Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. On November 22, the country held presidential and legislative elections despite challenges due to growing insecurity and increasing numbers of internally displaced persons. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. On January 21, the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but members of the security forces and community-based defense groups committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and extremists; forced disappearance by the government and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by the government; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious acts of corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem.

The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks, targeted killings, kidnapping, attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines), burning of schools, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than one million persons.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news in an effort to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendments as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On July 29, the CSC issued a decision banning media coverage of political activities during the period from August 3 to October 30, the precampaign period prior to the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. Media coverage of any activity in support of a political party, candidate, or grouping of political parties or independents was banned. This decision drew criticism from media professionals, civil society organizations, and political leaders. They accused the CSC of supporting the president’s majority coalition, since the president and members of the government could continue their official government activities and be covered by the media. Critics noted that on the pretext of reviewing the status of the National Economic and Social Development Program, a presidential program, ministers toured regions using logistical and financial resources of the state. Following the adoption on August 25 of a new electoral law, the precampaign period was changed to October 1-30.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The CSC monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On January 7, unidentified individuals set the car of journalist Ladji Bama on fire, in front of his home in Ouagadougou. On November 10, in the period preceding the November 22 elections, Bama was the victim of another attack by an unidentified individual when a bullet hit the car he and two others were travelling in during their return trip from Dori (Sahel Region), where he had participated in a panel discussing electoral corruption. Bama, who had won awards for reporting on corruption, was one of the journalists who exposed the “fine coal” scandal in 2018 concerning an attempted fraudulent export to Canada of gold and of silver, disguised as coal residue.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, five activists on social media networks were sentenced to 12 to 36 months in prison for contempt of court, public insults, incitement to hatred towards magistrates, and violence. This judgment came after these activists were accused of having insulted, in Facebook posts, the chief prosecutor for warning government security forces regarding their alleged acts of torture inflicted against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the CSC and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.

On multiple occasions throughout the year, the government denied requests for permits to NGOs and civil society organizations who sought to organize demonstrations and rallies. The government stopped a planned rally by a coalition of civil society organizations and labor unions in March, invoking COVID-19 restrictions. On May 30, police used tear gas to disperse a protest march of nightclub workers advocating for the lifting of a COVID-19-related curfew in Bobo-Dioulasso. On August 8, police broke up an impromptu gathering in Ouagadougou calling for the return of former president Blaise Compaore.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

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

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs, from approximately 560,000 registered in December 2019 to almost 1.1 million as of December 2020 (see section 1.g.). According to The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with approximately 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. In July and August, the NGO Davycas, with WFP and UNICEF support, conducted a nutritional survey for the Ministry of Health in 11 communes of the country with a high concentration of IDPs. The survey showed that more than 535,500 children younger than age five suffered from global acute malnutrition, including 156,500 who suffered severe malnutrition.

On August 20, the government revised its humanitarian response plan for conflict-affected areas. The new plan, at a cost of 233 billion CFA francs ($424 million) is intended to help 2.9 million persons in identified areas for intervention. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection of affected civilians against abuses. The government promoted local integration of IDPs by offering limited assistance to host families.

Despite interventions from the government and NGOs, access to lodging, water, and food remained critical problems facing IDPs. Media reported that in the Centre-Nord Region, some IDPs used a former pigsty for shelter in the rainy season due to a lack of tents; before the rainy season, they had been sleeping outside. In an interview, the mayor of Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region) revealed that women could sometimes spend all day waiting in line at a local water point in vain. On August 27, IDPs in the Nord-Ouest Region demonstrated to denounce deficiencies in food distribution and the exclusion of some IDPs from government aid.

IDPs were highly vulnerable to attacks and human rights abuses. On October 4, unidentified armed individuals ambushed a convoy of IDPs in the Centre Nord Region, killing 25 men and later releasing the women and children. The IDPs had been returning to their homes from the town of Pissila, where they had hoped to find an improved security situation. The survivors received psychological support from a partner in the region of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

NGOs reported that IDP girls were particularly at risk for abuses. In a June report on girls in the Sahel Region, the NGO Plan International noted that early marriage, forced labor, and physical violence had multiplied in the conflict-affected area. Similarly, a May Oxfam report described women and girls exposed to daily rape, sexual harassment, and assault in fields and at water points; many, facing extreme poverty, were also vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

Oxfam also described corrupt practices in the registration of IDPs and the misappropriation of aid resources. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the precarious conditions of IDPs, with the WFP reporting a significant increase in household costs linked to the pandemic.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded more than 20,000 refugees as of October 31, the vast majority from Mali.

Recurrent terrorist attacks hampered access by humanitarian workers to deliver lifesaving supplies and assistance to refugees, as well as IDPs.

After almost eight years of relatively undisturbed existence, the Malian refugee camps in Mentao and Goudebou effectively closed down for periods during the year. Goudebou emptied after unidentified armed men attacked the camp on March 2, while refugees in Mentao left after government forces carried out a heavy-handed search operation on May 2 that led to serious injuries.

According to refugee accounts relayed by UNHCR, the March 2 attack occurred when unidentified gunmen entered Goudebou Camp to demand a particular refugee, who was not present. The attackers beat members of the refugee’s family, set fire to the gendarme post, and issued all the camp’s refugees a March 7 ultimatum to leave the camp or face death. As of December the camp stood empty, including the schools, health center, and water infrastructure.

The Mentao Camp effectively closed after government security forces entered the camp on May 2 in search of individuals who had attacked gendarmes, killing one, earlier that day. Alleging the assailants had passed through the camp and could still be there, government forces conducted a thorough search of each shelter. According to contacts, the forces separated men and women and severely beat many of the men. At least 32 refugees were injured, some seriously. Although the government told UNHCR there was no ultimatum forcing them to leave, the refugees fled to the town of Djibo. In a May 5 communique, the government promised to investigate the incident and offered to help find a new site to which the refugees could be relocated. On July 14, the government announced the relocation of the Mentao camp onto the site of the reopened Goudoubo camp, which it said had more space and better security measures.

In early April a dispute in a Sud-Ouest Region gold mine near Diebougou resulted in one death and the flight of more than one thousand Nigerien nationals from the mine site towards the towns of Kokologo and Sabou. They ‎sought their government’s consular assistance to be repatriated while the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs, aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis.

Durable Solutions: Following the March 2 incident in the Goudebou Camp, many refugees decided the situation was too precarious, and more than 5,000 registered with UNHCR for repatriation assistance. Most of them returned to Mali, although mid-March border closures related to COVID-19 prevented some returns.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In July the minister of defense responded to human rights groups’ allegations on behalf of the government, committing to investigate the numerous allegations; at year’s end there were no significant updates on such investigations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government approved the establishment of an office in Ouagadogou by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; as of year’s end, the office was not yet operational.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 President Kabore established the Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion, separating responsibilities from the Ministry of Justice, which had overseen human rights. During the year the Ministry of Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government also assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. Although inadequately funded, the commission produced a well documented report, released in June, on intercommunal violence and made recommendations to the government on responding to IDP population needs.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Professor Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected in the second round of presidential elections in 2016 for a five-year term. In February 2019 the government and 14 armed groups signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation. President Touadera appointed Firmin Ngrebada as prime minister. The first round of presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Violence by armed groups reportedly prevented 26 out of 68 subprefectures from voting, and interrupted the vote in an additional six subprefectures. Observers noted minor irregularities in voting locations. Election results were still pending at year’s end.

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve but remained weak. Members of the security forces committed some abuses. State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest by security forces; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators.

Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic, the Union for Peace, which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013. Although the 3R armed group is not a member of the ex-Seleka, they also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press. The government generally respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that the state-owned media favored the existing administration during the presidential election campaign.

In August police briefly detained a journalist from the Association of Journalists for Human Rights radio station while she was investigating irregularities in the issuing of the national identification card. Also in August Henri Grothe, a blogger who resided in France and regularly criticized CAR authorities on social media, was briefly arrested and his passport confiscated upon his arrival at Bangui M’poko international airport. Grothe was released without any charge.

The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

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

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events. The country’s sole university was open.

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

The government denied a number of requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui. In September the government denied the permit request made by the Civil Society Working Group (GTSC) to organize a ville morte (ghost city). The GTSC was demanding the arrest of Ali Darassa, UPC commander in chief, and the resignation of Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada. To deter individuals from participating in the demonstration, the government deployed interior security forces and the presidential guards in the streets. Some GTSC representatives were briefly arrested. On October 13, the youth movement known as “4500,” which intended to demonstrate in front of the office of the judicial police regarding an increase in the cost of a national identification card, was prevented by police from holding its sit-in in Bangui. Three members of the movement were arrested by police and released shortly thereafter.

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place.

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Armed groups and bandits made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, armed groups, and criminals alike frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of September there were an estimated 659,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Between August 2019 and August 2020, the number of IDPs increased by 8 percent, from 590,000 to 641,000. An estimated 67 percent of IDPs lived with host families, while 33 percent lived on IDP sites.

Humanitarian actors provided assistance to IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government allowed humanitarian organizations to provide services.

Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, often assumed to be associated with armed groups that IDPs encountered if they ventured outside of camps to search for food. Women and girls were particularly at risk of sexual violence on the sites and when venturing outside, such as to go to markets or for agricultural activities. In many affected areas, humanitarian assistance was limited to strictly life-saving interventions, due to limited access and insecurity. The presence of armed groups continued to delay or block planned humanitarian deliveries.

Humanitarian organizations remained concerned regarding evidence that members of armed groups continued to hide in IDP sites and attempted to carry out recruitment activities, putting at risk IDPs and humanitarian staff. Recent survey data indicated an estimated one-third of IDPs residing in IDP sites were concerned regarding their security. Of registered deaths in IDP households surveyed in the three months prior to the mid-year survey, 25 percent were linked to armed conflict.

Security concerns, related to criminality as well as armed group clashes resulting in violence, prevented aid organizations from operating in certain areas. For example, 17,000 IDPs in N’dele were without assistance after aid agencies temporarily suspended operations in May when security incidents in the wake of fighting between armed groups and attacks on civilians made it untenable to continue. Also in N’dele, an estimated 9,700 IDPs sought refuge at an IDP site near MINUSCA to escape fighting between armed groups in early March. By mid-March, however, the site had been emptied as a result of pressure from armed elements.

On February 6, armed individuals broke into the residences of International Committee of the Red Cross employees in Kaga-Bandoro. The attackers assaulted guards and stole material goods. On March 23, in N’dele, attackers broke into the premises of the international NGO War Child and stole computers and office equipment.

During the year two humanitarian workers were killed and 21 injured. There were 304 reported incidents affecting humanitarian workers, premises, and assets between January and September, a 39 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 abuses and violations of law. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In 2019 the commission collaborated with the Ministry of Justice, MINUSCA, and the African Union to draft the country’s National Human Rights Policy. In addition, the government was setting up the SCC’s victim and witness protection unit with MINUSCA’s assistance (see section 1.e.).

Chad

Executive Summary

Chad is a centralized republic in which the executive branch dominates the legislature and judiciary. In 2016 President Idriss Deby Itno, leader of the Patriotic Salvation Movement, was elected to a fifth term in an election that was neither free nor fair. During the 2011 legislative elections, the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. International observers deemed the elections legitimate and credible. Subsequent legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

The National Army of Chad, National Gendarmerie, Chadian National Police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and National Security Agency are responsible for internal security. A specialized gendarmerie unit, the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees, is responsible for security in refugee camps for both refugees and humanitarian workers. The National Army of Chad reports to the Ministry delegated to the Presidency in Charge of Armed Forces, Veterans, and War Victims. The national police, Chadian National Nomadic Guard, and Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees report to the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The National Security Agency reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces, and security force members committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government or on behalf of government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

There were reports that authorities took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, but impunity remained a problem.

