointments, a fact that provoked land disputes, especially at the time of the death and burial of chiefs.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution provides for 59 of the 69 seats in the House of Assembly to be popularly contested and for the king to appoint the remaining 10 members. The constitution provides for five of the 10 appointed members to be women and for the appointed members to represent “interests, including marginalized groups not already adequately represented in the House.” The king appointed only three women to the House of Assembly following the elections, in which only two women were elected. If, after an election, women constitute less than 30 percent of the total membership of parliament, the constitution and law require the House to elect four additional women–one from each region. The House complied with this requirement.

The king appoints 20 members of the 30-seat Senate, and the House of Assembly elects the other 10. The constitution requires that eight of the 20 members appointed by the king be women and that five of the 10 members elected by the House be women. Following the elections the king filled seven of the eight designated seats with women, while the House of Assembly elected five women to the Senate.

Widows in mourning (for periods that may extend up to two years) were prevented from appearing in certain public places or being in proximity to the king or a chief’s official residence. As a result widows were excluded from running for office or taking active public roles in their communities during those periods.

There were very few ethnic minority members in the government. Several appointed officials were members of the royal family.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, although there was a widespread public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches of government and a consensus that the government did little to combat it.

Corruption: There were widespread reports of immigration and customs officials seeking bribes to issue government documents such as visas and resident permits. In March police raided the Department of Immigration, where they confiscated files and arrested and charged two senior immigration officers. The government filed charges against one of the senior officers based on allegations she had processed applications for travel documents for foreign nationals who were not present in, and had never visited, the country. The prosecution of this case was ongoing.

Credible reports continued that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Authorities rarely took action on reported incidents of nepotism.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution prohibits government officials from assuming positions in which their personal interests are likely to conflict with their official duties. The constitution requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets and liabilities to the Commission on Public Administration and Human Rights. The commission is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance. Sanctions for failure to disclose assets and conflicts of interest include removal from office, disqualification from holding a public office for a period determined by a court, and confiscation of any property illegitimately acquired during tenure in office. According to the commission, the majority of those required to declare assets and liabilities did so, but the commission suspected underreporting in some cases. The commission did not make this information 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 were generally cooperative but rarely responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration Integrity (CHRPAI) has evolved into a more independent institution that effectively exercises many of the powers afforded to it under the constitution. The CHRPAI is empowered by the constitution to investigate complaints of corruption, abuse of power, violations of human rights, and mismanagement of public administration. The CHRPAI consists of a commissioner and three deputy commissioners, and its secretariat employs capable professionals who preside over its management and administration. During the year the CHRPAI investigated dozens of complaints, made findings of fact, appeared in court on behalf of aggrieved parties, issued recommendations to judicial and governmental bodies, and provided human rights training to law enforcement officials. It also sent an independent observation team into the field to observe and report on the integrity of the 2018 elections (including the nomination process, primary, and general election).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: During the year the government enacted the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act, establishing a broad new framework to curb sexual offenses and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape, including spousal rape. The penalties for rape are up to 30 years’ imprisonment for first offenders and up to 40 years’ imprisonment for subsequent offenders. The penalties for domestic violence are a fine of up to 75,000 emalangeni ($5,400), 15 years’ imprisonment, or both. The SODV Act has seen rapid implementation since becoming effective on August 1, with harsh sentences imposed for crimes that likely would have gone unpunished in prior years. For example, in November a husband received a 10-year prison sentence for beating his wife with the blunt edge of a bush knife after she had come home late.

Rape remained common, and domestic violence against women sometimes resulted in death. According to UNICEF, one in three Swati women experienced sexual abuse by age 18, while 48 percent reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. There were few social workers or other intermediaries to work with victims and witnesses to obtain evidence of rape and domestic violence.

Rural women who sought relief in traditional courts often had no relief if family intervention did not succeed, because traditional courts were unsympathetic to “unruly” or “disobedient” women and were less likely than courts using Roman-Dutch-based law to convict men of spousal abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Accusations of witchcraft were employed against women in family or community disputes that could lead to their being physically attacked, driven from their homes, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The new SODV Act, which became effective on August 1, establishes broad protections against sexual harassment, with penalties of a fine up to 25,000 emalangeni ($1,800), 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women occupied a subordinate role in society. The dualistic nature of the legal system complicated the protection of women’s rights. Since unwritten customary law and custom govern traditional marriage and matters of inheritance and family law, women’s rights often were unclear and changed according to where and by whom they were interpreted. Couples often married in both civil and traditional ceremonies, creating problems in determining which set of rules applied to the marriage and to subsequent questions of child custody, property, and inheritance in the event of divorce or death.

Civil law is inconsistent with the constitutional stipulation that “women have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic, and social activities.” Civil law defines married women as subordinate to their husbands.

Girls and women faced discrimination in rural areas by community elders and authority figures, who gave preference to boys in education. Women faced employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). While the constitution provides that women may open bank accounts, obtain passports, and take jobs without the permission of a male relative, these constitutional rights often conflicted with traditional law, which classifies women as minors. Both traditional and Roman-Dutch civil law recognize women as dependents of their husbands or fathers. Although women routinely executed contracts and entered into a variety of transactions in their own names, banks sometimes refused personal loans to married women without a male guarantor. The constitution provides for equal access to land and civil law provides for women to register and administer property. Most persons were unaware of this right, however, and customary law forbids women from registering property in their own names.

Although customary law considers children to belong to the father and his family if the couple divorce, custody of the children of unmarried parents typically remains with the mother, unless the father claims paternity. Inheritances pass to and through male children only. When the husband dies, tradition dictates the widow must stay at the residence of her husband’s family in observance of a strict mourning period for one month. Media reported that widows heading households sometimes became homeless and were forced to seek public assistance when the husband’s family took control of the homestead. Women in mourning attire were generally not allowed to participate in public events and were barred from interacting with royalty or entering royal premises. In some cases the mourning period lasted up to two years. No similar mourning period is expected of men.

Children

The law sets the age of majority at 18. It defines child abuse and imposes penalties for abuse; details children’s legal rights and the responsibility of the state, in particular with respect to orphans and other vulnerable children; establishes structures and guidelines for restorative justice; defines child labor and exploitative child labor; and sets minimum wages for various types of child labor. At year’s end the government had not implemented most of the law’s provisions.

Birth Registration: Under the constitution, children derive citizenship from the father, unless the birth occurs outside marriage and the father does not claim paternity, in which case the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. If a Swati woman marries a foreign man, however, even if he is a naturalized Swati citizen, their children carry the father’s birth citizenship.

The law mandates compulsory registration of births. According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 50 percent of children younger than five were registered and 30 percent had birth certificates. Lack of birth registration may result in denial of public services, including access to education.

Education: The law requires that parents send their children to school through the date that they complete primary school. Parents who do not send their children to school were required to pay fines for noncompliance. Primary education was tuition-free through grade seven. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister received an annual budget allocation to pay school fees for orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in both primary and secondary school. Approximately 70 percent of Swati children were classified as OVC so had access to tuition-free education through the secondary level.

Child Abuse: The new SODV Act established broad new protections for children against abduction, sexual contact, and several other forms of abuse. The penalty for indecent treatment of children is up to 20 or 25 years’ imprisonment, depending upon the age of the victim. Child abuse remained a serious problem, especially in poor and rural households.

Corporal punishment in schools still occurred, despite a 2015 announcement by the Ministry of Education and Training that teachers who hit pupils should be reported to the ministry for disciplinary action. Education regulations that permit corporal punishment remained in effect, and some teachers continued such practices with impunity.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls, but with parental consent and approval from the minister of justice, girls may marry at 16. The government recognizes two types of marriage, civil marriage and marriage under traditional law. Under traditional law marriages are permitted for girls as young as 13. Although government officials have criticized this practice, civil law has not yet provided an effective deterrent. For additional information see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The new SODV Act prohibits and provides strong penalties for commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procuring of children for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Children were occasional victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The law criminalizes “mistreatment, neglect, abandonment, or exposure of children to abuse” and imposes a statutory minimum imprisonment of five years. Although the law sets the age of sexual consent at 16, the new SODV Act provides for a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child,” defined as a relationship that involves more than one sexual act with a person younger than 18.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community is very small, 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 law protects the rights of persons with disabilities (i.e., physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities), including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. During the year the government enacted the Persons with Disabilities Act, which domesticates the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and enhances the socioeconomic and cultural rights of such persons. The new law mandates access to health care for persons with disabilities and accessibility to buildings, transportation, information, communications, and public services. Because the new law became effective on August 1, it was unclear how effectively the government would enforce its provisions.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for upholding the law and for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities complained of government neglect and a significantly lower rate of school attendance for children with disabilities. Newer government buildings, and those under construction, included various improvements for persons with disabilities, including access ramps. Public transportation was not easily accessible for persons with disabilities, and the government did not provide any alternative means of transport.

There were only minimal services provided for persons with disabilities, and there were no programs in place to promote the rights of persons with disabilities. There was one private school for students with hearing disabilities and one private special-education school for children with physical or mental disabilities. The hospital for persons with mental disabilities, located in Manzini, was overcrowded and understaffed.

By custom persons with disabilities may not be in the presence of the king, as they are believed to bring “bad spirits.”

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination was practiced against nonethnic Swatis, primarily persons of Asian descent and those of mixed race. Nonethnic Swatis sometimes experienced difficulty in obtaining official documents, including passports, and suffered from other forms of governmental and societal discrimination, such as delays in receiving building permits for houses, difficulties in applying for bank loans, and needing special permits or stamps to buy a car or house.