Members of Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant terrorist group, killed numerous civilians and military personnel in attacks in the country, often using suicide bombers.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres–the only daily newspaper–and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned Chadian National Radio. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation. Local media reported that journalists faced regular arrest after publication, with most released fairly quickly, others held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles discussed impunity or criticized the president and his associates. Human rights defenders and journalists were also threatened, harassed, and intimidated by anonymous individuals.

On November 27, security forces broke up an interview with “citizen forum” organizers at the headquarters of radio station FM Liberte. Police used tear gas and detained approximately 70 attendees of an unrelated journalism training class for several hours. On December 1, independent radio stations organized a protest “day without radio.”

In September 2019 a court convicted Inoua Martin Doulguet, editor in chief of the newspaper Salam Info, of “criminal conspiracy, complicity, defamation, and insult” for an article concerning an alleged sexual assault by a former minister. On May 5, an appeals court acquitted him for procedural and substantive errors by the lower court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

On June 8, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting (HAMA) suspended newspaper Abba Garde for 12 months, alleging defamation, unprofessional conduct, false news, and ethical breaches. HAMA also banned its director Moussaye Avenir De la Tchire from working as a journalist for the same period. On June 9, the Convention of Private Press Entrepreneurs in Chad noted the HAMA suspension of Abba Garde and its director and stated there were no provisions under the law for a 12-month suspension for defamation or dissemination of false news, or the suspension of a journalist in the exercise of his profession for the same alleged offenses.

On August 27, the minister of communication, spokesperson for the government, visited the private television stations Electron TV and Alnassour TV and remarked private media remained privileged partners and must properly do their work of awareness raising, education, and entertainment. Observers considered this a warning to private media to avoid sensitive topics.

On September 7, HAMA suspended 12 newspapers for three months pursuant to the law requiring newspaper publishers and managing editors to possess a postgraduate degree in journalism. According to Reporters without Borders, the HAMA decision suspended approximately one-quarter of the country’s privately owned print media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation the government monitored private online communications, blocked sites, and arrested activists for postings on social media.

In July the government banned social media throughout the country and cut internet access outside N’Djamena. This followed an incident the same month at the Champ de Fil market, where a member of the presidential guard allegedly killed a motorcycle mechanic and was subsequently rescued from an angry crowd after receiving a severe beating. The incident sparked critical commentary on social media, including calls for ethnic violence. On August 8, the president stated the government disrupted social media to prevent interethnic violence; he did not explain the restrictions to internet access. On October 2, authorities ended these restrictions. Throughout this period social media users in N’Djamena could access apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp with the use of a virtual private network.

There were government restrictions on academic freedom. The government banned large gatherings–including cultural events–due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. Authorities routinely banned gatherings and arrested organizers, and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings.

Unlike in previous years, in January police peacefully escorted student protests for better conditions in university campuses.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the government banned meetings of more than 50 persons but selectively applied these restrictions to stifle political opposition.

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dropped in June, the government eased restrictions on communal prayer but requested worshippers respect social distancing and use face coverings.

In October the government held a 600-person national forum to solicit and debate potential constitutional changes. Security forces encircled the headquarters of several opposition parties and civil society organizations and the homes of some opposition politicians during the forum to intimidate those who either boycotted or were not invited to the forum.

In November authorities banned an alternative “citizens’ forum,” citing COVID-19 restrictions limiting mass gatherings. In November and December, authorities banned efforts by opposition parties to hold assemblies or marches, also citing COVID-19 restrictions.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the law was enforced. The law also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds. In late 2018 authorities modified the regulation on NGOs to exert greater control over development and humanitarian activities, requiring NGOs to contribute 1 percent of their budget to the “functioning of the structures of the Ministry of Planning.”

Authorities denied recognition to some opposition political groups (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation)

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government limited these rights.

In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In Lake Chad Province, attacks by Boko Haram and simultaneous government military operations constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to aid IDPs.

According to the International Organization for Migration, in August more than 360,000 persons were displaced in Lake Chad Province, more than one-half of the province’s population. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with an environmental crisis, the security situation continued to deteriorate, exacerbating humanitarian needs.

The government cooperated with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, and other persons of concern. The country hosted refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Nigeria, as well as IDPs, citizen returnees from CAR, and citizen returnees from the Lake Chad basin.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International observers reported numerous protection incidents in the Lake Chad area in February. According to international observers, these incidents included physical attacks, kidnappings, and homicides. Armed groups were suspected of a majority of the incidents, especially for cases of kidnapping and homicide.

Authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection. To overcome these problems, UNHCR enlisted a local NGO to support refugees through the judicial process. The Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for asylum or refugee status. The government, however, has established a system for the protection of refugees. In cooperation with UNHCR, the government continued a project to strengthen the civil registration system for the issuance of civil status certificates (birth, marriage, and death certificates) to tens of thousands of refugees born before 2013.

Access to Basic Services: Although local communities hosted tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees, antirefugee sentiment existed due to competition for local resources, such as wood, water, and grazing land. Refugees also received goods and services not available to the local population, and refugee children at times had better access to education and health services than those in the surrounding local populations. Many humanitarian organizations included host communities in their programming to mitigate this tension.

Durable Solutions: Authorities continued to resettle refugees, although fewer than in previous years. As durable solutions became more difficult to achieve, UNHCR explored helping refugees secure protection by receiving admission to third countries.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August a court approved a request by a former member of the CTDDH to suspend Mahamat Nour Ibedou from his position as head of the organization. In December a new CTDDH general assembly was installed despite protests by sitting members of procedural violations. Observers believed the former member lacked standing to bring the legal action, the new general assembly lacked legitimacy, and authorities supported these actions to lessen the stature and capability of the CTDDH to investigate human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights coordinated efforts by local and international NGOs to protect human rights. Local NGOs reported the ministry functioned independently but was of limited effectiveness.

In February the CNDH became operational. The commission’s mandate is to advise the government on human rights, conduct investigations, assess prison conditions, verify adequate protection against abuse and torture of prisoners, and provide recommendations to the government following investigations. Observers consider the CNDH to be substantially independent of the government and relatively effective.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands–Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali)–and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), that France administers. The March 2019 presidential elections were not free and fair, and international and domestic observers noted the election was marked by significant irregularities. The opposition did not recognize the results due to allegations of ballot stuffing, intimidation, and harassment. Observers considered the January legislative elections to be generally free and fair, although the opposition boycotted the elections and did not recognize the results.

The National Development Army and the Federal Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The National Development Army includes both the gendarmerie and the Comorian Defense Force. It reports to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The Federal Police report to the minister of interior. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees immigration and customs, reports to the minister of interior. The gendarmerie’s intervention platoon also may act under the authority of the interior minister. When the gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police and other security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws although not enforced; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; severe restrictions of religious freedom; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for human rights abuses was widespread. Although the government sometimes arrested or dismissed officials implicated in such abuses, they were rarely tried.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, with some limitations on press freedom.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals may not criticize the government or raise matters of public interest without restriction.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views, but not without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to violence or harassment by government authorities due to their reporting.

On January 11, authorities arrested prominent online radio journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama from online radio station Facebook FM and journalist Ali Mbae from the newspaper Masiwa Komor in Koimbani during a meeting organized by the opposition to boycott legislative elections. They were accused of disturbing the public order. Authorities released them the following day.

On January 30, the minister of information suspended National Television news director Binti Mhadjou and Editor in Chief Moinadjoumoi Papa Ali for covering a widespread strike by businesses against an increase in customs taxes. They returned to their duties on March 2.

On September 3, the gendarmerie arrested Oubeidillah Mchangama for allegedly spreading false information after he questioned the general prosecutor’s use of funds intended for a special court hearing. Authorities released Mchangama the next day pending trial.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some journalists practiced self-censorship. Following his release on September 4 (see immediately above), journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama could not hold public or private meetings, make statements to media, post messages on social networks, or depart the island of Grande Comore. On April 1, journalist Andjouza Abouheir reported in La Gazette des Comores that the country, which claimed to have no cases of COVID-19, had failed to send samples of six suspected cases for analysis. After a cabinet meeting the same day, government spokesperson Houmed Msaidie threatened to file complaints against journalists who published pieces on the health crisis “without going through official channels.” The directorate general of health also contacted Abouheir, demanding that he reveal his sources.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. Authorities did not enforce the law. The law also prohibits blasphemy, or the propagation of non-Islamic beliefs to Muslims. It was not enforced.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but in at least one case, the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).

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

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect the freedom of peaceful assembly.

The law provides for peaceful assembly, but the government often did not respect this right. In January the interior minister declared that since the opposition had decided to boycott legislative elections, it could not hold political meetings during electoral campaigns for those elections.

On July 6, the opposition held a celebration of the National Day in the village of Ntsudjini on Grande Comore, despite a ban from the prefect (mayor) prohibiting the celebration. In response the army surrounded the village, and some villagers threw stones at the army personnel. The army used tear gas and arrested several persons, including minors. Fearing arrest, opposition leader Mouigni Baraka Said Soilihi fled the village and departed the region.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, and the government generally respected these rights. No specific constitutional or legal provisions deal with emigration and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Following his release on September 4 pending trial, journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama could not depart the island of Grande Comore (see section 2.a., Censorship or Content Restrictions).

Not applicable.

The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner (UNHCR) for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

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

The laws do not protect persons born in the country to unknown or stateless parents from becoming stateless.

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

A few domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Domestic NGOs largely supplanted government ministries on human rights topics. By law the governmental National Commission for Human Rights and Liberties is mandated to investigate human rights abuses and to make recommendations to concerned authorities. It was independent but lacked effectiveness.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. Djibouti has a multiparty political system in which parties must be registered and recognized by the ruling authorities. President Ismail Omar Guelleh has served as president since 1999. In 2016 he was re-elected for a fourth term. International observers from the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and Arab League characterized the election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted restrictive voter registration laws, voter intimidation, inadequate ballot security, and lack of opposition observers. Most opposition groups did not characterize the elections as free and fair. Legislative elections were held in 2018 but were boycotted by most opposition parties, which stated the government failed to honor a 2015 agreement to install an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by opposition leaders. Political power is shared by Djibouti’s two largest ethnic groups, the Somali-Issas and Afars.

The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as the international airport. The leadership of both entities reports to the minister of interior. The National Service of Documentation and Security operates as a law enforcement and intelligence agency. It reports directly to the Presidency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings including extrajudicial killings; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and the worst forms of child labor committed throughout the country.

Impunity was a problem. The government seldom took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services, or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.

For example, on March 18, Houssein Gannito, an independent blogger from the northern region of Obock, posted messages criticizing the government. He was arrested and released without charge three days later. In June police detained Mohamed Ibrahim Wais, Kassim Nouh Abar, and Charmake Said Darar for reporting on the case of Lieutenant Fouad on the streaming platform Voice of Djibouti.

On August 16, the gendarmerie arrested Corporal Abdi Ibrahim Ougas after he posted a viral video message complaining that he had not received a paycheck for three months. The gendarmerie searched his house, and he was later released without charge.

On February 23, Abdillahi Osman Samrieh was arrested for his connection with an online streaming platform, Radio Boukao.

On April 23, 10 youths from the Obock region were arrested after communicating with Radio Boukao. They were released a week later.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

The National Communications Commission, under the Ministry of Communication, issues licenses to private citizens and political parties wishing to operate media outlets and social media accounts in the country. This procedure discourages the freedom of expression on social media. In 2019 the Facebook page Djib-Live, which provides news, commentary, and entertainment, was the first private entity in the country to receive a license. The private entertainment Facebook page Buuti.tv also received a license in 2019. In 2018 the privately owned weekly journal Le Renard applied for a license but was rejected. Le Renard appealed the decision, but in July the courts rejected the appeal. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and Al Jazeera, are not required to obtain a domestic license. They register directly with the Ministry of Communication.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists. During the year several citizen journalists were arrested for posting pictures of protests or comments against the government (see section 1.d.). Many of them were apprehended for illegal reporting on social media or through online streaming platforms such as Radio Boukao and Sahan TV.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: In May the Djiboutian Journalists’ Association celebrated World Press Freedom Day by organizing an award for journalism. The prize was awarded to a journalist from the state-owned radio and television station.

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. The government required that independent news and entertainment platforms receive a special license from the Ministry of Communication. This procedure discouraged freedom of expression on social media. The country’s law does not give law enforcement the legal authority to monitor social media.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and independent streaming platform Voice of Djibouti, which criticized the government.

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Civil society groups alleged several high-ranking officials occasionally cancelled academic conferences that might portray the government unfavorably.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Opposition members alleged security forces routinely cancelled or disrupted meetings and other political events.

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The opposition political party RADDE submitted an official request to hold a peaceful demonstration on April 16 to protest soaring food staple prices. The Ministry of Interior rejected the request citing the need to avoid public disorder.

In March women in Balbala, a poor district on the outskirts of Djibouti City, demonstrated to protest inadequate food distribution. They were arrested, detained for one week, and released without charge.

On June 4 and 5, protests erupted in Djibouti City and in the Ali-Sabieh Region after Lieutenant Fouad released videos describing his harsh detention conditions. More than 100 demonstrators were detained, and some were charged with vandalism and the destruction of private property.

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

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

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

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in northern Djibouti remained under military control. Travel was prohibited between prefectures during the COVID-19 lockdown period as a pandemic control measure.

Foreign Travel: Citizens, including opposition members, reported immigration officials refused to renew their passports. The airport was closed to commercial passenger flights for four months as a pandemic control measure.

For the third consecutive year, opposition leader Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, secretary general of the Movement for Democracy and Liberty (MoDeL) opposition party, claimed the government withheld his passport.

Not applicable.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. The National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) and UNHCR issued identification cards to Yemeni refugees. The National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer. Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers reported discrimination in the refugee status determination process.

The government reconfigured the NEC and held monthly meetings in accordance with the law; however, the strict confinement measures during COVID-19 halted NEC activities in refugee villages. Nearly 10,000 persons were awaiting refugee status determination.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Many, especially in the Yemeni refugee community, worked in restaurants, as daily manual laborers, fishers, and street vendors. By law documented refugees may work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, childcare, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.

In conjunction with the Ministry of National Education and UNHCR, the government supported vocational training for refugees. Implementation of the UNHCR Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework was stalled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often temporarily jailed economic migrants, primarily from Ethiopia, attempting to transit the country, on the way to Gulf countries via Yemen, before deporting them. The government worked with the International Organization for Migration to provide health services to those migrants deemed “vulnerable” while they awaited deportation or voluntary return. The minister of health stationed two doctors in the country (one in the north and one in the south) specifically to support migrants. The Coast Guard operated a migrant transit center in Khor Angar that functioned as a first response center for migrants stranded at sea.

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

The government generally allowed a few domestic human rights groups that dealt with matters authorities did not consider politically sensitive to operate without restriction, conducting limited investigations and sometimes publishing findings on human rights cases. Government officials occasionally were responsive to their views. Government-sanctioned human rights groups regularly cooperated with local associations offering training and education to citizens on human rights issues such as migrant rights and human trafficking. Many of these associations had leaders who were also key officials of the government. Local human rights groups that covered politically sensitive matters could not, however, operate freely and were often targets of government harassment and intimidation.

Eight years after a group of civil servants from various ministries created the Djiboutian Observatory for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (ODDH), the Ministry of Interior had not granted the group formal status by year’s end. Due to government pressure, the president of ODDH was fired from his job as a public school teacher in 2018. Additionally, the leader of the Djibouti Human Rights League reported harassment targeting him and his family.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s human rights organization CNDH was formed to serve as a watchdog for human rights abuses. It includes technical experts, representatives of civil society and labor unions, religious groups, the legal community, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Assembly. By law the commission is a permanent institution with staff and regional offices. The commission, in collaboration with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Better Migration Management, opened an office in the region to raise human rights issues in partnership with the regional leaders. Staff were trained and assigned to regional facilities. The CNDH has limited independence as its reports are vetted by the government prior to being published. It last produced an annual report in 2017.

A government ombudsman holds responsibilities that include mediation between the government and citizens on issues such as land titles, issuance of national identity cards, and claims for unpaid wages. Written records of the ombudsman’s activities were sparse, and it was unclear what actions he took during the year to promote human rights.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. A constitution, although drafted in 1997, was never implemented. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since an independence referendum in 1993.

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, reserves, demobilized soldiers, or civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the national security service, a separate agency which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over most security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

The country experienced significant adverse changes in its human rights situation after, according to credible reports, it intervened in the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia, that began in November. There are credible reports of Eritrean soldiers engaging in unlawful and arbitrary killings in Tigray. There are also reports of Eritrean soldiers engaging in forced disappearance and forced repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Tigray.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful and arbitrary killings, forced disappearance; torture; and arbitrary detention, all committed by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression and the press, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; widespread restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not generally take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for such abuses was the norm.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

On May 6, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 16 journalists in detention.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency, but access to free Egyptian satellite television was common. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. Most independent journalists were in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation, and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine. It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

Internet Freedom

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants were reported to frequent internet cafes, prior to their closure as an anti-COVID-19 measure. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing opposition sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

In February a media report described the deployment of a 30-member intelligence unit to monitor internet activities. The report also claimed that an unspecified number of technology experts and cyber cafe owners arrested in 2019 on accusations of disseminating material from the diaspora and supporting an opposition group in exile remained in detention.

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students also had to complete a four-month military training program at Sawa to be allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers. All cultural centers, cinemas, and libraries were closed, however, in April as a COVID-19 countermeasure.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities investigated and interfered with large gatherings lacking prior approval, with the exception of gatherings of government-affiliated organizations that were social in nature, or of religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.

The law provides citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies their conduct must be open and transparent and that they must be guided by principles of national unity and democracy. The government did not respect freedom of association. It prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and other resources from, or to associate with, foreign and international organizations.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights.

In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at checkpoints.

Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) outside of Asmara. During the year, however, the government on many occasions approved requests with fewer than 10 days’ advance notice.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, sometimes including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. The government often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military or national service duties or for arbitrary or unstated reasons. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children older than age five. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men younger than 40, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30. Authorities were more likely to approve exit visas for married women and those with children. All land borders remained closed, preventing legal overland travel.

Exile: In general, citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the two percent tax on foreign earned income to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be eligible for some future government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this requirement inconsistently.

Not applicable.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government did not cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regarding treatment of refugees inside the country. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The government continued downsizing the Umkulu Refugee Camp. Of the more than 2,100 refugees housed at the camp in 2018, only 80 remained in the country as of October. Most of those who left have relocated to refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not recognize Ethiopians, Sudanese, or South Sudanese as refugees, instead considering them economic migrants. The government, however, allowed these refugees to remain in the country.

Employment: Refugees were not granted formal work permits, but some worked informally.

Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.

Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits.

Durable Solutions: Although the government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them residency permits that gave them access to government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.

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

International civil society organizations focused on human rights were generally not able to operate in the country. The government generally did not cooperate with such groups or with investigations into human rights abuses. No local human rights NGOs operated in the country (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The government permitted the ICRC to operate but limited its operations to supporting Ethiopian repatriation and vulnerable Ethiopian residents; implementing assistance projects (water, agriculture, and livestock) for persons living in regions affected by conflict; disseminating information on international humanitarian law to students and government officials; and connecting separated family members living abroad to their family members in the country through the country’s Red Cross. Authorities did not permit the ICRC to visit prisons or detention centers. As a result, in September the ICRC downsized its office, removing all international staff.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not permit visits by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea and remained opposed to cooperating with her mandate.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controlled the government until December 2019 when the coalition dissolved and was replaced by the Prosperity Party. In the 2015 general elections, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front and affiliated parties won all 547 seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (parliament) to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In 2018 former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation to accelerate political reforms in response to demands from the country’s increasingly restive youth. Parliament then selected Abiy Ahmed Ali as prime minister to lead these reforms. Prime Minister Abiy leads the Prosperity Party.

National and regional police forces are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order, with the Ethiopian National Defense Force sometimes providing internal security support. The Ethiopian Federal Police report to the Ministry of Peace. The Ethiopian National Defense Force reports to the Ministry of National Defense. The regional governments (equivalent to a U.S. state) control regional security forces, which are independent from the federal government. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of all security forces committed some abuses.

Abiy’s assumption of office was followed by positive changes in the human rights climate. The government decriminalized political movements that in the past were accused of treason, invited opposition leaders to return and resume political activities, allowed peaceful rallies and demonstrations, enabled the formation and unfettered operation of political parties and media outlets, and carried out legislative reform of repressive laws. The opening of political space has also met with challenges. Reforms are taking place in an environment with weak institutions including in the security sector. Ethnic tensions increased, resulting in significant violence in some cases. Citizen-on-citizen violence caused the majority of human rights abuses.

On November 4, fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force resulted in protracted conflict in the northern Tigray Region and reports of serious and widespread abuses. As of the end of the year, there was very limited access to the majority of Tigray, except for the capital Mekele, resulting in a lack of reporting and making it difficult to ascertain the extent of human rights abuses and violations.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces and private entities; forced disappearances by unnamed armed groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including harassment of journalists, and blocking of the internet and social media sites; interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial or ethnic minority groups; and existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct.

The government at times did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, resulting in impunity for abusers due to a lack of institutional capacity. The government took positive steps toward greater accountability under the Abiy administration to change the relationship between security forces and the public. In June the attorney general’s office and the government-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigated Amnesty International’s allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces. The administration also addressed past reported abuses such as restrictions on freedom of assembly, political prisoners, and interference with privacy. In late August the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and human rights nongovernmental organizations deployed investigators to 40 sites in Oromia Region to probe ethnic-based killings after the June 29 killing of Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa.

There were human rights abuses by paramilitary groups, rebel forces, and youth groups. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s preliminary assessment of the November 9 attack in Mai-Kadra in Tigray concluded that a Tigrayan youth group supported by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force killed approximately 600 persons. Amnesty International reported that the abuses were carried out by police special forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force. A local human rights group reported that on June 29 and 30, youth groups attacked the villages of Arsi and Bale Zones in Oromia. The federal police arrested 1,500 regional officials for participation in the violence or failing to prevent the violence following the death of Hachalu Hundessa. The Oromo Liberation Army-Shane, an armed separatist group with factions in western, central, and southern Oromia, killed civilians and government officials.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and the press, and the government generally respected this right. The government generally opened political space (including freedom of speech) which resulted in the proliferation of new media outlets and the return of some diaspora outlets.

On March 23, the government published Proclamation 1185/2020, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation. Domestic human rights groups criticized the law for using broad legal definitions that could be used to repress freedom of speech. The government applied it in a few cases (See section 2.a., Respect for Civil Liberties–Freedom of Expression–Internet Freedom.).

Freedom of Speech: Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government diminished significantly.

On April 4, Elsabet Kebede was arrested by Addis Ababa police after she had posted the names and ethnicity of persons infected with COVID-19. She was detained for one month and released on bail May 8 without charge.

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

The number of news outlets increased under the Abiy administration. Between January 2019 and October the number of published newspapers increased from six to eight; they were produced in Amharic and English. The number of television channels, which once were a handful of state-controlled broadcasters, rose to 31 mostly independent stations. These stations represented national and regional interests. Radio stations increased from approximately 10 radio stations with national, Addis Ababa, and regional coverage to 14 stations with the same coverage. Community radio stations were also widespread.