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

While colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books, no penalties are specified, and there were no arrests. The law does not prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government asserted that same-sex relationships and acts were illegal but did not prosecute any cases during the year, and apparently there has never been a prosecution of consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons remained widespread, and LGBTI persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons who were open regarding their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system. Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swati nor Christian. Despite these barriers LGBTI persons organized the country’s first-ever Pride Parade, which occurred in June without incident. LGBTI groups have held spirited public discussions with religious leaders in a mutual effort to build improved understanding and lines of communication.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma associated with being HIV-positive discouraged persons from being tested. Nevertheless, there were often long lines, especially of young persons, waiting to be tested during prevention campaigns. The armed forces encouraged testing and did not discriminate against active military members testing positive. Persons who test HIV-positive, however, were not recruited by the armed forces because military authorities claimed they would not be able to withstand strenuous training.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There was social stigma attached to albinism, and persons with albinism were subject to discrimination, called names, and at risk of being killed for ritual purposes.

Belief in witchcraft was common, and those accused of witchcraft were at risk of being assaulted or killed. Notwithstanding the continuing stigma and discrimination, unlike last year there were no reports of assaults or deaths linked to albinism or witchcraft.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for the registration of unions and federations but grants far-reaching powers to the labor commissioner with respect to determining eligibility for registration. Unions must represent at least 50 percent of employees in a workplace and submit their constitutions to be automatically recognized.

The constitution and law provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively, subject to various legal restrictions. The law gives employers discretion as to whether to recognize a labor organization as a collective employee representative if less than 50 percent of the employees are members of the organization. If an employer agrees to recognize the organization as the workers’ representative, the law grants the employer the ability to set conditions for such recognition. The law provides for the registration of collective agreements by the Industrial Court. The court is empowered to refuse registration if an agreement conflicts with the law, provides terms and conditions of employment less favorable to employees than those provided by any law, discriminates against any person, or requires membership or nonmembership in an organization as a condition for employment. The Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration Commission presides over dispute resolution. The commissioner of labor has the power to “intervene” in labor disputes before they are reported to the commission if there is reason to believe a dispute could have serious consequences for the employers, workers, or the economy if not resolved promptly.

Employees not engaged in “essential services” have the right to undertake peaceful protest actions to “promote or defend socioeconomic interests” of workers. The law, however, defines “socioeconomic interest” as including “solutions to economic and social policy questions and problems that are of direct concern to the workers but shall not include matters of a purely political nature.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Extensive provisions allow workers to seek redress for alleged wrongful dismissal, but the law does not require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Although the law permits strikes, the right to strike is strictly regulated, and the administrative requirements to register a legal strike made striking difficult. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited in essential services, and the minister’s power to modify the list of these essential services provides for broad prohibition of strikes in nonessential sectors, including postal services, telephone, telegraph, radio, and teaching. The procedure for announcing a protest action requires advance notice of at least seven days. The law details the steps to be followed when disputes arise and provides penalties for employers who conduct unauthorized lockouts. When disputes arose with civil servant unions, the government often intervened to reduce the chances of a protest action, which may not be called legally until all avenues of negotiation are exhausted and a secret ballot of union members conducted.

Employers allegedly used labor brokers to hire individuals on contracts, to avoid hiring those who would normally be entitled to collective bargaining rights. No laws govern the operation of labor brokers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, but it also exempts “communal services” from the definition of forced labor, referencing services that benefit the community and are uncompensated. Although the High Court declared null and void the law exempting “communal services” from the definition of forced labor, no actions were taken to repeal it. Local chiefs continued to require community members to work as a form of property tax. Types of work primarily included agricultural labor such as weeding fields, including the chief’s. Community members were, however, able to make a small financial contribution to the chiefdom rather than performing physical labor.

The labor code punishes those convicted of imposing forced labor with a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 3,000 emalangeni ($217), or both. These penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations in cases when the law was enforced. Customary law has no stipulated sentences but provides for fines that range from a few hundred to several thousand emalangeni.

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 child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15, for night work 16, and for hazardous employment 18. The Employment Act, however, does not extend minimum age protections to children working in domestic or agricultural work. The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work in industrial undertakings, including mining, manufacturing, and electrical work, but these prohibitions do not address hazardous work in the agriculture sector. The law limits the number of night hours children may work on school days to six and the overall hours per week to 33.

The Ministry of Labor, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister through the Department of Social Welfare, and the REPS are responsible for enforcement of laws relating to child labor. The government did not effectively enforce laws combating child labor due to a lack of baseline information regarding the scope of the problem and a lack of dedicated resources for identifying and punishing violators.

Penalties for conviction of child labor violations include a minimum fine of 100,000 emalangeni ($7,246), five years’ imprisonment, or both for a first offense, and a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment with no option for a fine for subsequent offenses.

Children continued to be employed in the informal sector, particularly in domestic services and agricultural work such as livestock herding. This work might involve activities that put at risk their health and safety, such as using dangerous machinery and tools, carrying heavy loads, being exposed to pesticides, and working alone in remote areas. Children also worked as porters, bus attendants, taxi conductors, and street vendors. Children working on the streets risked a variety of dangers, such as severe weather and automobile accidents. They also were vulnerable to exploitation by criminals.

Child domestic servitude was also prevalent, disproportionately affecting girls. Such work could involve long hours of work and could expose children to physical and sexual exploitation by their employer. Children’s exploitation in illicit activities was a problem. Children, particularly in rural areas, served alcohol in liquor outlets and grew, manufactured, and sold illegal drugs.

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, gender, language, HIV/AIDS or other communicable disease status, religion, political views, or social status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). While women have constitutional rights to equal pay and treatment and may take jobs without the permission of a male relative, there were few effective measures protecting women from discrimination in hiring, particularly in the private sector. The average wage rates for men by skill category usually exceeded those of women.

Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to work areas. Openly LGBTI persons were subject to discrimination in employment and social censure.

Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens but sometimes faced discrimination in employment due to societal prejudice against foreigners.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security sets wage scales for each industry. There was a legally mandated sliding scale of minimum wages depending on the type of work performed. Wages ranged from 828 emalangeni ($60) per month for domestic workers to 1,242 emalangeni ($90) per month for skilled forestry workers, above the World Bank’s poverty line of 27 emalangeni ($1.96) per day. All workers in the formal sector, including migrant workers, are covered by the wage laws. According to the most recent World Bank data (2016), 38 percent of the population lived below the international poverty line of 27 emalangeni ($1.96) per day.

There was a standard 48-hour workweek for most workers and a 72-hour workweek for security guards spread over a period of six days. The law requires all workers to have at least one day of rest per week and provides for premium pay for overtime. Most workers received a minimum of 12 days of annual leave with full pay. Workers receive 14 days of sick leave with full pay and 14 days with half pay after three months of continuous service; these provisions apply only once per calendar year. No sick leave is granted if an injury results from an employee’s own negligence or misconduct.

The law provides for some protection of workers’ health and safety. The government set safety standards for industrial operations and encouraged private companies to develop accident prevention programs. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

The government inconsistently enforced the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which lays out the rights and responsibilities of employers, employees, and the government with respect to occupational health and safety.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of labor laws but faced significant resource challenges, including a lack of motor vehicles and inability to hire additional staff. The 15 labor inspectors serving the entire country were insufficient, and while the labor commissioner’s office conducted inspections in the formal sector, it did not have the resources to conduct inspections in the informal sector.

Labor laws are applicable to the informal sector but were seldom enforced. Most workers were in the informal sector, but credible data were not available. Workers in the informal sector, particularly foreign migrant workers, children, and women, risked facing hazardous and exploitative conditions. Minimum wage guidelines did not apply to the informal sector.

Public transportation workers complained they were required to work 12 hours a day or more without overtime compensation and they were not entitled to pensions and other benefits. Civil servants held several demonstrations during the year to demand a salary increase that the government has refused, citing the ongoing fiscal crisis. The country’s nurses engaged in strikes and work slowdowns during the year to advocate for higher wages and to protest understaffing and shortages of medicines and other medical supplies.

Credible data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and the 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces including asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats to and violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the SSF was 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 numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, according to media reports, on April 13, Kigali attorney Donat Mutunzi disappeared after leaving for work. His family made repeated inquiries of police but was unable to confirm his arrest until April 18. At that time a police officer reportedly told them that Mutunzi was suspected of having defamed President Kagame by circulating false information on the internet. On April 22, prosecutors told an attorney and friend of the Mutunzi family that Mutunzi had been accused of rape. On April 23, police reported Mutunzi had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. An examination of the body revealed severe wounds on the face and temples. Mutunzi’s family members told human rights advocates they believed Mutunzi had been beaten and strangled while in custody.

As of September 14, the government had not completed its investigation into 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations that police or other security forces had killed 37 individuals between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of petty crimes, including theft of bananas, fishing with illegal nets, and unlawful border crossings. In 2017 Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye publicly called the HRW report “fake news.”

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On October 7, United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) Vice President Boniface Twagirimana disappeared from Mpanga prison. A government spokesperson told press that Twagirimana and another prisoner had escaped by climbing over the prison wall. The FDU-Inkingi disputed this account and alleged foul play by government authorities, noting that authorities had transferred Twagirimana to Mpanga prison just five days earlier. The party released a press statement saying reliable sources inside the prison had indicated that security agents had taken Twagirimana away in a vehicle. As of November 6, Twagirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown.

Domestic organizations cited a lack of capacity and independence to investigate security-sector abuses, including reported enforced disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.

On September 27, the government enacted an updated penal code that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.