The developing media landscape resulted in challenges. The vast expansion of the media environment led to media outlets with untrained reporters. A number of new private stations reflected the political views of their owners. The increase in regional news outlets along with social media influencers amplified messages that led to “echo chambers” which often were biased towards ethnic interests.

Violence and Harassment: Between June 30 and July 6, federal police arrested approximately 12 journalists and camera crewmembers after the killing of Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa. On July 30, police arrested Kenyan journalist Yassin Juma outside the home of a political opposition leader. On August 20, authorities released Juma on bail after multiple court appearances and prosecution delays.

On November 4, police in Addis Ababa arrested journalist Bekalu Alamrew of the privately owned Awlo Media Center and charged him with false reporting, defaming the government, and inciting ethnic tensions. Alarmew had reported on killings of ethnic Amharas in West Wollega. On November 22, police released Alamrew following a court order. On November 7, police arrested editor Medihane Ekubamichael of the news website Addis Standard and later charged him with “attempts to dismantle the constitution through violence.” Ekubamichael led the website’s reporting on the conflict in Tigray. Ekubamichael remains in custody despite being granted bail.

On July 17, federal police arrested Guyo Wariyo, a journalist affiliated with the Oromia Media Network. On September 1, authorities released Wariyo after a court determined prosecutors had not presented sufficient evidence after multiple court appearances. In July, four additional Oromia Media Network journalists were arrested. As of the end of the year, one remained in custody. On August 5, police also detained two journalists and two camera operators working for Asrat Media on charges of incitement. Although a court granted them bail on September 7, police re-arrested them the next day. On September 19, police released the Asrat Media journalists following court orders.

National Security: The government charged some journalists on national security grounds. On March 26, authorities arrested independent journalist Yayesew Shimelison for reporting on mass graves allegedly prepared for COVID-19-related deaths. On April 23, a court released him on bail. Shimelis was initially charged with terrorism crimes, and then authorities changed his charge to violating the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation. He was released on bail with no final judgment on his case.

Nongovernmental Impact: The OLA-Shane controls an area that was considered a nonpermissive environment for journalists. During the year a handful of journalists accessed the area and were detained by regional security forces accountable to regional presidents.

On January 13, police in Benishangul Gumuz Region arrested a journalist and camera operator working with Amharic Department of Tigray TV in Assosa. Journalist Dawit Kebede and cameraman Behailu Wube had travelled to Assosa to cover a forum for political parties upon the invitation of organizers, according to Tigray TV officials. The communications head of Benishangul Region stated the journalists violated procedures by not notifying the region’s Communications Bureau of their travel. Both were released two days later.

Internet Freedom

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked social media sites. From January to March, the government completely shut down the internet in the Wellega and Guji zones of Oromia. As of the end of the year, the Guji Zone of Oromia continued to experience periodic internet shutdowns.

From June 30 to July 23, the government shut down the internet nationally after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa and subsequent civil unrest in Oromia and Addis Ababa. On July 15, internet access was partially restored in Addis Ababa and on July 23, restored nationwide.

On November 4, telephone, cell phone, and internet services were shut down in the Tigray Region and as of December 31, the internet was still down, although telephone services improved throughout the region.

The Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation addresses hate speech in social media. The law prohibits dissemination of hate speech or disinformation through broadcasting, print, or social media using text, image, audio, or video. Conviction of a crime described under the law is punishable with imprisonment for no more than two years or a substantial monetary fine. A person convicted of violating the misinformation law may face no more than one year in prison or a substantial monetary fine. If their action results in a person or group being attacked due to hate speech, the punishment for conviction may be between one year and five years of incarceration. If a person is convicted of hate speech or disinformation via broadcasting services, print media, or a social media account of more than 5,000 followers, the violator faces one to three years in prison or a substantial monetary fine. There was one case pending under this law at year’s end.

During the year the government changed the education system to be more merit-based and to provide greater academic freedom. As a result school principals were assigned on a merit-based system rather than by affiliation to a political party. The NGO Freedom House noted that the political indoctrination of university students, through lectures on government policy or pressure to join the ruling party, diminished.

The laws governing academic curriculum still rely on a proclamation from 2009. This proclamation restricts academic freedom by means of minimum requirements for being consistent with international good practice and cultural responsibility.

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

The NGO-operated Armed Conflict Location and Event Database reported that the country had weekly demonstrations. The vast majority of these were peaceful except for those that followed the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, which led to mass civil unrest in Oromia.

Between April 8 and September 5, the government’s State of Emergency limited large gatherings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This affected individuals’ ability to gather in houses of worship and to attend meetings and training sessions. The enforcement of the State of Emergency also led to the arrest of at least 1,600 citizens for violating State of Emergency rules. These practices led the EHRC to declare that these arrests were illegal, arbitrary, and had to stop immediately. Police released the majority of those detained within 48 hours after their arrest.

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

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

In-country Movement: The COVID-19 State of Emergency limited regional movement. Regional governments imposed various restrictions on the movement of goods and persons across regional borders. The most stringent preventative measures were in the Tigray Region, where all travel within the region came to a halt throughout April. The other nine regions had similar policies, which suspended interregional travel and reduced the numbers of passengers in public transport. The Amhara Region imposed additional limitations in Bahi Dar, Tillili, and Adis Kidam, which were in complete lockdown enforced by the regional security services during April. All of these measures were repealed before the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency on September 5.

On September 10, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released a report concluding that there were more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. The report was based on site and village assessments that the IOM conducted between June and July. The IOM concluded that the primary cause of displacement was conflict, which resulted in the displacement of 1,233,557 persons throughout the country. The second-highest cause was drought, which displaced an additional 351,062 persons, followed by seasonal floods (displacing 104,696 IDPs) and flash floods (50,093 IDPs). The IDP situation was further complicated by the violence in Oromia following the killing of singer Huchalu Hundessa, which displaced an additional 12,000 persons.

The IOM found that IDPs had limited access to basic services and livelihood opportunities, and faced significant protection risks, including exposure to continuing violence, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of health care. In approximately 90 percent of displacement sites, IDPs reported food shortages, with COVID-19 restrictions having reduced the supply and availability of staple commodities. In some instances the government strongly encouraged returns of IDPs without adequate arrangements for security and sustainability.

In December 2019 the country and the United Nations launched a nationwide Durable Solutions Initiative, designed to elicit funding to implement sustainable interventions in areas appropriate for safe, dignified, and voluntary durable solutions for IDPs.

The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in expanding protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. During the Tigray conflict, Eritrean refugees became increasingly vulnerable. There were four Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray, which include the Shimelba, Hitsats, Mai-Ayni, and Adi Harush camps that house an estimated 96,000 Eritrean refugees. Hitsats and Shimelba are close to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border and were in the vicinity of the fighting between the ENDF and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force. As the conflict continued into late November and early December, the lack of access made the situation in the camps dire, with little to no access to food, water, and medical supplies. There were reports that refugees who fled the conflict were forcibly returned to the camps by the government. There were reports of refoulement to Eritrea. There were also reports of violence against refugees in Tigray. On December 28, the United Nations stated that convoys accessed Adi Harush and Mai-Ayni refugee camps, and distributed approximately 490 metric tons of food.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government used a refugee status determination system for providing services and protection to refugees. In January the Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) announced it intended to change its process for registering Eritreans. Instead of granting prima facie refugee status to Eritreans, ARRA instead would make individualized refugee status determinations for arrivals. After this announcement, the UNHCR reported that ARRA primarily registered only those Eritreans who claimed forced conscription or political persecution. The UNHCR raised concerns regarding the potential denial of services and rights to asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied minors, those seeking family reunification, and those seeking medical assistance.

Freedom of Movement: On June 7, ARRA released a directive permitting refugees to leave the camps if they met certain criteria.

Employment: On June 7, ARRA issued secondary legislation to codify rights in the 2019 Refugee Proclamation, which included procedures for refugees’ right to work. The Right to Work Directive provides for the right to work of refugees working on a joint project with Ethiopian nationals, and for the right to work of refugees seeking wage-earning employment in a position unable to be filled by an Ethiopian national, or through self-employment.

Access to Basic Services: Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend a university with fees paid by the government and the UNHCR.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, conducting investigations and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. The civil society organization (CSO) sector continued to expand, with more CSOs registering to establish themselves. The capacity of domestic human rights organizations remained a challenge. Legal reforms in 2019 supported the development of domestic CSOs. The law permits foreign volunteers to work at CSOs for up to one year.

International human rights groups were allowed to travel within the country to investigate and report but received a tepid reception from the government. Multiple international human rights groups produced reports regarding the violence after the killing of the singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa. These reports claimed that security forces targeted Oromo civilians; one report provided a video online illustrating the violence. On August 18, the attorney general responded that the international community gave “no regard to the complex and volatile political and security situation in the country.” In May, Amnesty International published a report on human rights abuses allegedly committed in 2019 by government security forces in parts of Oromia and Amhara regions. Amnesty International condemned the government’s poor response to the displacement of thousands in 2019. Officials of the Amhara and Oromia regions labelled the report as biased and unbalanced, stating that it left out atrocities committed by armed groups operating in these areas. On June 1, Attorney General Adanech Abiebie stated on her Twitter page that the government had started its own investigation of the incidents detailed in the Amnesty report.

Authorities limited the access of human rights organizations, media, humanitarian agencies, and diplomatic missions in certain geographic areas. These areas were experiencing open conflict between the armed separatist OLA-Shane and government security services (see section 2.a., Respect for Civil Liberties–Freedom of Expression–Nongovernmental Impact).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints regarding administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices and officials, and to investigate prison conditions. In 2019 parliament approved a proclamation establishing the Ombudsman Institution, and repealing the prior proclamation in effect since 2000. The proclamation gives foreign nationals the right to present administrative complaints or rights abuse cases to the office.

The EHRC is an independent government agency responsible for investigating and reporting on the country’s human rights. Parliament created the EHRC in 2000, and parliament continued to fund and oversee the commission. New legislation was passed to give it more independence (see section 1.e., Respect for the Integrity of the Person–Denial of Fair Public Trial–Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies). In June parliament voted to give the EHRC the jurisdiction to observe elections and monitor human rights during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. In July parliament passed a law requiring that EHRC senior staff be funded as full-time employees. The EHRC investigated human rights abuses in more than 40 locations. The EHRC did not face adverse action from the government despite criticizing the government in late September for disregarding the rule of law and abusing human rights regarding the detention of Lidetu Ayelew. The EHRC also criticized government for human rights abuses committee by authorities during the COVID-19 State of Emergency in April.

Kenya

Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.

The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence internally as well as externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by the government; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.

Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. In January militants carried out five attacks, killing more than a dozen persons, including three teachers and four children. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterror operations.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Speech: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 132 of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements. Authorities arrested several members of parliament on incitement or hate speech charges. In September authorities arrested two parliamentarians for hate speech and incitement following remarks made against the president and his family. The court ordered their release after they posted bail, and the cases remained pending at the end of the year.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of the press. The government has not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media. NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were at least 48 attacks against Kenyan journalists and restrictions to their work concerning the pandemic between March 12 and August 31, including physical assault, arrest, telephone or verbal threats, online harassment, and lack of access to public information.

In January media reported that police assaulted Nation Media Group journalist Laban Odhiambo Walloga in Mombasa while he was covering protests against a government directive that all cargo from the port of Mombasa be transported via the Standard Gauge Railway.

In March widely disseminated photographs showed a police officer beating NTV journalist Peter Wainana in Mombasa as he reported on excessive use of force by police enforcing the first day of a national curfew during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coast Regional Commander Rashid Yakub publicly apologized for the incident and advised the journalist to record a statement at the central police station in Mombasa. Media reported that as of March disciplinary action was pending.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.

In April the High Court upheld the 2018 ban imposed by the Kenya Film Classification Board on the film Rafiki, which portrays a romance between two women. The court held the ban on distributing or exhibiting the film in the country was constitutional and a valid limitation of freedom of expression.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.

In September the High Court ordered the Nation Media Group to remove from online platforms an August 16 television news report, “COVID-19 Millionaires,” pending the hearing of a libel case brought by Megascope Ltd. for being accused of involvement in alleged corruption at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority.

The cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior threatened to sue blogger Robert Alai and three others on March 27 for libel stemming from a March 13 article stating the cabinet secretary owned a concrete company that caused death and injury to residents of Bobasi in Kisii County.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. According to the Freedom on the Net report, authorities used laws on hate speech and defamation to prosecute online critics of the government. In 2018 President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, but the High Court suspended enforcement of 26 sections of the law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, criminalized defamation, and failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. In February the High Court found the provisions constitutional and lifted the suspension. The provisions were applied for the first time in March when a man was arrested for publishing false information on social media related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and authorities arrested numerous bloggers and social media users for allegedly spreading false information online. In October the High Court nullified 23 bills, including the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, that were passed by the National Assembly without involving the Senate. The court suspended the order for nine months, however, and the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act remained in effect.

By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech.

Privacy International reported the National Intelligence Service had direct access to the country’s telecommunications networks that allows for the interception of communications data. Furthermore, Privacy International reported the National Police Service also had surveillance powers, established in the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act of 2011. Freedom House additionally reported authorities used various types of surveillance technologies to monitor citizens.

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

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right.

Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In March the government began enforcing government directives to stem the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew and restrictions on public gatherings.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. In July police used tear gas against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and other social injustices. Authorities arrested more than 50 persons, including prominent human rights activists, for violating COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, although they were released shortly after.

The NGO Defenders Coalition recorded 82 arrests of demonstrators between March and July, twice the total number recorded in 2019. This included the arrest of nine activists who marched to Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company offices to protest the lack of potable water in the informal settlement of Kayole.

In October the cabinet approved the establishment of a multiagency team to monitor, document, and enforce compliance with new directives related to public meetings. The directives state any person intending to hold a public gathering must notify the relevant police station commander three to 14 days in advance, and the police commander may decline the request. The Law Society of Kenya challenged the constitutionality of the provisions, arguing the government applied the provisions selectively to suppress differing political views. In November the High Court temporarily suspended the directives pending a hearing on the petition.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity. In June the Mathare Social Justice Centre condemned a visit by police officers, including one allegedly linked to extrajudicial killings, to intimidate and harass its staff.

There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.

The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.

In 2019 parliament passed an amendment to the Prevention of Terrorism Act that empowered the National Counter Terrorism Center to become an “approving and reporting institution for all civil society organizations and international NGOs engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization through counter messaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalized individuals.” Civil society leaders expressed concerns the broad language of the amendment may allow government authorities to exert undue oversight and control over the activities of NGOs. A court case filed by a consortium of civil society leaders against the amendment continued to proceed through legal channels.

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected those rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.

In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers were required to register with the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat, and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) was responsible for refugee management in the country and continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a Court of Appeal decision to the contrary.

On April 29, the Interior Ministry released a Public Act Order on cessation of movements in and out of refugee camps for 28 days through May 27 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since the government had not issued an order to lift the decree, the movement restrictions in and out of the refugee camps remained de facto as of October 23.

Prior to the restriction of movement, the RAS issued newly arrived asylum seekers registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) had to obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.

Given the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff, the RAS significantly reduced client-facing activity in its Nairobi office, including reducing the registration of new arrivals, which further influenced refugee movement. Its office in Kakuma refugee camp temporarily suspended non-life-saving client services requiring in-person contact. The office in Kakuma, however, continued to register new arrivals and reactivate authorizations for refugees returning to the camp to allow them access to life-saving humanitarian programming. The movement pass requirements for any refugee movement outside the designated areas remained unchanged.

The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit on an exceptional basis due to the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff.

Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced significant restrictions on their movement (see section 2.g.).

The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated there were 163,400 IDPs in the country and 75,800 new displacements at the end of 2019. Communities were sometimes displaced due to interethnic violence and conflict.

State and private actors conducted displacements, usually during the construction of dams, railways, and roads. There is no mechanism to provide compensation or other remedies to victims of these displacements. In addition some residents remained displaced during the year due to land tenure disputes, particularly in or around natural reserves (see section 1.e.).

Water and pasture scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced, especially in arid and semiarid areas. IDPs generally congregated in informal settlements and transit camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In 2017 the country pledged to apply the UNHCR Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework to enhance refugee self-reliance, increase access to solutions, and improve conditions in countries of origin for safe and voluntary returns. Implementation, however, was largely lacking.

In 2017 the High Court blocked the government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp complex, ruling the plan violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional rights to fair administrative action. As of year’s end, the government had not appealed the High Court’s ruling. While the court’s 2017 decision eased pressure on Somalis who feared the camp would close by the government-imposed deadline, during the year the government expressed a renewed interest in closing Dadaab, requesting UNHCR to relocate all refugees from Dadaab. The camp closure discussion created uncertainty for the more than 200,000 refugees residing there.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to those holding refugee or asylum-seeker documentation or those who illegally entered the country and were apprehended. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya or Kituo Cha Sheria.

During the year the security situation in Dadaab improved but remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives.

Sexual and gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls (see section 6). Although there was increased community engagement to reduce sexual and gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, sexual and gender-based violence continued to affect women and girls due to their low social and economic status in the community. Most urban refugees resided in informal settlements, where insecurity and sexual and gender-based violence was rampant. Women in female-headed households and young girls separated from families due to conflict were most at risk due to lack of male protection within their families. Girls and boys out of school were at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite strong awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited awareness of what constitutes sexual and gender-based violence among vulnerable populations; and the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.

Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law, although following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts scaled down operations, prioritizing urgent cases and deferring nonurgent cases. Refugees were often unable to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR, through its partners, continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, had not been fully operationalized.

Many refugees dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices, although some opted to go through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, and ethnic violence, according to UNHCR.

During the year UNHCR assisted 79 persons to return voluntarily to their places of origin, all of whom returned to Ethiopia. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as border closures and movement restrictions due to COVID-19, hindered returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to camp-based refugees. The government generally coordinated with UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and urban areas. The government had yet to register more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab, the majority of whom were Somali. Pressure from UNHCR and the international community resulted in the government’s registration of a number of extremely vulnerable individuals. South Sudanese refugees received prima facie refugee status.

According to UNHCR, as of September 30, the country hosted 499,219 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 221,102 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 197,341 in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement, and 80,776 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (269,541), with others coming from South Sudan (122,610), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (44,763), Ethiopia (28,915), Burundi (16,158), and other countries (17,232). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was primarily Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in 2018, although the spirit of the agreement and coordination remained. Since 2014 a total of 84,981 Somali refugees had voluntarily repatriated under the agreement.

The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide it with technical support and capacity building.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies as well as COVID-19 (see section 2.d.).

Employment: By law refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country. While the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act allows recognized refugees to engage in any occupation, trade, business, or profession upon approval of applications for a Class M work permit, many barriers and red tape hinder refugees’ ability to secure work permits. Only refugees with specialized skills or those who could invest were successful in obtaining a work permit from the Immigration Department.

Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Hospital Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. In addition they were vulnerable to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.

The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. Since 2017 UNHCR estimated 18,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.

Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 7,000) and the Shona (an estimated 3,500). The 8,000 remaining include: persons of Rwandan, Burundian, or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees from Somalia (the Sakuye) residing in Isiolo. The Pare are a group of people intermarried with Kenyans for many years who reside at the border with Tanzania but are at risk of statelessness since they do not hold marriage certificates or other identity documents. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom, although the estimated affected population size is unknown.

The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens so long as the individual was a resident in the country at the time of its independence. Similar provisions apply to some categories of migrants who do not possess identification documents. These provisions were in the process of being revised as of October.

Stateless persons had limited legal protection, and many faced social exclusion. Others encountered travel restrictions and heightened vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births under the late birth registration procedures, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.

National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau. Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments UNHCR conducted in 2018 and 2019, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates because they lacked supporting documents.

Due to awareness raising among the stateless and capacity building for relevant authorities, towards the end of 2019 the situation improved for stateless persons, who were no longer turned away from registration offices as occurred in prior years. For birth registration within six months of birth, stateless persons were able to obtain a birth certificate but had problems registering children older than six months. The law does not have a provision to support the registration without supporting documents and instead gives discretion to the registrar general.

Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services, and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Hospital Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.

In October 2019 the government pledged to recognize and register persons in the Shona community who had lived in the country since the 1960s. The Civil Registration Services Department began to issue birth certificates to Shona children and process birth certificates for Shona adults who were born in the country.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, although some groups reported experiencing government harassment during the year. Officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to the queries of these groups, but the government did not implement recommendations by human rights groups if such recommendations were contrary to its policies. There were reports officials intimidated NGOs and threatened to disrupt their activities (see section 2.b.). Less-established NGOs, particularly in rural areas, reported harassment and threats by county officials as well as security forces. Human rights activists claimed security forces conducted surveillance of their activities, and some reported threats and intimidation.

There were also reports officials and police officers threatened activists who sought justice for police killings and other serious abuses. The intimidation included threats of arrest, warnings not to post information about police brutality, home and office raids, and confiscation of laptops and other equipment.

According to HAKI, its deputy executive director, Salma Hemed, was beaten by police during a February protest as she was advocating for an investigation into the death of a 17-year-old pregnant girl while in police custody. Although the police case against her was suspended in August, police arrested her on October 28 after she filed a lawsuit against the Bamba Police Station in Kilifi County. Despite a letter from the Kilifi county prosecutor stating she should be released, police ignored the letter, detained Salma Hemed overnight, and brought her before the Kilifi Magistrate Court the following day. The court subsequently ordered her release.

The 2016 triple homicide case of International Justice Mission lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, client Josphat Mwenda, and their driver Joseph Muiruri remained pending at year’s end. In November the court for the third time denied bail for the five suspects, including four police officers who faced murder charges.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported security agencies continued to deny it full access to case-specific information and facilities to conduct investigations of human rights abuses as the constitution permits.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is an independent institution created by the 2010 constitution and established in 2011. Its mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the country. The body’s commissioners completed their terms in March. In November the commission reported the government had not yet provided information on the commencement of recruitment for replacements. The positions remained vacant as of year’s end, although the commission continued to function under the management of the CEO. Citing budget restrictions, the government again reduced the commission’s operating budget. The commission stated the budget was not sufficient to cover its expenses and fulfill its mandate.

The NPSC and IPOA, both government bodies, report to the National Assembly. The NPSC consists of six civilian commissioners, including two retired police officers, as well as the National Police Service inspector general and two deputies. The NPSC is responsible for recruiting, transferring, vetting, promoting, and disciplining National Police Service members.

The ODPP is empowered to direct the National Police Service inspector general to investigate any information or allegation of criminal conduct and to institute criminal proceedings in police abuse or corruption cases.

Police accountability mechanisms, including those of the IAU and IPOA, maintained their capacity to investigate cases of police abuse. The IAU director reports directly to the National Police Service inspector general. The IAU hired 47 new officers, bringing the total number to 127. Most investigators previously served in the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service. The IAU conducts investigations into police misconduct, including criminal offenses not covered by IPOA. Between January and September, the IAU received approximately 1,400 complaints, the number of which had increased year-to-year as police and the public became more familiar with the IAU. The IAU opened four regional offices during the year. The EACC, an independent agency, investigates cases involving police corruption. IPOA also helps to train police officers on preventing abuses and other human rights issues but reported it did not conduct any human rights training during the year.