As of September 14, the government had not conducted an investigation into 104 cases of illegally detained individuals who were in many cases reportedly tortured in unofficial military detention centers between 2010 and 2016, as documented by a 2017 HRW report. According to the report, military intelligence personnel and army soldiers employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to obtain confessions before transferring the individuals to formal detention facilities. Detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, severe beatings, and other mistreatment. HRW observed the trials of multiple individuals who alleged being tortured at unofficial military detention centers, including the Kami and the Mukamira military camps; a military base known as the “Gendarmerie” in Rubavu; and detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba. According to the HRW report, many of the individuals told judges they had been illegally detained and tortured, but HRW was “not aware of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture.” There were no reported prosecutions of SSF personnel for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at prisons and unofficial military detention centers ranged from harsh and life-threatening to meeting international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.

Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) were generally considered adequate. There were no major concerns regarding inmate abuse. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. Overcrowding was common in police stations and detention centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. According to the RCS, the prison population rose by approximately 15 percent, from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to more than 61,000 in August, which greatly exacerbated prison overcrowding. There were reports that prison overcrowding remained an issue.

In contrast, conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial military detention centers, according to a 2017 HRW report. HRW reported that in addition to experiencing torture, individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.

Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. According to HRW, officials held children together with adults in the Muhanga, Mudende, and Gikondo transit centers.

The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.

The government held five prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.

Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.

Detainees held at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center did not have the right to appeal their detentions to judicial authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross. At times, however, it restricted access to specific prisoners and did not permit monitors to visit undeclared detention centers and certain military intelligence facilities. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) had transferred to Rwandan national jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the MICT.

In June the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) formally cancelled its visit to the country. In October 2017 the visit originally was suspended due to obstructions imposed by the government such as limiting access to places of detention. On June 1, the UN assistant secretary-general wrote to the government concerning the lack of assurances given to the SPT that those interviewed or contacted during the visit would not face intimidation or reprisals.

Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.

Improvements: Observers credited the RCS with continuing to take steps to improve prison conditions and eradicate abuses in formal detention facilities. In July the government closed the Kigali Central “1930” Prison, the oldest prison in the country, and moved remaining prisoners to a newer facility in Mageragere. The updated penal code removed provisions allowing solitary confinement of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but SSF personnel regularly arrested and detained persons arbitrarily and without due process. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrest or detention; however, few tried, and there were no reports of any detainees succeeding in obtaining prompt release or compensation for unlawful detention.

According to HRW’s October 2017 report, individuals “suspected of collaborating with enemies” were detained unlawfully and held “for up to nine months in extremely harsh and inhuman conditions,” frequently incommunicado. HRW also documented cases “in which individuals believed to be held in military custody have never returned and appear to have been forcibly disappeared.” Individuals detained by military intelligence were not registered in the formal law enforcement system, and “the period of their detention in military facilities [is] erased from public record,” according to HRW.

Human rights advocates also reported that police officers killed suspects while making arrests. In May police shot and killed a motorcyclist in Kigali during a traffic stop. Eyewitnesses reported police handcuffed the motorcyclist and began kicking him when the motorcyclist argued with officers. The motorcyclist fled and was pursued by the officer, who proceeded to catch and shoot the motorcyclist. A police spokesperson told press the officer fired because the motorcyclist had attempted to seize the officer’s weapon. Human rights advocates cast doubt on the police’s version of events, noting that eyewitnesses said the motorcyclist was handcuffed and had his hands raised when he was shot.

Domestic observers and local media reported the Rwanda National Police (RNP) continued the practice of systematically rounding up and arbitrarily detaining street children, street vendors, suspected drug abusers, persons in prostitution, homeless persons, and suspected petty criminals. As in previous years, the RNP held detainees without charge at the Gikondo Transit Center before either transferring them to the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center without judicial review or forcibly returning them to their home areas in the countryside.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The RNP, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for internal security. The Rwanda Defense Force (RDF), under the Ministry of Defense, is in charge of providing external security, although the RDF also works on internal security and intelligence matters alongside the RNP. In April the recently created Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) assumed some of the functions formerly performed by the RNP, including counterterrorism investigations, investigation of economic and financial crimes, and judicial police functions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the RNP and the RDF, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The RNP’s Inspectorate General generally disciplined police for excessive use of force and prosecuted acts of corruption, but there were some instances of impunity. There were reports SSF elements at times acted independently of civilian control. For example, there were reports RDF J-2 (intelligence staff), NISS, and RNP intelligence personnel were responsible for disappearances, illegal detention, and torture in unofficial detention centers.

The RDF normally displayed a high level of military professionalism and discipline, and it took action to investigate and punish misconduct. In August an RDF soldier was immediately arrested after he shot three individuals during a dispute at a bar in Rubavu, killing one. On December 4, a military court sentenced the soldier to life in prison and fined him 6.1 million Rwandan francs ($6,930).

Police at times lacked sufficient basic resources–such as handcuffs, radios, and patrol cars–but observers credited the RNP with generally strong discipline and effectiveness. The RNP institutionalized community relations training that included appropriate use of force and human rights, although arbitrary arrests and beatings remained problems.

To address reports of theft and abuse of street vendors by District Administration Security Support Organ (DASSO) employees, authorities expanded training for DASSO. For example, in April, 515 DASSO community-security-officer trainees participated in instruction designed to promote professionalism and discipline.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to investigate and obtain a warrant before arresting a suspect. Police may detain suspects for up to 72 hours without an arrest warrant. Prosecutors must submit formal charges within five days of arrest. Police may detain minors a maximum of 15 days in pretrial detention but only for crimes that carry a penalty for conviction of five years’ or more imprisonment. Police and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions and held individuals, sometimes for months and often without charge, particularly in security-related cases. The SSF held some suspects incommunicado or under house arrest. At times police employed nonjudicial punishment when minor criminals confessed and the victims agreed to a police officer’s recommended penalty, such as a week of detention or providing restitution.

The law permits investigative detention if authorities believe public safety is threatened or the accused might flee, and judges interpreted these provisions broadly. A judge must review such detention every 30 days, which may not extend beyond one year, but the SSF held numerous suspects indefinitely after the first authorization of investigative detention and did not always seek reauthorization every 30 days. Police also routinely circumvented arrest procedures by summoning suspects for daily interrogation, requiring them to spend up to 16 hours each day at Criminal Investigations Division headquarters without formally issuing charges.

After prosecutors formally file a charge, detention may be indefinite unless bail is granted. Bail exists only for crimes for which the maximum sentence if convicted is five years’ imprisonment or less, but authorities may release a suspect pending trial if satisfied the person would not flee or become a threat to public safety and order. Authorities generally allowed family members prompt access to detained relatives, unless the individuals were held on state security charges, or in unofficial or intelligence-related detention facilities. Detainees were generally allowed access to attorneys of their choice. The government at times violated the right to habeas corpus.

Convicted persons sometimes remained in prison after completing their sentences while waiting for an appeal date or due to problems with prison records. The law provides that pretrial detention, illegal detention, and administrative sanctions be fully deducted from sentences imposed, but it does not provide for compensation to persons who are acquitted. The law allows judges to impose detention of equivalent duration and fines on SSF and other government officials who unlawfully detained individuals, but there were no reports that judges exercised this authority.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unregistered opposition political parties reported authorities frequently detained their supporters and party officials but released most after detention of one week or less. Several, including FDU-Inkingi leaders, were detained much longer than one week. For example, the 11 members of the FDU-Inkingi Party arrested in September 2017 and charged with membership in a terrorist organization remained in custody as of September 14. In a July 30 court appearance, the attorney for the defense argued the arrests were politically motivated and asked the court to dismiss the case because prosecutors employed improper and illegal procedures in authorizing a communications intercept after the fact. On September 14, the Kigali High Court ruled that because the defendants stood accused of maintaining links to terrorist groups outside the country, the case ought to be transferred to the High Court’s special chamber for international crimes and cross-border matters, which would resume the trial at a later date. HRW reported these arrests were government efforts to crush dissent and silence the opposition.

Although there is no requirement for individuals to carry an identification document (ID), police and the DASSO regularly detained street children, vendors, and beggars without IDs and sometimes charged them with illegal street vending or vagrancy. Authorities released adults who could produce an ID and transported street children to their home districts, to shelters, or for processing into vocational and educational programs.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, and authorities often detained prisoners for months without arraignment, in large part due to administrative delays caused by case backlogs. HRW reported that when some detainees were transferred from military detention facilities to official detention facilities, military, intelligence, or police officials made detainees sign documents stating they had been arrested on the date of their transfer rather than their actual date of arrest, thereby erasing their military detention from the record. The law permits detention of genocide and terrorism suspects until trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.

Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Despite the National Public Prosecution Authority’s assertion that its prosecutors handled all cases without significant undue delay, defense lawyers reported there were an insufficient number of prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms to hold trials within a reasonable time.

By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers. The expense and scarcity of lawyers and most lawyers’ reluctance to take on cases they considered sensitive for political or state security reasons, however, limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers working on politically sensitive cases reported harassment and threats by government officials, including monitoring of their communications and denial of access to evidence against their clients.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The Rwandan Bar Association and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need. Legal aid organizations noted that the requirement that defendants present a certificate of indigence signed by their district authorities made it difficult to qualify for pro bono representation.

The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, but domestic human rights organizations noted that officials did not always enforce this right, particularly in cases of deaf and hard-of-hearing defendants requiring sign language interpreters. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision.

The SSF continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial. The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.

The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the MICT. It continued to pursue eight genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments.

On September 3, authorities arrested five individuals wanted by the MICT for contempt of court and transferred them to the MICT offices in Tanzania.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports that local officials and the SSF detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells–even in facilities with severe overcrowding–to ensure they would not be mistreated while in detention. Numerous individuals identified by international and domestic human rights groups as political prisoners remained in prison, including Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.

On September 15, the government released FDU-Inkingi president and former 2010 presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire from prison after President Kagame commuted the remainder of her sentence. Ingabire had been convicted and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in 2012 in what was considered a flawed trial based on politically motivated charges; in 2013 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and increased her sentence from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The FDU-Inkingi issued a statement saying the party hoped Ingabire’s release represented a sincere democratic opening. Minister of Justice Busingye, on the other hand, told press there was nothing political about her release since there was nothing political about her imprisonment. On October 9, the RIB summoned Ingabire for questioning and informed her that she could face legal action if she continued to characterize her conviction as political and to refer to other political prisoners. As of September 13, the government had not responded to a November 2017 ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights that the government violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of expression and that her 2012 conviction in a flawed judicial process violated her right to defense. The court ordered the government to take all necessary measures to restore Ingabire’s rights and to submit to the court a report on the measures taken within six months.

In addition to Ingabire, on September 14, the government granted early release to 2,139 other prisoners. Among them was Kizito Mihigo, a popular musician who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of conspiracy to kill President Kagame and other government officials.

On December 6, a court acquitted presidential aspirant and vocal Kagame critic Diane Rwigara of forgery and inciting insurrection after ruling that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges, which human rights organizations described as politically motivated. Diane Rwigara’s mother, Adeline Rwigara, arrested at the same time, was also acquitted of all charges. The two women were detained for more than one year before they were released on bail on October 5. Associates of Diane Rwigara also reportedly experienced harassment during the year, with some denied diplomas, fired from jobs, or taken into police custody for days at a time before being released. Rwigara’s sister, Anne Rwigara, was released in 2017.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for violations of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice after exhausting domestic appeals.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases. In one instance residents refused to vacate their land and took the government to court to contest the expropriation. The case was pending at year’s end.

The government continued harassment of the family of Assinapol Rwigara whose death, the family claimed, was a politically motivated killing by SSF members via an automobile accident in 2015. After Assinapol’s daughter, Diane, was disqualified from running in the 2017 presidential election, the government initiated criminal proceedings against the family for alleged nonpayment of taxes. In March, June, and October, authorities auctioned off assets belonging to the Rwigaras worth 2.2 billion Rwandan francs ($2.5 million) because of the alleged arrears.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government continued to monitor homes, movements, telephone calls, email, other private communications, and personal and institutional data. Government informants continued to work within international and local NGOs, religious organizations, media, and other social institutions.

The law requires police to obtain authorization from a state prosecutor prior to entering and searching citizens’ homes. According to human rights organizations, the SSF at times entered homes without obtaining the required authorization.

The penal code provides legal protection against unauthorized use of personal data by private entities, although officials did not enforce these provisions during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution, law, or both provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The updated penal code states it is illegal to demonstrate in a public place without prior authorization. Violation of this provision is punishable by a prison sentence of eight days to six months or a fine of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($575 to $1,150) or both. For illegal demonstrations deemed to have threatened security, public order, or health, the penalties are increased. Even with prior written authorization, public meetings were subject to disruption or arbitrary closure.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution provides for freedom of association, the government limited the right. The law requires private organizations to register. Although the government generally granted licenses, it impeded the formation of political parties, restricted political party activities, and delayed or denied registration to local and international NGOs seeking to work on human rights, media freedom, or political advocacy (see section 3). In addition the government imposed burdensome NGO registration and renewal requirements, especially on international NGOs, as well as time-consuming requirements for annual financial and activity reports (see section 5). On September 10, the government enacted legislation imposing additional registration requirements on faith-based organizations (FBOs). The law requires FBOs to obtain legal status from the government before beginning operations. It also calls for legal representatives of FBOs and preachers with supervisory responsibilities to hold academic degrees.

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 through free and fair elections based on universal and equal suffrage, but government restrictions on the formation of opposition parties and harassment of critics and political dissidents limited that ability. The law provides for voting by secret ballot in presidential and parliamentary–but not local–elections. The RPF and allied parties controlled the government and legislature, and RPF candidates dominated elections at all levels.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In September the government held parliamentary elections for all 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. Of those, 53 seats were filled through general voting on September 3. The remaining 27 seats were reserved for women, youth, and persons with disabilities and were allocated by special electoral colleges on September 2 and September 4. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) claimed that 6.6 million voters participated in the September 3 vote, which equated to a 93 percent turnout. According to the NEC, the RPF coalition won 74 percent of the vote and was awarded 40 of the 53 contested seats. The RPF-allied Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party claimed five and four seats, respectively. The DGPR and the PS-Imberakuri were awarded two seats each. Neither the DGPR nor PS-Imberakuri was represented in the previous parliament.

As had been the case in 2017 when the NEC announced that voters had re-elected President Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote, irregularities and instances of ballot stuffing undermined confidence in the integrity of the results. Observers were unable to effectively monitor the process of vote tabulation at polling stations and vote consolidation at the sector, district, and national levels due to inconsistent levels of access and transparency. Ballots were not numbered or adequately controlled and accounted for, either at the individual polling station, or at the sector, district, or national level. Observers noted that reported results in some polling rooms exceeded the number of voters observed throughout the day. Some independent aspirants experienced difficulties in obtaining the number of signatures required to register their candidacies ahead of the elections. For example, some independent candidates reported residents and local authorities attempted to prevent them from gathering signatures in certain areas. Four independent candidates managed to qualify for the ballot, but the compressed three-week campaign timeline and the prohibition on fundraising prior to the NEC’s certification of candidacies severely hampered their ability to compete against registered parties. Of the four independent candidates, none received enough votes to obtain a seat in the chamber.

In 2015 the government held a referendum on a set of constitutional amendments that would allow the president to run for up to three additional terms in office. The NEC reported 98 percent of registered voters participated, and 98 percent endorsed the amendments. The text of the amendments was not generally available to voters for review prior to the referendum, and political parties opposed to the amendments were not permitted to hold rallies or public meetings to express their opposition to the amendments.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system but provides few rights for parties and their candidates. There were some reports that youth attending mandatory “ingando” civic and military training camps received instruction on RPF principles and were pressured to join the RPF. There were also reports local authorities pressured citizens to join the RPF or donate to the party. Political parties allied to the RPF were largely able to operate freely, but members faced legal sanctions if found guilty of engaging in divisive acts, destabilizing national unity, threatening territorial integrity, or undermining national security. DGPR officials reported that local authorities harassed DGPR members and pressured them to quit the party. Some members of other opposition parties faced arbitrary detention and, in some cases, intimidation and physical abuse.

The DGPR was registered officially as a political party in 2013, after the government blocked its attempts to register in 2009 and 2010. DGPR president Frank Habineza unsuccessfully challenged President Kagame in the 2017 presidential election, the first election in which the DGPR participated. DGPR leaders reported that in the run-up to the September parliamentary election, government officials harassed many of the DGPR’s nominees and pressured them to abandon their candidacies. Once the official campaign season began, however, the DGPR was generally permitted to hold campaign events without interference.

The government no longer required, but strongly encouraged, all registered political parties to join the National Consultative Forum for Political Organizations. The forum sought to promote consensus among political parties and required member parties to support publicly policy positions developed through dialogue. At year’s end all 11 registered parties were members of the organization. Government officials praised it for promoting political unity, while critics argued it stifled political competition and public debate.

In accordance with the constitution, which states a majority party in the Chamber of Deputies may not fill more than 50 percent of cabinet positions, independents and members of other political parties allied with the RPF held key positions in government, including that of prime minister and foreign minister. As of September 14, the PS-Imberakuri and the DGPR were not represented in the cabinet.

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 conviction of corruption by officials and private persons transacting business with the government, which include imprisonment and fines. The law also provides for citizens who report requests for bribes by government officials to receive financial rewards when officials are prosecuted and convicted. While the government implemented anticorruption laws and encouraged citizens to report requests for bribes, corruption remained a problem.

Corruption: The government investigated and prosecuted reports of corruption among police and government officials. Police frequently conducted internal investigations of police corruption, including sting operations, and authorities punished offenders. For example, authorities fired the director and 23 other employees of the Rwanda Biomedical Center for acts of corruption including forgery and the issuance of illegal public tenders.

Investors reported that contract disputes with the government; late payments for services; pressure to renegotiate existing contracts; and arbitrary enforcement of tax, immigration, and investment rules hindered their ability to run and expand their businesses.

The National Public Prosecution Authority prosecuted civil servants, police, and other officials for fraud, petty corruption, awarding of public tenders illegally, and mismanagement of public assets. Under the Ministry of Justice, the authority is also responsible for prosecuting police abuse cases. The RNP Inspectorate of Services investigated cases of police misconduct. As of August 23, the RNP had dismissed 189 staff members, including 35 officers, for indiscipline, corruption, misconduct, and abuse of power. At a December consultative meeting on anticorruption efforts, the chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda praised the RNP’s policy of punishing and dismissing officers involved in corruption.

The government utilized a “bagging and tagging” system to aid companies with regional and international due diligence requirements related to conflict minerals. The government maintained a ban on the purchase or sale of undocumented minerals from neighboring countries. Observers and government officials reported smugglers trafficked an unknown amount of undocumented minerals through the country.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require annual reporting of income and assets by public officials as well as reporting them upon entering and leaving office. There is no requirement for public disclosure of those assets, except in cases where irregularities are discovered. The Office of the Ombudsman, which monitors and verifies disclosures, reported 99 percent of officials complied with the requirement. In cases of noncompliance, the Office of the Ombudsman has the power to garnish wages and impose administrative sanctions that often involved loss of position or prosecution.