Between July 2019 and June 30, IPOA received 2,991 complaints, bringing the total since its inception in 2012 to 136,609. IPOA defines five categories of complaints. Category one complaints comprise the most serious crimes–such as murder, torture, rape, and serious injury–and result in an automatic investigation. In category two, serious crimes, such as assault without serious injury, are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Categories three to five, for less serious crimes, are generally not investigated, although during the year IPOA and the IAU entered into regular dialogue about referring cases deemed less serious offenses for disciplinary action. If, after investigation, IPOA determines there is criminal liability in a case, it forwards the case to the ODPP. IPOA hired 25 new officers between July 2019 and November. IPOA’s budget for the financial year starting July 1 was reduced by approximately 3 percent due to economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and IPOA anticipated further budget reductions.

Although the law requires the NPSC to vet all serving police officers, it had not vetted any officers since the new commission took office in January 2019. Vetting required an assessment of each officer’s fitness to serve based on a review of documentation, including financial records, certificates of good conduct, and a questionnaire, as well as public input alleging abuse or misconduct. The NPSC reported it had vetted more than 15,000 officers since 2012.

Madagascar

Executive Summary

Madagascar is a semipresidential democratic republic with a popularly elected president, a bicameral legislature (Senate and National Assembly), prime minister, and cabinet. A presidential election was held in November 2018, with a two-candidate run-off in December 2018. The winner, Andry Rajoelina, took office in January 2019. Independent observers judged the election to be generally free and fair, despite several candidates’ allegations of irregularities in the electoral process, including voter suppression. Legislative elections took place in late May 2019. Observers judged these elections to be generally free and fair, with some irregularities. In December, Senate elections, the governing parties won all seats since opposition parties boycotted. Observers judged the Senate elections to be generally free and fair.

National police, under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, are responsible for maintaining law and order in urban areas. The gendarmerie and military report to the Ministry of National Defense. The gendarmerie is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas at the village level, protecting government facilities, and operating a maritime police contingent. The military is also active in rural areas, particularly in maintaining order in areas affected by cattle rustling and banditry. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; and lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women.

The government prosecuted and punished some officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government; however, impunity remained a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The law includes several provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression, including broad powers of the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

Freedom of Speech: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

The government arrested journalists and activists who publicly denounced the misbehavior of public figures. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute these journalists and activists. Most government actions to restrict freedom of expression occurred within the context of the national response to COVID-19, with journalists arrested or harassed for reporting failures of government officials to combat the disease effectively.

On March 24, acting under the national health emergency decree, the Ministry of Communication and Culture ordered the suspension of all radio programs that allowed the public to call in during live programs. In April, Reporters without Borders noted this was an infringement of the freedom of expression. This notice also required all audiovisual companies to broadcast live a daily program providing official communications from the government’s COVID-19 operation center. The ministry announced in October that all radio programs could resume their live call-in programs.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without restriction. The law contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example the law requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit candidates for political office, who are also media owners, to use their outlets to advocate against opponents.

The law gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the law. The law allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country has numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, despite the law’s limitations. The opposition had greater access to state-run media.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed for criticizing the government and public services.

On April 4, the government arrested journalist Rahelisoa Arphine, the publication manager of an online journal frequently sympathetic to the opposition, for defamatory speech against the president. On social media Arphine had accused the president of responsibility for citizens’ deaths because of inadequate COVID-19 measures. Over the next month, the court of Antananarivo rejected several requests for temporary release to await trial despite public appeals by the Union of Journalists and Amnesty International. The president ordered Arphine’s release without announcing any charges in early May.

In May authorities in the government-run COVID-19 operations center summoned a correspondent of newspaper lExpress after the newspaper published an article reporting a confirmed case in Toliara. During the investigation a gendarmerie colonel verbally threatened the journalist and ordered her not to publish similar items.

On July 30, Antananarivo mayor Naina Andriantsitohaina ordered media company MBS to leave its leased government property within six months. Nonpayment of the lease, the only reason to terminate the agreement, had not occurred. MBS was owned by former president Marc Ravalomanana.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

In May, African Media Barometer reported that journalists in the country believed they needed to be careful regarding what they said or published due to arrests and lawsuits. Claiming censorship, Member of Parliament Brunelle Razafitsiandraofa in June stated that the minister of communications prevented the broadcast of an interview that Razafitsiandraofa held with the public television channel.

On the night of April 6 to 7, unknown persons damaged the transmitter and antenna of Real TV, although the facility was guarded by soldiers, according to Reporters without Borders. Real TV had planned to rebroadcast a March 25 interview with former president Ravalomanana in which he criticized the government’s COVID-19 response. Real TV remained off the air for several days.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cybercrime law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the communications code, since all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion. Journalists and citizens faced police investigation and legal prosecution for defamation and infringement of public order for posting criticism of government performance and public services on social media.

National Security: Authorities cited the need to protect national security when deterring criticism of government policies on COVID-19.

On August 25, media reported that the gendarmerie arrested 20 Facebook users for cybercrime during the March-to-August health emergency period. The gendarmerie accused them of spreading false news and defamation, allegedly “destabilizing” acts, and “threats to state security.” Half of the accused were in pretrial detention; the others were released without charges. Authorities also arrested more prominent figures on similar grounds, such as the well known singer Rolf.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: In August the High Constitutional Court upheld prohibitions on the publication of information discussed during closed-door meetings, although it stressed these situations should be rare, and it declared unconstitutional previous limits on publishing reports or other documents created by government institutions.

Internet Freedom

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

The law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines for defamation.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (not including social media) to be among the more reliable sources of information.

There were isolated incidents of government restrictions on academic freedom. In April, Professor Stephane Ralandison, dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Toamasina, wrote an article on LinkedIn voicing his scientific reservations over the COVID-19 organics remedy promoted by President Rajoelina. On May 28, the gendarmerie arrested him for the article and his alleged connection to the suicide of another Toamasina doctor being treated for COVID-19. The gendarmes released him without charge. On June 1, gendarmes reportedly brought him to the capital for a hearing and then re-released him.

The constitution and law provide for peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted peaceful assembly.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities often restricted this right. The government required all public demonstrations to have official authorization from municipalities and police prefectures, but these rarely gave authorization to opposition parties. Security forces regularly impeded opposition gatherings throughout the country and used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

Several times security forces used tear gas and discharged their weapons into the air to disperse demonstrations by university students, supporters of political opponents, and other groups. There were several demonstrations held by different groups protesting the restrictive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Demonstrators generally retaliated by throwing stones at security forces or set up roadblocks, which often resulted in injuries and arrests.

On July 13, a number of individuals demonstrated in Ambohipo, Antananarivo, to demand the release of Berija Ravelomanantsoa, a university student movement leader arrested in June (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). Security forces dispersed the demonstrators and removed roadblocks set up by the protesters. Security forces arrested three demonstrators for disturbing the peace, holding unauthorized rallies, and infringing health emergency measures.

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

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

The law prohibits citizens from leaving the country to work abroad in countries deemed “risky,” as a measure to reduce trafficking in persons. Because destination countries are not specifically identified in the decree, citizens may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.

The government health emergency measures to prevent the proliferation of COVID-19 included travel restrictions within, to, and from the country.

In-country Movement: At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country in March the government suspended all internal flights as well as ground transportation linking the different regions of the country. As the pandemic eased, the government relaxed these measures and allowed interregional travel again in September.

Foreign Travel: The government issued an exit ban to several individuals known to be close to the opposition or to the former regime. Authorities often justified such measures as necessary for investigative needs.

On February 4, the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeal of Antananarivo issued an exit ban against Ny Rado Rafalimanana, a candidate during the last presidential elections. Some media asserted this decision was motivated by his refusal to obey gendarmes who banned him from entering Ambatondrazaka two days earlier, where he had been directing aid to flood victims, circumventing the government’s instruction that all donations go through the national risk and disaster management bureau.

In March the government suspended all international flights to and from the country as part of the anti-COVID-19 national response. In June the government started repatriating citizens from abroad.

Not applicable.

Authorities generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting the small number of refugees in the country.

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

Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that UNHCR-issued asylum seeker certificates were not recognized by government officials, especially security forces. Police frequently detained some asylum seekers and tore up their documents, rendering them more vulnerable to arrest or expulsion.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers did not have access to employment, because without a resident visa they were unable to get a work permit.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers received no support from the government, but the government did not interfere with support provided by UNHCR via a local NGO. Refugees and asylum seekers complained that the amount of support they received was insufficient because they could not work and received no government support. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners, making basic medical care unaffordable to refugees.

The law gives men and women equal rights to pass their nationality to their children and more protection to women and children against the loss of their nationality. The law grants women the right to transmit nationality to their children regardless of a woman’s marital status. The loss of citizenship for any reason mentioned in the law does not affect the spouse and the children of the deprived person.

The provisions of the previous nationality code resulted in as many as 15,000 stateless persons from the minority Muslim community, many belonging to families that had lived in the country for generations. Muslim leaders estimated the previous law affected as much as 5 percent of the approximately two million Muslims in the country. Members of the wider Muslim community suggested a Muslim-sounding name alone could delay one’s citizenship application indefinitely.

Requests for nationality certificates continued. Statelessness remained a problem for those who remained ineligible for nationality.

Some members of the South Asian community–who failed to register for Indian, Malagasy, or French citizenship following India’s independence in 1947 and Madagascar’s independence in 1960–were no longer eligible for any of the three citizenships; this circumstance applied to their descendants as well.

All stateless persons may apply for a foreign resident card, which precludes the right to vote, own property, or apply for a passport, thus limiting international travel. Stateless women may obtain nationality by marrying a citizen and may request citizenship before the wedding date, but women cannot confer citizenship on a stateless husband. Stateless persons continued to have difficulty accessing education, health care, employment, and buying land, and lived in fear of arrest.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always responsive to their views, but authorities allowed international human rights groups to enter the country, work, and consult freely with other groups. Authorities reacted to accusations of human rights abuses more frequently and positively than during previous years.

Some authorities reacted defensively to domestic and international criticism of the killing of escaped prisoners from Farafangana Prison in August (see section 1.a.).

Several domestic NGOs worked on human rights, but few had the capacity to work effectively and independently.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNIDH is composed of 11 commissioners, each elected by members of a different human rights organization and given a mandate to investigate cases of, and publish reports on, human rights abuses. The government dedicated a budget for the commission to operate. In addition some international organizations and diplomatic missions provided some equipment. The previous members’ mandate expired on October 13, and no new members were elected as of November; COVID-19 restrictions delayed these elections. The CNIDH was independent and somewhat effective. The CNIDH issued several communiques highlighting human rights abuses perpetrated by government officials and launched investigations on outstanding incidents. Nevertheless, its actions were limited; investigations did not lead to concrete sanctions or convictions.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali has a constitutional democratic system that was upended on August 18-19 when members of the military overthrew the elected government. Following a brief period of military rule, in September a civilian-led transition government was installed. The country last held presidential elections in 2018, re-electing Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in elections that met minimum acceptable standards. On March 29 and April 19, repeatedly delayed parliamentary elections were held. On April 30, the Constitutional Court overturned provisional election results of 30 parliamentary seats, sparking large-scale demonstrations and calls for then president Keita’s resignation. On August 18, military officers arrested Keita, who on August 19 resigned and dissolved the government. The military officers formed the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, which remained in control until a transition government was inaugurated September 25.