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

Several domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and international groups also published reports on human rights abuses. The government was often intolerant of public reports of human rights violations and suspicious of local and international human rights observers, and it often impeded independent investigations and rejected criticism as biased and uninformed. Human rights NGOs expressed fear of the government, reported SSF monitoring of their activities, and self-censored their comments. NGOs, such as HRW, working on human rights and deemed to be critical of the government experienced difficulties securing or renewing required legal registration.

The government criticized HRW and other international human rights groups for being inaccurate and biased. In March a Ministry of Justice official stated the government would not renew its cooperation agreement with HRW unless the organization agreed to include the government’s statements regarding the country’s human rights situation in its reports. The official accused HRW of tarnishing the image of the country by fabricating unsubstantiated, politically motivated reports. As of September 12, the government had not renewed its lapsed memorandum of understanding with HRW, and HRW had no representatives operating in the country.

The government conducted surveillance on some international and domestic NGOs. Some NGOs expressed concern that intelligence agents infiltrated their organizations to gather information, influence leadership decisions, or create internal problems.

Individuals who contributed to international reports on human rights reported continued government harassment including short-term detention without charges, questioning, and threats of arrest and prosecution for the contents of their work.

Some domestic NGOs–including the Youth Association for Human Rights Promotion and Development and the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights–nominally focused on human rights abuses, but self-censorship limited their effectiveness. Most NGOs that focused on human rights, access to justice, and governance issues vetted their research and reports with the government and refrained from publishing their findings without government approval.

A progovernment NGO, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, managed and directed some NGOs through umbrella groups that theoretically aggregated NGOs working in particular thematic sectors. Many observers believed the government controlled some of the umbrella groups. Regulations required NGOs to participate in joint action and development forums at the district and sector levels, and local government had broad powers to regulate activities and bar organizations that did not comply.

NGOs reported the registration process remained difficult, in part because it required submission of a statement of objectives, plan of action, and detailed financial information for each district in which an NGO wished to operate. NGOs reported the government used the registration process to delay programming and pressure them into supporting government programs and policies.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with international organizations, but it criticized reports that portrayed it negatively as inaccurate and biased. In July the SPT announced it had formally cancelled its visit to the country. The SPT had already suspended its visit in October 2017 due to government-imposed obstructions, such as limiting access to places of detention. In a July 4 statement, the SPT stated there was no realistic prospect of the visit’s successful resumption and conclusion within a reasonable timeframe. In response the government issued a statement declaring the lack of cooperation allegations untrue, unfounded, and in bad faith.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, transferred its remaining genocide cases to a Tanzania-based branch of the MICT that continued to pursue genocide suspects. From 1994 through July, the tribunal completed proceedings against 80 individuals; of these, 61 were convicted, and 14 were acquitted. Two cases were dropped, and in the remaining three cases, the accused died before the tribunal rendered judgment. As of August 23, eight suspects remained fugitives. The government cooperated with the MICT, but it also expressed concern regarding the MICT’s practice of granting early release to convicts.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The adequately funded Office of the Ombudsman operated with the cooperation of executive agencies and took action on cases of corruption and other abuses, including human rights cases (see section 4).

The government funded and cooperated with the NCHR. According to many observers, the NCHR did not have adequate resources to investigate all reported violations and remained biased in favor of the government. Some victims of human rights violations did not report the violations to the NCHR because they perceived it as biased and feared retribution by the SSF.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women and spousal rape, and the government handled rape cases as a judicial priority. Penalties for conviction of rape range from 10 years’ to life imprisonment with fines of one to two million Rwandan francs ($1,150 to $2,300). Penalties for conviction of committing physical and sexual violence against one’s spouse range from three to five years’ imprisonment.

Domestic violence against women and children was common. For example, on August 4, hip-hop artist Jay Poly was arrested on charges of aggravated assault and battery after he struck his wife and broke three of her teeth. On August 24, he was sentenced to five months in prison.

Authorities encouraged reporting of domestic violence cases, although most incidents remained within the extended family and were not reported or prosecuted.

Police headquarters in Kigali had a hotline for domestic violence. Several other ministries also had free gender-based violence hotlines. Each of the 78 police stations nationwide had its own gender desk, an average of three officers trained in handling domestic violence and gender-based violence cases, and a public outreach program. The government operated 44 one-stop centers throughout the country, providing medical, psychological, legal, and police assistance at no cost to victims of domestic violence.

The government continued its whole-of-government, multi-stakeholder campaign against gender-based violence, child abuse, and other types of domestic violence. gender-based violence was a required training module for police and military at all levels and was included for all troops and police preparing for deployment to peacekeeping missions abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for penalties for conviction of six months’ to one year’s imprisonment and fines from 100,000 to 200,000 Rwandan francs ($115 to $230). The penalties are increased when the offender is an employer or other person of authority and the victim is a subordinate. Nevertheless, advocacy organizations reported sexual harassment remained common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion. There was one claim on social media of involuntary sterilization but it was found to be without merit.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and are entitled to the same rights as men, including under family, labor, nationality, and inheritance laws. The law allows women to inherit property from their fathers and husbands, and couples may make their own legal property arrangements. Women experienced some difficulties pursuing property claims due to lack of knowledge, procedural bias against women in inheritance matters, multiple spousal claims due to polygyny, and the threat of gender-based violence. The law requires equal pay for equal work and prohibits discrimination in hiring decisions. In a Transparency Rwanda study of gender-based corruption in workplaces, only 1 percent of participants reported gender-based discrimination as a factor in hiring decisions, whereas 75 percent of respondents indicated they were unaware of such discrimination or were unwilling to discuss it. The study’s authors concluded that gender-based corruption was underreported, in part because victims of discrimination fear losing their employment.

After the 1994 genocide that left many women as heads of households, women assumed a larger role in the formal sector, and many operated their own businesses. Nevertheless, men owned the major assets of most households, particularly those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, making bank credit inaccessible to many women and rendering it difficult to start or expand a business.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents. Children born to two Rwandan parents automatically receive citizenship. Children with one Rwandan parent must apply for citizenship before turning 18. Children born in the country to unknown or stateless parents automatically receive citizenship. Minor children adopted by Rwandans, irrespective of nationality or statelessness, automatically receive citizenship. Children retain their citizenship in the event of dissolution of the parents’ marriage. Births were registered at the sector level upon presentation of a medical birth certificate. There were no reports of unregistered births leading to denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The government’s 12-year basic education program includes tuition-free universal public education for six years of primary and six years of secondary education. Education through grade nine is compulsory. Parents were not required to pay tuition fees, but they often had to pay high education fees for teachers’ incentives and meal expenses, according to domestic observers.

Child Abuse: While statistics on child abuse were unreliable, such abuse was common within the family, in the village, and at school. As in previous years, the government conducted a high-profile public awareness campaign against gender-based violence and child abuse. The government supported a network of one-stop centers and hospital facilities that offered integrated police, legal, medical, and counseling services to victims of gender-based violence and child abuse. In partnership with UNICEF, the National Commission for Children (NCC) maintained a corps of 29,674 community-based “Friends of the Family” volunteers (two for each of the country’s 14,837 villages) to help address gender-based violence and child protection concerns at the village level.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 21. Anecdotal evidence suggested child marriage was more common in rural areas and refugee camps than in urban areas. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual relations with a child younger than age 18 constitutes child defilement for which conviction is punishable by 20 years to life in prison depending on the age of the victim.

The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, which are punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of 10 million to 15 million Rwandan francs ($11,500 to $17,240). Conviction statistics were not available. The 2018 Antitrafficking law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, conviction of which is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of 15 million to 20 million Rwandan francs ($17,240 to $23,000).

Child Soldiers: The government supported the Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center in Northern Province that provided care and social reintegration preparation for children who previously served in armed groups in the DRC (see section 2.d., Freedom of Movement).

Displaced Children: There were numerous street children throughout the country. Authorities gathered street children in district transit centers and placed them in rehabilitation centers. Conditions and practices varied at 29 privately run rehabilitation centers for street children.

UNHCR continued to accommodate in the Mahama refugee camp unaccompanied and separated minors who entered the country as part of an influx of more than 87,000 refugees from Burundi since 2015. Camp staff provided additional protection measures for them.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish community, consisting entirely of foreigners; 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 prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to public facilities, accommodations for taking national examinations, provision of medical care by the government, and monitoring of implementation by the NCHR. Despite a continuing campaign to create a barrier-free environment for persons with disabilities, accessibility remained a problem throughout the country, including in public buildings and public transport.

There were no legal restrictions or extra registration steps for citizens with disabilities to vote, and registration could be completed online. Braille ballots were available for the September parliamentary elections. Observers noted some polling stations remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities and that some election volunteers appeared untrained on how to assist voters with disabilities.

Many children with disabilities did not attend primary or secondary school. Those who attended generally did so with nondisabled peers. Few students with disabilities reached the university level because many primary and secondary schools were unable to accommodate their disabilities.

Some citizens viewed disability as a curse or punishment that could result in social exclusion and sometimes abandoned or hid children with disabilities from the community.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution provides for the eradication of ethnic, regional, and other divisions in society and the promotion of national unity. Longstanding tensions in the country culminated in the 1994 state-orchestrated genocide that killed between 750,000 and one million citizens, including approximately three-quarters of the Tutsi population. Following the killing of the president in 1994, an extremist interim government directed the Hutu-dominated national army, militia groups, and ordinary citizens to kill resident Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The genocide ended later in 1994 when the predominantly Tutsi RPF, operating from Uganda and northern Rwanda, defeated the national army and Hutu militias and established an RPF-led government of national unity that included members of eight political parties.

Since 1994 the government has called for national reconciliation and abolished the policies of the former government that created and deepened ethnic cleavages. The government removed all references to ethnicity in official discourse–with the exception of references to the genocide that is officially termed “the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi”–and eliminated ethnic quotas for education, training, and government employment.

Some individuals stated the government’s reconciliation policies and programs failed to recognize Hutu victims of the genocide or crimes committed by the RPF after the end of the genocide.

Indigenous People

After the genocide the government banned identity card references to Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa ethnicity and prohibited social or political organizations based on ethnic affiliation. As a result the Twa, who numbered approximately 34,000, lost their official designation as an ethnic group. The government no longer recognizes groups advocating specifically for Twa needs, and some Twa believed this government policy denied them their rights as an indigenous ethnic group.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care. Cabinet-level government officials expressed support for the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, but LGBTI persons reported societal discrimination and abuse, including challenges to officially registering NGOs.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The penal code provides for imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($575) or both for persons convicted of stigmatizing a sick person without the intention to protect the sick person or others. There were no reports of prosecutions under this statute. Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred, although such incidents remained rare. The government actively supported relevant public education campaigns, including establishing HIV/AIDS awareness clubs in secondary schools and making public pronouncements against stigmatization of those with the disease.

The penal code also provides stiffer penalties for conviction of rape and defilement in cases of transmission of an incurable illness. In most cases of sexual violence, the victim and alleged perpetrator both undergo HIV testing.

According to RDF policy and in keeping with UN guidelines, the military did not permit its members with HIV/AIDS to participate in peacekeeping missions abroad but allowed them to remain in the RDF.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

In August the government enacted a law regulating labor. The law provides for the right to form and join unions and employer associations, bargain collectively and strike, but it places severe restrictions on these rights. An employer may refuse a recognized union access to the workplace, and the union must appeal this to the labor court. A union must include a majority of workers in the enterprise. Labor disputes are mediated by local, then national labor inspectors before they may be referred to a court, which may refuse to hear the case. The law applies to all employees with contracts. The law applies to informal sector employees with regard to occupational health and safety and the right to form trade unions and employers’ associations, but it does not address strikes in the informal sector.

The law provides that ministerial orders define implementation of labor law in many respects; as of September 15, many orders had not been issued.

The law provides some workers the right to conduct strikes, subject to numerous restrictions. The law states that employees have the right to strike in compliance with the provisions of the law and that a strike is legal when the arbitration committee has allowed more than 15 working days to pass without issuing a decision, the conciliation resolution on collective dispute has not been implemented, or the court award has not been enforced. The law further states all strikes must be preceded by a notice of four working days. The law states that a strike or lockout must not interrupt the continuity of “essential services” as defined by the Ministry of Public Service and Labor. The ministry broadly defined essential services to include public transportation, security, education (during national exams), water and sanitation, and telecommunications, which severely restricted the right to strike in these fields.

There were 29 labor unions organized into three confederations: 15 unions represented by the Rwanda Confederation of Trade Unions (CESTRAR), seven by the Labor and Worker’s Brotherhood Congress (COTRAF), and seven by the National Council of Free Trade Union Organizations in Rwanda. All three federations ostensibly were independent, but CESTRAR had close links to the government and the ruling RPF party.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining generally were not respected. The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively and restricted these rights.

The government severely limited the right to collective bargaining, and legal mechanisms were inadequate to protect this right. Labor union officials commented that many private-sector businesses controlled by the RPF or the RDF were off limits to collective bargaining negotiations. The government also controlled collective bargaining with cooperatives and mandatory arbitration. No labor union had an established collective bargaining agreement with the government.

Collective bargaining occasionally was practiced in the private sector. For example, in 2015 an international tea exporter renewed its 2012 collective bargaining agreement with its employees. CESTRAR, COTRAF, and the Ministry of Labor participated in the negotiations.

There were neither registered strikes nor anecdotal reports of unlawful strikes during the year; the most recent recorded strike was by textile workers in 2013.

National elections for trade union representatives were last held in 2015. Trade union leaders stated the government interfered in the elections and pressured some candidates not to run.

There were no functioning labor courts or other formal mechanisms to resolve antiunion discrimination complaints, and COTRAF reported it could take four to five years for labor disputes to be resolved through the civil courts. According to several trade unions, employers in small companies frequently used transfers, demotions, and dismissals to intimidate union members.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and states it is unlawful to permit the imposition of forced labor. The government generally enforced the law. In 2014 the government issued a national trafficking in persons action plan that included programs to address forced labor; the government continued to update the plan during the year. In September the government enacted an updated law to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons. The 2018 Antitrafficking law prescribes penalties for conviction of imprisonment or fines. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and were commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Child trafficking convictions are subject to life imprisonment and a fine of 15 to 20 million Rwandan francs ($17,240 to $23,000). Conviction for subjecting a person to forced labor is punishable by at least five years in prison and a fine of not less than five million Rwandan francs ($5,750), with the penalties being higher if the victim is a child or a vulnerable person. Statistics on the number of victims removed from forced labor were not available. No reports indicate that forced labor by adults is a significant problem in the country.

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 full-time employment is 16, but children ages 13 to 15 are allowed to perform light work in the context of an apprenticeship. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from participating in physically harmful work, including work underground, under water, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; work that exposes the child to unsafe temperatures or noise levels; and work for long hours or during the night. A 2010 Ministry of Labor ministerial order determines the nature of other prohibited forms of work for a child.

In addition to national law, some districts enforced local regulations against hazardous child labor and sanctioned employers and parents for violations. Police, immigration officials, local government officials, and labor inspectors received training on identifying victims of trafficking.

The NCC took the lead role in designating responsible agencies and establishing actions to be taken, timelines, and other concrete measures in relation to the integrated child rights policy and various national commissions, plans, and policies related to child protection subsumed therein. At the local level, 149 child-labor committees monitored incidents of child labor, and each district was required to establish a steering committee to combat child labor. At the village level, 320 child-labor focal point volunteers were supported by 10 national protection officers appointed by the NCC and 48 social workers.

The Ministry of Labor conducted labor inspections of sectors of the economy known to employ children, focusing on domestic work and the agriculture sector. The RNP operated a child protection unit. District government officials, as part of their performance contracts, enforced child-labor reduction and school attendance benchmarks. Observers noted considerable political will to address child labor but also that the government remained sensitive to public attention regarding the extent of child labor in the country. For example, the government continued to refuse to “validate” a 2015 NGO report on the prevalence of child labor in the tea sector.

The government worked with NGOs to raise awareness of the problem and to identify and send to school or vocational training children involved in child labor. As of August 2, private-sector businesses had not responded to the Ministry of Labor’s invitation to sign a memorandum of understanding committing them to eradicate child labor. The government’s 12-year basic education program aided in reducing the incidence of child labor, although many children who worked also attended school because classes were held in alternating morning or afternoon shifts. The government fined those who illegally employed children or parents who sent their children to work instead of school.

The government did not enforce the law effectively. The number of inspectors was inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The majority of child laborers worked in the agricultural sector and as household domestics. Child labor also existed in isolated instances in small companies and light manufacturing, in cross-border transportation, construction, and mining industries. Children received low wages, and abuse was common. In addition forced labor and child sex trafficking were problems.

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 based on ethnic origin, family or ancestry, clan, race, sex, region, religion, culture, language, and physical or mental disability, as well as any other form of discrimination. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work.

The government did not consistently enforce antidiscrimination laws, and there were numerous reports of discrimination based on gender, disability, and ethnic origin. Migrant workers enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law states the Ministry of Labor may establish a minimum wage by ministerial order, but as of September 13, such an order had not been issued.

The law provides a standard workweek of 45 hours and 18 to 21 days’ paid annual leave, in addition to official holidays. The law provides employers with the right to determine daily rest periods. Most employees received a one-hour lunch break. The law states female employees who have given birth are entitled to a maternity leave of at least 12 consecutive weeks. The law states collective agreements must address the compensation rate for overtime.

The law states employers must provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees and visitors and that enterprises are to establish occupational safety and health committees. The law also states employees are not required to pay any cost in connection with measures aimed at ensuring occupational health and safety. Authorities conducted public awareness campaigns to inform workers of their rights and highlight employers’ obligation to register employees for social security and occupational health insurance and pay into those benefit systems. The law states the Ministry of Labor was to determine general occupational health and safety conditions by ministerial order, but as of September 13, such an order had not been issued.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor standards effectively. The government employs 35 labor inspectors, although the International Labor Organization recommends that a country with the size of Rwanda’s workforce employ roughly 156 inspectors. The many violations reported to labor unions compared to the few actions taken by the government and employers to remedy substandard working conditions suggested penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Families regularly supplemented their incomes by working in small businesses or subsistence agriculture in the informal sector, which included approximately 90 percent of all workers. Most workers in the formal sector worked six days per week. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common in both the formal and informal sectors. Local media highlighted the common problem of employers violating the law by not registering employees for social security or occupational health insurance and not paying into those benefit systems. Workers in the subcontractor and business process outsourcing sectors were especially vulnerable to hazardous or exploitative working conditions. Statistics on workplace fatalities and accidents were not available, but ministry officials singled out mining as a sector with significant problems in implementing occupational safety and health standards. There were no major industrial accidents during the year.