The country’s defense and security forces are composed of the Malian Armed Forces, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard, which fall administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The National Police report to the Ministry of Security and have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in urban areas, while the National Gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas, including a specialized border security unit. The National Guard and army occasionally performed these duties in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The National Penitentiary Administration falls under the Ministry of Justice. The country’s intelligence service has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general, who reports directly to the president. It usually detained persons only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over civilian and military security forces. Monitoring groups noted an increase in allegations against the defense and security forces in the year, including summary executions and forced disappearances during operations. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

The country experienced significant communal and extremist violence in addition to political upheaval. Violence between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers and hunters increased throughout the year, and the number of internally displaced persons in the country quadrupled from July 2018 to July. The UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and France’s counterterrorism Operation Barkhane continued operations in the country.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious restrictions on freedom of the press and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by government forces and nonstate armed groups, some of which received government support; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting national and ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; use of laws to punish consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government made little effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish government officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s northern and central regions continued with few exceptions. Cases related to massacres, forced disappearances, or other serious human rights abuses rarely moved beyond an investigative phase, although as of October, five cases were listed as ready for trial.

Ethnic militias also committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Despite signing the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (Algiers Accord), signatory armed groups committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Terrorist groups, including affiliates of ISIS in the Greater Sahara and the al-Qa’ida coalition Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, neither of which are party to the peace process, kidnapped and killed civilians, including humanitarian workers, and military and peacekeeping forces. There were also allegations that military forces from Burkina Faso and Niger conducting counterterrorism operations in the country committed serious abuses. A Nigerien military investigation refuted the allegations involving Nigerien forces, concluding that extremists were responsible. At year’s end there was no information on investigation by Burkina Faso authorities of alleged abuses by Burkinabe forces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. In July, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, state-owned media coverage was minimal; however, coverage by private media was ample. On December 18, the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, this state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and all nature of publications, including radio and television broadcasts (see also section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, a reporter for the newspaper LIndependant was briefly arrested after reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations due to the security situation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority empowered to issue legal rulings on media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ami Maiga filed a complaint against two journalists of Ouverture Media who alleged Maiga knowingly boarded a plane from France to the country while “infected with COVID-19.” On September 30, the two defendants were convicted of defamation. They received substantial monetary fines and were ordered to pay damages to Maiga of six million CFA ($10,400).

National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In late December, five prominent figures were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. On December 31, the public prosecutor’s office announced that six individuals were under investigation for “plotting against the government” and “offending the head of state.” Those facing charges included the five who were arrested, including a popular radio presenter, as well as Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister, whose whereabouts were unknown, according to the public prosecutor.

Internet Freedom

During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.

There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were no censorship-related government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Nevertheless, COVID-19 mitigation measures imposed by the government in some instances restricted cultural and educational events. Some artists and students expressed concerns regarding the possible long-term impact of these restrictions.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. From June to August, antigovernment protesters organized several demonstrations demanding increased government transparency and the resignation of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following the Constitutional Court’s announcement of final legislative election results, which overturned the provisional results of at least 30 seats. According to several reports, state security forces were deployed to disperse protesters and, in some instances, looters. Several media outlets, human rights organizations, and MINUSMA’s HRPD reported the use of live ammunition as well as tear gas by security forces and accused them of using excessive and deadly force (see section 1.a.).

In conjunction with the protests and calls for civil disobedience, several leaders of the M5-RFP movement were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I for at least 48 hours. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that during the July 10-13 protests, at least 200 persons were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I and at several police stations in Bamako. Protests in Kayes also led to arrests in that city. Although large numbers of protesters were arrested, judicial records indicated only 21 were prosecuted. Protesters arrested and prosecuted were charged with disturbing the peace and inciting violence. Two were found not guilty while the remaining 19 were sentenced to a range of 45 days’ to 12 months’ imprisonment. By decision of the Appeals Court, they were released in September.

In March the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings as part of the COVID-19 response.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, except for that of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

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

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, flooding, poor road conditions, and armed groups’ purposeful targeting of infrastructure, such as bridges, also limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions as a result of impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as the Dan Na Ambassagou and CMA.

Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country.

Foreign Travel: As a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures, on March 17, the government issued a decree closing all airspace and land borders. On July 25 and July 31, it was lifted for airspace and land borders, respectively. On March 26, the government also implemented a curfew, which it lifted on May 9.

On August 19, following the August 18 overthrow of the government by the military, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) closed airports and imposed a curfew. On August 21, the CNSP reopened the airport and borders; however, land and airspace borders with ECOWAS states remained closed until October 6, as a result of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in response to the overthrow of the government. On September 6, the CNSP lifted the curfew.

The security conditions in the North and central part of the country, including frequent intercommunal violence, forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Furthermore, regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, also led to the return of Malian refugees and the arrival of Nigerien and Burkinabe refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 287,496 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of October 31, and 143,301 Malian refugees in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania) as of September 30. Approximately 100,000 IDPs were registered during the previous 12 months, and an estimated 40 percent of all IDPs were registered in Mopti Region. Insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country. Intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict in the central part of the country continued to cause insecurity and displacement concerns. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children constituted 58 percent of IDPs in the country.

The Ministry of Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty registered IDPs, and the government assisted them. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country as access permitted.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.

Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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. According to human rights organizations, government and military officials were generally not found to be transparent, cooperative, or sufficiently responsive to calls for investigations and prosecutions of allegations of human rights abuses by the MDSF.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution that receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the CNDH with headquarters and staff. The adoption of the 2016 law pertaining to the CNDH and its subsequent implementation, allowed the CNDH to make strides toward fulfilling its mandate. The CNDH became more effective and autonomous. The Ministry of Justice gave more control of the CNDH’s budget to the organization, and the commission’s large membership included civil society representatives. With improved funding and capacity, the CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights abuses including the second Ogossagou massacre and the Diandioume antislavery activist killings.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry during the year to investigate allegations of forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in Yangassadiou, Binedama, and Massabougou in the Mopti and Segou Regions. The commissions released sealed reports to the Ministry of Defense, which resulted in the opening of judicial investigations in at least two cases; the third allegation was not found to be credible. According to MINUSMA, prosecution orders were signed for military personnel suspected of involvement in serious crimes in the central regions; however, arrest warrants for suspects were not issued as of December. Several earlier cases remained under investigation at year’s end.

In December 2019 the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights abuses stemming from the 2012 crisis, held its first public hearing at which 13 victims of conflict recounted mistreatment they had suffered. The commission was established in 2014 with a three-year mandate, which was extended through 2021. As of December 18, the commission had heard testimony from 19,198 persons.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect the president, deputies to the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. In June 2019 voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote. The election marked the first democratic transition of power between two elected presidents since the country’s independence in 1960. United Nations and African Union observers considered the election to be relatively free and fair. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Union for the Republic, the political party founded by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly.

The National Police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas, reports to the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. The National Guard performs a limited police function in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, to include prisons. The National Guard reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization. Regional authorities may call upon the National Guard to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s General Group for Road Safety maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: an unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; allegations of sexual abuse by the country’s peacekeepers; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; blasphemy laws; restrictions on freedom of association; widespread corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women and girls; trafficking in persons including continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and the existence of some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, and punish officials who committed abuses and prosecuted some abusers, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government sometimes used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of disadvantaged populations, namely the Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased significantly compared with the previous year. Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news, but provided increased coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists during the year. On June 3, police arrested Eby Ould Zeidane based on a Facebook post in which he challenged the dates Mauritanians observe the annual fast in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Eby was released on June 8. Another blogger, Mommeu Ould Bouzouma, was arrested on May 5 and spent 10 days in detention for criticizing the governor of the Tiris Zenmour region. In January authorities arrested two reporters for Sahel TV, Mohamed Ali Ould Abdel Aziz and Abdou O. Tajeddine. The reporters were arrested for videos and articles deemed insulting to the president. They were released after two days.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported that a government official met with journalists for four international media outlets to warn them regarding one-sided coverage of slavery or sensitive topics that could harm national unity or the country’s reputation.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is a law against blasphemy, which is punishable by death, although the country has not carried out any executions since 1987. Between February 13 and 15, authorities arrested 15 persons and later charged eight of them with blasphemy and insulting Islam after they attended a meeting organized by AREM; three of the eight were also charged with disseminating content that “undermines the values of Islam” under cybersecurity and terrorism laws. Five of the eight men were held in pretrial detention until their hearing on October 20. The Nouakchott West Criminal Court decided not to convict the men of blasphemy and instead convicted them of lesser crimes. The five men held in pretrial detention since February were all released by October 26 (see section 1.d.).

Internet Freedom

During the year the government rarely restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content, and there was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Between September 21 and September 30, the government disrupted the country’s 3G network several times as part of a coordinated, annual effort to combat cheating on the national high school exams. The networks were immediately re-established upon conclusion of the exam period on each day.

On June 24, the National Assembly approved a new law aimed at prohibiting allegedly false news posts on social media. The law aims to fight against the manipulation of information during an election period or during periods of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Many opposition parliamentarians as well as human rights activists denounced the law, declaring that it risks undermining the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. A religious training center linked to the political opposition was shut down by the government in 2018 and remained closed.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that NGOs claimed were politically motivated.

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right. During the year authorities continued to prevent several NGOs, including prominent antislavery organizations, from registering and legally operating. The law requires that the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization grant authorization prior to an association operating in the country. On February 18, the government held workshops with NGOs and members of civil society to get feedback on a proposed law that would alter the registration process for associations and allow NGOs that have been denied registration a chance to operate more freely.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. From March through early September, the government maintained a number of restrictions on freedom of movement in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. These included a halt on all international and most interregional travel, as well as a nighttime curfew.

In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, government security and safety measures included frequent use of mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.

Not Applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations. On July 7, the parliament approved new legislation on human trafficking and migration that focus on the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and protection of victims.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition.

In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands.

According to the law, children born to Mauritanian fathers and foreign mothers are automatically Mauritanian, whether born inside or outside the country. The law allows children born outside the country to Mauritanian mothers and foreign men to obtain Mauritanian nationality at age 17. If the father is stateless, children born outside the country are subject to statelessness until age 17, at which point the child is eligible for nationality. The unwillingness of local authorities to process thousands of sub-Saharan Africans who returned from Senegal following their mass expulsion between 1989 and 1991 rendered the returnees stateless.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Several domestic and international groups also reported evidence of a continued change in attitude under the new government, citing statements by government human rights bodies calling attention to international laws and conventions protecting human rights as well as an increased willingness to work with human rights groups.

Nevertheless, there were restrictions on some human rights groups, particularly those investigating cases of slavery and slavery-related practices. For example, authorities sometimes denied NGOs access to the prosecutor’s office or the victim when they were investigating a possible slavery or slavery-related case.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commissariat for Human Rights and Humanitarian Action designs, promotes, and implements national human rights policies. The commissariat managed government and internationally funded human rights and humanitarian assistance programs. The CNDH, an independent ombudsman organization, includes government and civil society representatives. It actively monitored human rights conditions and advocated for government action to correct abuses. The CNDH produced an annual report on human rights topics, conducted regular investigations, including prison and police detention center facility visits, and made recommendations to the government. From November 2019 to January, the CNDH conducted an information “caravan” of public meetings throughout the country to sensitize marginalized, largely illiterate communities to their rights, including protections against slavery and other forms of forced labor. The CNDH launched another information caravan on October 1.

The government also sponsored the Civil Society Platform, a coordinating body which brings together more than 6,000 local NGOs, to help communicate and implement government policies.

Mauritius

Executive Summary

Mauritius is a multiparty democracy governed by the prime minister, the Council of Ministers, and the National Assembly. International and local observers judged elections for the prime minister and legislators in November 2019 to be free and fair. The coalition headed by the incumbent prime minister won a majority of seats.