Workers did not have explicit rights to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their jobs. The Ministry of Labor maintained a list of dangerous professions subject to heightened safety scrutiny.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Council of Ministers, and National Assembly. In 2015 voters narrowly re-elected president James Michel of Parti Lepep in an election that international observers criticized for voter intimidation and vote buying. In 2016 President Michel resigned and appointed his vice president, Danny Faure, president of the republic, as provided for by the constitution. President Faure was the Parti Lepep vice-presidential candidate, and after assuming the presidency, he declared he would not run for the leadership of his party. In 2017, a year after he assumed office, Faure withdrew from Parti Lepep, marking the first time since independence that the head of state was not the head of a political party. Faure was serving the remaining four years of Michel’s mandate and had never run as a presidential candidate. In 2016 the opposition coalition Seychellois Democratic Union (SDU) won a majority of seats in legislative assembly elections, which international and domestic observers called fair but not free due to lack of credibility of the election management body. This was the SDU’s first majority since the establishment of a multiparty system, and since then the government has been in a state of “cohabitation.” In September the SDU tabled a motion calling on Faure to step down and make way for presidential elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violent prison conditions, ineffective government enforcement of regulations concerning domestic violence against women, and forced labor.

The government took steps to 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 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

Prison conditions worsened during the year with a high level of inmate indiscipline and life-threatening violence. Compared with previous years, the main prison at Montagne Posee was less crowded.

A high-level committee on prison reform and rehabilitation, formed in 2017 and chaired by the vice president and the speaker of the National Assembly, did not meet during the year.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in Montagne Posee Prison significantly lessened during the year. In 2016 amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis, which reduced the prison’s population; the reduction continued during the year. A work release program that allowed prisoners to work during the day either with a stevedoring company at the port or landscaping in the streets of the capital, then return to prison at night, continued. Several therapy programs including the use of dogs and boxing classes were introduced during the year. On September 28, the Seychelles Nation newspaper reported on a meeting between prison authorities and religious groups for better engagement in prison by the groups.

There were reports that the level of inmate indiscipline worsened, with rampant use of heroin. Violence among inmates increased with two recorded cases of death from inmate fighting. For example, on August 21, Seychelles Nation reported that inmate Roy Philoe died from stabbing by another inmate at Montagne Posee Prison. There were four deaths in prison reported during the year, two from inmate on inmate violence and two from drug-related causes. Prisoners continued to extort money from family members of fellow inmates who pretended their lives were in danger. Inmate use of mobile phones was common despite authorities’ use of jammers at Montagne Posee Prison.

A separate holding facility for pretrial male detainees opened on Bois de Rose Avenue at the former Coast Guard base. Female pretrial detainees continued to be held at Montagne Posee Prison with convicted female prisoners. Juvenile pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together with adult prisoners.

Administration: An ombudsman may make recommendations to the National Assembly and the president to improve conditions for prisoners and detainees but had no authority to enforce such recommendations. Although the ombudsman is required to issue an annual report on inmate complaints and on investigations into human rights abuses and corruption, the ombudsman did not do so during the year. National Human Rights Commission statistics on prisoner complaints to the commission were not available at year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited Montagne Posee Prison during the year. Several religious groups also visited the prison and the pretrial facility; however, visits to the Coetivy Island prison remained difficult, due to distance and cost.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The president maintained effective control over the security apparatus. This includes the Seychelles People’s Defense Forces (SPDF), Presidential Protection Unit, Coast Guard, and police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The police commissioner, who reports directly to the minister for home affairs, commands the unarmed police, the armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, which together have primary responsibility for internal security. When necessary, the SPDF assisted police on matters of internal security.

Security forces were effective.

Authorities rarely used the enquiry board (a police complaint office) but instead established independent inquiry commissions to examine security force abuses. Private attorneys generally filed complaints with police or published them in the Today in Seychellesnewspaper or in opposition party newspapers, such as Seychelles Weekly and Le Seychellois Hebdo. For example, on August 27, Today in Seychelles reported that police launched an inquiry into the lack of action by two police officers who did nothing to prevent a man being assaulted and tased by private security officers in a break-in at a store in Mont Fleuri. Although respect for human rights was included as a core precept in police training, the course was skeletal and did not comprehensively cover human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants, except for persons arrested under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which allows police officers to arrest and detain persons without a warrant. The law provides for detention without criminal charge for up to 14 days if authorized by court order. Persons arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, with allowance made for travel from distant islands. Police generally respected this requirement. Authorities generally notified detainees of the charges against them and generally granted family members prompt access to them. Detainees have the right to legal counsel, and indigents generally received free counsel on all cases, including felony. Courts allowed bail in most cases.

Pretrial Detention: The constitution provides that remand (pretrial) prisoners be released after six months of detention if their cases have not been heard, but prolonged pretrial detention was frequently a problem. Prisoners sometimes waited more than three years for trial or sentencing due to case backlogs. Pretrial detainees made up approximately 16 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were reports of improved court processes with both civil and criminal cases expedited quicker than in previous years. Case backlogs also were reduced during the year.

Supreme Court, Appeals Court, and magistrate court justices were mostly Seychellois by birth, with a few either naturalized Seychellois or citizens of other Commonwealth countries. Judges were generally impartial. Special tribunals were investigating two Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, and Justice Durai Karunakaran. In October a tribunal of inquiry composed of three Commonwealth jurists exonerated Chief Justice Twomey. Complaints against the chief justice were brought by Judge Durai Karunakaran, a senior member of the bench in Seychelles, stemming from Karunakaran’s prior suspension. There were several unconfirmed reports that Chief Justice Twomey was selectively strict with certain attorneys and certain cases. At least two lawyers reported the chief justice to the Constitutional Appointments Authority, the authority that appoints judges. Results of a 2016 case, whereby Supreme Court Justice Karunakaran, a naturalized citizen, was reported to the Constitutional Appointments Authority at the request of the chief justice and investigated for malpractice, were made not made public at year’s end.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be present at their trials and to appeal. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the first court appearance through all appeals. Only cases involving charges of murder or treason use juries. The constitution makes provision for defendants to present evidence and witnesses and to cross-examine witnesses in court. The law provides the right of defendants to consult with an attorney of choice or to have one provided at public expense in a timely manner and to be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right not to confess guilt, not to testify, nor to enter a plea. 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. A commission established in 2017 to investigate claims of forced land acquisitions since the 1977 military takeover and to settle all claims did not meet during the year. On March 29, the Seychelles News Agency reported that President Faure publicly apologized to the Jeannie family for the death of Berard Jeannie, a police officer killed on the day of the 1977 coup. Individuals may also appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There were several public demonstrations and marches during the year.

The Public Assembly Act published in 2015 requires organizers of gatherings of 10 or more persons to inform the police commissioner five working days prior to the date proposed for the planned gathering. For example, a public protest against the building of a military facility on Assomption Island to coincide with National Day celebrations on June 29 was called off due to lack of the required notification time. Several other protests against the proposed facility, however, were allowed to continue. The police commissioner may impose conditions or deny the right to assemble on security, morality, and public safety grounds. Authorities did not restrict the holding of lawful public opposition gatherings.

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 periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 President Michel was re-elected to a third term by 193 votes in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff election. Neither Michel nor runner-up Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition alliance Seychelles National Party, received the required 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first electoral round. International observers from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union criticized voter intimidation and vote buying by the ruling party, indicating they had determined that the elections were neither free nor fair.

The opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn the elections based on election irregularities, including vote buying. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that, although there were irregularities, they were not significant enough to overturn the elections.

The country held National Assembly elections in 2016. An opposition alliance composed of the Seychelles National Party, the Lalyans Seselwa Party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, and supporters of independent presidential candidate Phillipe Boulle, won 15 seats in the 33-seat assembly, while Parti Lepep won 10 seats. The remaining seats were allocated on a proportional basis, with the alliance and Parti Lepep each receiving four additional seats. International and domestic observers qualified the election as transparent, fair, and peaceful but refrained from calling it free due to the lack of credibility of the election management body, the Seychelles Electoral Commission. On August 10, a new five-member Electoral Commission was sworn in.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Parti Lepep assumed power in a 1977 coup and continued to dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. Opposition parties claimed they operated under restrictions and were subjected to outside interference. Some opposition party members claimed they lost their government jobs because of their political affiliation and were at a disadvantage when applying for government licenses and loans.

In 2016, on the first day of the National Assembly session, President Michel announced his resignation, passing the presidency to Vice President Danny Faure of Parti Lepep, effective the following month. President Faure opted for a consultative approach with the opposition, the legislature, and the executive, in order to collaborate on the most important national subjects. In 2017 the National Assembly amended the constitution and removed the clause that permitted the passing of the presidency to a vice president to serve the rest of the mandate of his predecessor. The amendment provides for elections three months after the resignation or death of a president.

On July 13, Seychelles Nation reported the creation of seven regional councils following a bipartisan arrangement between the ruling Parti Lepep and the majority Linyon Demokratik Seselwa. The regional councils had been criticized by civil society groups, the Electoral Commission, and the Interfaith Council as unlawful. No case was taken to court to challenge the legitimacy of the councils and they continued to operate.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws or practices prevent women from fully engaging in politics, and women do participate in the political process. Following the 2016 National Assembly elections, women held seven of 33 seats, compared with 14 seats in the previous assembly. Women held five of 14 ministerial positions in the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption. An act of parliament in 2016 established an Anti-Corruption Commission.

Corruption: There was one prosecution during the year. An officer of the Anti-Corruption Commission was charged with corruption for blackmailing and trying to extort money from a former minister who was being investigated for using his office to accumulate state land in his own name. The case continued at years’ end.

Financial Disclosure: In addition to an existing law requiring senior public servants and board members of government agencies and parastatals to declare their assets in a sealed envelope deposited in the Seychelles Central Bank’s vault, a law passed during the year also requires government ministers and members of the National Assembly to declare their assets. The declaration of assets may be made public if a legal challenge is filed. The law requiring ministers and members of the National Assembly to declare their assets was not always enforced. In the past there were instances where a case protesting nondeclaration could have been filed, but the law was never applied.

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

Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of international and local NGOs. The Office of the Vice President has the responsibility to engage with NGOs. The government consulted NGOs on most issues of national concern and appointments to boards of national organizations and agencies. An umbrella organization grouping various NGOs, Citizens Engagement Platform (CEPS), is the focal point for all NGO activities and receives funding from the government for projects and general operations, and the government regularly consulted it regarding the introduction of new legislation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission was not active during the year. On August 10, the National Assembly passed a new Seychelles Human Rights Commission Act creating a five-member commission. Compared with previous years the new commission was expected to operate more independently of the Ombudsman’s office. The commission generally operated without government or party interference, but lacked adequate resources and was rarely sought out due to public perception that it was inefficient and aligned with the government.

On September 7, the National Assembly passed a Truth, Reconciliation, and Unity Act setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission is charged with looking into cases of killings, disappearances, forced exile, and forced acquisition of land and property after the 1977 coup.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, spousal rape, and domestic abuse are criminal offenses for which conviction is punishable by a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape was a problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Most victims did not report rape due to fear of reprisal or social stigma.

Domestic violence against women was a widespread problem. Police rarely responded to domestic disputes, although media continued to draw attention to the problem. Police maintained a specialized unit, the Family Squad, to address domestic violence and other family problems.

The Social Affairs Division of the Ministry of Family Affairs and NGOs provided counseling services to victims of rape and domestic violence. The ministry’s Gender Secretariat conducted outreach campaigns to end gender-based violence. On November 9, the first shelter for victims of gender-based violence opened and was operated by CEPS.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but enforcement was rare. The penal code provides no penalty for sexual harassment, although the court may order a person accused of such conduct to “keep a bond of peace,” which allows the court to assess a fine if the harasser fails to cease the harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although society is largely matriarchal, the law provides for the same legal status and rights for men as for women, including equal treatment under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While unwed mothers were the societal norm, the law requires fathers to support their children financially. The Employment Act, as amended in 2015, provides fathers with five days of paid paternity leave upon the birth of a child.

There was no officially sanctioned economic discrimination against women in employment, access to credit, equal pay for equal work, or owning or managing a business. Women were well represented in both the public and private sectors. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or from parents, and births were generally registered immediately.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits physical abuse of children, child abuse was a problem. Physical abuse of children was prevalent. The strongest public advocate for young victims was a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children. A December 2017 amendment to the Education Act prohibits corporal punishment in schools.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 15 years for girls with parental consent. The legal age for a girl to get married without parental consent is 18. Boys may legally marry at 18, and the law does not provide for parental consent before that age. Child marriage was not a significant problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code, the Children’s Act, and other laws criminalize the prostitution and sexual exploitation of children and specifically prohibit the procurement, recruitment, or exploitation of children younger than age 18 for the purpose of prostitution. The law also prohibits the detention of any child against his or her will with the intent to engage the child in sexual conduct. The law provides for a sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment for a first conviction of sexual assault on a person younger than age 15 and 28 years’ imprisonment for a second conviction, but the presiding judge may reduce these sentences.

The 2014 Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 800,000 Seychellois rupees ($59,000) for a child trafficking conviction. There were previous credible reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children. No cases of child pornography, which is illegal, were reported during the year.

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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered fewer than 10 persons. 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

Although the constitution and law provide for the right of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities to special protection, including reasonable provisions for improving quality of life, no laws provide for access to public buildings, transportation, or government services, and the government does not provide such services. Unlike in previous years, employed persons with disabilities were paid their salaries in full. Most children with disabilities were segregated in specialized schools. The National Council for the Disabled, a government agency under the Ministry of Family Affairs, developed work placement programs for persons with disabilities, although few employment opportunities existed.

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

In 2016 consensual same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalized. There were few reports of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons although activists claimed that discrimination and stigma was common.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Unlike in previous years, foreign citizens marrying a Seychellois were no longer required to undergo an HIV test. An independent National AIDS Council oversees all laws, policies, and programs related to HIV and AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, excluding police, military, prison, and firefighting personnel, to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law confers on the registrar discretionary powers to refuse registration of unions. A new union, the Labor Union, was formed in 2017. Strikes are illegal unless arbitration procedures are first exhausted. Legislation requires that two-thirds of union members vote for a strike in a meeting specifically called to discuss the strike, and provides the government with the right to call for a 60-day cooling-off period before a strike starts. The law provides for the minister responsible for employment to declare a strike unlawful if its continuance would endanger “public order or the national economy.” Anyone found guilty of calling for an illegal strike may be fined 5,000 rupees ($368) and imprisoned for up to six months.

Between 15 percent and 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It does not specifically state the rights of foreign or migrant workers to join a union. The government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sectors. The law also imposes compulsory arbitration in all cases where negotiating parties do not reach an agreement through collective bargaining. In the Seychelles International Trade Zone (SITZ), the country’s export processing zone, the government did not require adherence to all labor, property, tax, business, or immigration laws. The Seychelles Trade Zone Act supersedes many legal provisions of the labor, property, tax, business, and immigration laws. The Employment Tribunal handles employment disputes for private sector employees. The Public Services Appeals Board handles employment disputes for public sector employees, and the Financial Services Agency deals with employment disputes of workers in SITZ. The law authorizes the Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits, and workers frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the ministry or the employment tribunal.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were often inadequate to deter violations. Cases involving citizens were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals, while foreigners were often deported.

The government respected the right to participate in union activities and collective bargaining. The International Labor Organization continued to report insufficient protection against acts of interference and restrictions on collective bargaining. It urged the government to review provisions of the Industrial Relations Act concerning trade union registration and the right to strike. The law allows employers or their organizations to interfere by promoting the establishment of worker organizations under their control. Collective bargaining rarely occurred.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but government enforcement was ineffective. Penalties levied for violations included imprisonment of up to 14 years for conviction of committing this crime against an adult and up to 25 years’ imprisonment if committed against a child. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were also inadequate. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred in the fishing, agriculture, and construction sectors, where most of the country’s nearly 19,000 migrants worked. Two cases of forced labor were prosecuted under the Employment Act and two cases under the 2014 Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act. There were several reports by the Association of Rights Information and Democracy concerning cases of forced labor, appalling living conditions, and nonpayment of salaries.

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 worst forms of child labor and states the minimum age for employment is 15 years, “subject to exceptions for children who are employed part time in light work prescribed by law without harm to their health, morals, or education.” The law establishes a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work and defines what constitutes hazardous work. The law, however, fails to provide for children performing hazardous work to receive adequate training and does not protect the health and safety of these children in accordance with international standards.

The government generally enforced the laws, and the Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status effectively enforced child labor laws. The penalty for employing a child younger than age 15 is a fine of 6,000 rupees ($443), unless an exception applies, which was sufficient to deter violations. The ministry handled such cases but did not report any case requiring investigation during the year.

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 on the basis of race, sex, religion, gender, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not address age or color.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

Employment discrimination generally did not occur. Women received equal pay for equal work, as well as equal access to credit, business ownership, and management positions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set mandatory minimum wage rates for employees in both the private and public sectors. The Ministry of Finance, Trade, and Economic Planning set the minimum wage at 33.30 rupees ($ 2.45) per hour or 5,050 rupees ($372) per month for all workers. Employers, however, generally established wages through an individual agreement with the employee. According to a 2013 National Bureau of Statistics Seychelles/World Bank report, Poverty Profile of the Republic of the Seychelles, the monthly poverty income level was 3,945 rupees ($293) per adult (at an average 50-hour work week at the minimum wage, the monthly income would be 6,660 rupees ($491).

The legal maximum workweek varied from 45 to 55 hours, depending on the economic sector. Regulations entitled each full-time worker to a one-hour break per day and a minimum of 21 days of paid annual leave, including paid annual holidays. Regulations permitted overtime up to 60 additional hours per month. The law requires premium pay for overtime work.

The Ministry of Health sets comprehensive occupational health and safety regulations, which are up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law allows citizen workers to remove themselves from dangerous or unhealthy work situations, to report the employer to the Health and Safety Commission of the Department of Employment, and to seek compensation without jeopardizing their employment. The law provides for the protection of foreign workers.

The government generally supported these standards but did not effectively enforce them in all sectors. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties levied for violations included a fine of 10,000 rupees ($737) plus additional daily fines for noncompliance, as detailed in the Occupational Safety and Health Decree. These penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Health and the Department of Employment are responsible for visiting and inspecting worksites and workers’ accommodations. There were 13 safety and health inspectors in the country, an insufficient number to enforce compliance with health and safety laws.

Foreign workers, primarily employed in the construction and commercial fishing sectors, did not always enjoy the same legal protections as citizens. Companies in SITZ at times paid foreign workers lower wages, delayed payment of their salaries, forced them to work longer hours, and provided them with inadequate housing, resulting in substandard conditions.

There were 84 occupational accidents reported from January to December 2017. These accidents occurred most frequently in the accommodation and food services sector, hotel and restaurant, transport, and storage industries.

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