A police commissioner heads the police force and has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces (a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security). The national police report to the Ministry of Defense. The Coast Guard and police handle external security, reporting to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included an alleged unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; the existence of criminal libel laws; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Enforcement of prosecution and punishment was inconsistent and sometimes politically influenced, resulting in impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. A law was amended in 2018 to prevent internet users from posting anything that could cause “annoyance, humiliation, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to any person” on social media. Anyone found guilty faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Freedom of Speech: As of November 30, police had arrested seven persons for antigovernment comments and postings on social media. On April 15, police arrested Rachna Seenuth, a civil servant who formerly worked as the president’s secretary, after she shared a meme that included a photo of the prime minister. Police did not give her lawyers access until the following day. Police arrested Ravin Lochun on July 9 for a similar offense. On July 25, police arrested Farihah Ruhomally after she criticized Member of Parliament Tania Diolle on Facebook.

Diolle, who is part of the majority, alleged that Ruhomally’s post damaged her reputation. All three were released on bail.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although governments in the past have used their power to harass journalists.

The government owned the sole domestic television network, MBC TV. Opposition parties and media commentators regularly criticized the station for its allegedly progovernment bias and unfair coverage of opposition parties, as well as alleged interference in the network’s daily operations by the prime minister’s office senior adviser. Stringent limitations on foreign investment in local broadcast media in the law deterred the establishment of independent television stations.

Violence and Harassment: On October 13, police questioned Top FM journalist Murvind Beetun at police headquarters over a 2019 video that raised corruption allegations against the CEO of Mauritius Telecom, who is close to Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Opposition politicians reported that their social media accounts were routinely blocked and their antigovernment postings removed.

The government maintained its 1989 ban of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and the Rape of Sita by Lindsey Collen. While bookstores could not legally import the books, purchasers could buy them online without difficulty.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and defamation are criminal offenses. The law has blasphemy provisions that criminalize “outrage against any religion legally established.” During the year there were no reports of prosecutions for blasphemy.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. There were continuing reports that police tapped cellphones and email of journalists and opposition politicians.

There were no government restrictions on cultural events, but academic freedom was not always respected. In July the University of Mauritius convened a disciplinary committee after law professor Rajen Narsinghen made antigovernment comments to media.

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

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

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

Foreign Travel: In cases where individuals were arrested and released on bail, the government generally seized the person’s passport and issued a prohibition order prohibiting such individuals from leaving the country.

Not applicable.

Access to Asylum: The government cooperated with the UNHCR regarding treatment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons. The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR in 2019 there were 20 persons seeking refugee status from Bangladesh and five asylum seekers from the Philippines.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints an ombudsman to investigate complaints against public servants, including police officers and prison guards. Individual citizens, council ministers, or members of the National Assembly may request the ombudsman to initiate an investigation. As an alternative to filing judicial charges, the ombudsman may make recommendations to the appropriate government office for administrative responses to offenses committed by a public officer or other authority carrying out official duties. The ombudsman is independent and was adequately resourced and effective.

The Equal Opportunities Commission investigates allegations of discrimination and promotes equality of opportunity in both the private and public sectors. The commission is independent and was adequately resourced and effective.

The NHRC enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government or party interference.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

Mozambique is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected republican form of government. In October 2019 voters re-elected as president Filipe Jacinto Nyusi of the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique Party with 73 percent of the vote in an election with many irregularities reported by observers. In the run-up to elections, several incidents of serious violence and intimidation contributed to public doubts that the elections would be safe and fair. On election day national and international observers considered voting generally orderly but reported systemic vulnerabilities, such as inconsistent application of election procedures and lack of transparency during vote tabulation. A number of foreign observers–including from the EU and European Commonwealth–and domestic civil society organizations expressed concerns regarding election irregularities. These included delays in observer credentialing, nonregistration of large numbers of independent and opposition observers, the arrest and intimidation of some opposition observers, late release of campaign funding to political parties, intentional spoiling of ballots, vote falsification, and inordinately high voter turnout in some districts that indicated ballot-box stuffing.

The National Police, the National Criminal Investigation Service, and the Rapid Intervention Unit are responsible for law enforcement and internal security. They report to the Ministry of the Interior. The Border Security Force–responsible for protecting the country’s international borders and for carrying out police duties within 24 miles of borders–also reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The State Intelligence and Security Service reports directly to the president and is responsible for intelligence operations. The Presidential Guard provides security for the president, and the Force for the Protection of High-level Individuals provides security for senior-level officials at the national and provincial levels. The Armed Defense Forces of Mozambique, consisting of the air force, army, and navy, are responsible for external security, cooperate with police on internal security, and have natural disaster and emergency response functions. The president is commander in chief of all these forces. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance by government security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in an internal conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; widespread acts of official corruption; and violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish some officials who committed abuses; however, impunity remained a problem at all levels.

During the year violent attacks against government forces and civilian populations that began in 2017 escalated dramatically in frequency, intensity, and complexity in the northeastern districts of Cabo Delgado Province, where ISIS-Mozambique made significant advances. From January to November, there were an estimated 1,484 fatalities in Cabo Delgado Province, of which 602 resulted from targeted extremist violence against civilians and 109 resulted from security force violence against civilians according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Human rights organizations and the government stated violent extremists committed human rights abuses against civilians that included beheadings, kidnappings, and the use of child soldiers. Abductions and forced displacement by extremists of civilians increased, sometimes including burning entire communities. Security force responses to this violence were sometimes heavy handed, including arbitrary arrest and detention and alleged extrajudicial killings of both suspected violent extremists and civilians.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not always effectively protect or respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that restricted freedom of speech and press. Journalists expressed concern regarding government intimidation by security forces.

Freedom of Speech: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society members complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media outlets and individual journalists regularly reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government, the ruling party, and prominent political figures. The vast majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation from the government or the ruling party. Civil society organizations and journalists, however, stated the government and ruling party exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media and took retaliatory action when unspecified limits were crossed, particularly related to reporting on the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province. In early December the government withdrew the credentials of a foreign correspondent who had reported on Cabo Delgado Province and sensitive issues related to the ruling party. On December 13, the National Bar Association and Human Rights Commission called for greater media freedom to cover events in Cabo Delgado Province.

In August 2019 parliament passed a law criminalizing photographing or recording video and audio of individuals without their consent. Conviction of violating this law is punishable by up to one year in prison.

On August 23, an apparent arson attack decimated the offices of the weekly newspaper Canal de Mocambique and its online sibling CanalMoz, which published articles critical of the government’s operations in Cabo Delgado Province. On August 25, the president issued a statement condemning the attack, asserting the importance of a free press, and pledging to open an investigation. As of October authorities had not made any arrests or stated whether an investigation was being conducted.

In December 2019 unknown assailants attacked Executive Editor Matias Guente of Canal de Mocambique with baseball bats and golf clubs during a failed kidnapping attempt in Maputo. As of October authorities had not arrested anyone in connection with the attack.

As of October the Cabo Delgado Provincial Court had yet to try journalist Amade Abubacar, who was charged in September 2019 with “public instigation through the use of electronic media, slander against forces of public order, (and) instigation or provocation to public disorder.” In January 2019 soldiers arrested Abubacar in Cabo Delgado Province as he was interviewing residents who were fleeing insurgent attacks. He was held incommunicado in a military detention facility until his lawyers succeeded in obtaining his transfer to a civilian prison. Amnesty International stated mistreatment of Abubacar while in detention included “physical aggression, forcing him to sleep handcuffed,” and food deprivation. It concluded that this amounted “to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” In April 2019 Abubacar was released under terms that restricted him to Cabo Delgado Province.

National Security: Authorities cited violation of antiterrorism and national security laws to arrest journalists who reported on violence in Cabo Delgado Province and COVID-19. For example, on June 25, independent journalist with Carta de Mocambique Omardine Omar was arrested while investigating a complaint of police harassment and extortion of street vendors; he was jailed for three nights and fined for violating state of emergency measures related to COVID-19. Despite the prosecution’s motion to dismiss charges, on June 30, Judge Francisca Antonio of the Ka Mpfumo Court in Maputo convicted him of civil disobedience and sentenced him to 15 days’ imprisonment.

In June the public prosecutor charged Matias Guente (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment) and Canal de Mocambique editorial director Fernando Veloso with violating “state secrets” for their March 11 publication of confidential government documents that detailed questionable Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior contracting arrangements with gas companies operating in Cabo Delgado Province. During a July 10 hearing in Maputo, Guente (Veloso was reportedly in Portugal) refused to divulge the sources for their reporting. As of October, Guente’s case had yet to be tried, and Veloso reportedly remained in Portugal. The NGO Center for Democracy and Development described the case as an act of “persecution” and “absurd,” noting that media “are not privy to classified information from the state.”

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. For example, members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups, and internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, some academics reported self-censorship due to concerns they were under government surveillance.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government did not always respect these rights.

By law protest organizers do not require government authorization to protest peacefully; however, they must notify local authorities of their intent in writing at least four business days in advance. Unlike in 2019, there were no incidents in which authorities prevented protest gatherings.

The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs by year’s end had not acted on the request for registration of the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities (LAMBDA)–the country’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy NGO. Although the registration process usually takes less than two months, LAMBDA’s request has been pending since 2008 despite resubmissions of its application. Civil society leaders and some diplomatic missions continued to urge the ministry to act on LAMBDA’s application and to treat all registration applications fairly. In 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled LAMBDA and other groups could not be precluded from registration based on “morality” but did not direct the government to grant official recognition to LAMBDA. The organization continued to pursue a previously filed case with the Administrative Tribunal–the highest jurisdiction for administrative matters–specifically seeking to compel the government to respond to its registration request.

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

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

The International Organization for Migration estimated there were more than 320,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country in September, due to the violence in Cabo Delgado Province and cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019. Since 2017 the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province has displaced more than 250,000 residents in the six northern districts of the province.

The government subscribes to the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs, and its policies are in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Authorities did not always closely follow government policy, and there were incidents of the movement or relocation of IDPs inconsistent with the UN guiding principles. Authorities limited access to some areas of Cabo Delgado Province.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Durable Solutions: The government worked closely with UNHCR to implement a local integration program for refugees in communities in Maputo and nearby Matola and at the Maratane Camp in Nampula Province. UNHCR referred a limited number of refugees for third-country resettlement.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. The government had yet to act on the registration request pending since 2008 of a local LGBTI rights advocacy organization. The government frequently denied or delayed NGO access to areas where credible allegations of abuses by security forces occurred, particularly in Cabo Delgado Province.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is mandated to promote and defend the human rights provisions of the constitution. Its stated priorities include cases of law enforcement violence and torture, judicial corruption, and abuses of prisoner rights. The CNDH lacks authority to prosecute abuses and must refer cases to the judiciary. Commission members are chosen by political parties, civil society, the prime minister, and the Mozambican Bar Association. Although the CNDH was an active human rights advocate, its lack of resources and formal staff training in human rights hindered its effectiveness.

Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. In the first round of the presidential elections on December 27, Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Mahamadou Issoufou, who won a second term in 2016, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office. International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election to be peaceful, free, and fair. In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; forced disappearances by government and armed groups; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS affiliates; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. Wary of increasing attacks on its borders as well as spillover from insecurity in Libya, the government participated in campaigns against terrorist groups with the governments of Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Burkina Faso.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and media members.

Freedom of Speech: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views with some restrictions. The government owned and operated television, radio, and major print publications, and provided funding to independent media publications through the Supreme Council of Communications, which ostensibly monitored content for factual accuracy and unbiased coverage.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally arrested journalists and civil society activists linked to factual inaccuracies in reporting on government corruption, specifically on allegations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of National Defense.

On March 5, police arrested journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni for publishing false statements after he posted a report online concerning a suspected case of COVID-19 at a Niamey hospital. On March 26, he received a three-month suspended sentence, and a court ordered him to pay a token fine to the hospital.

On March 18, police arrested journalist Moudi Moussa and two activists and released them in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

On June 10, authorities arrested and detained blogger-journalist Samira Sabou on charges of defamation filed by the son of the president after she alleged in a May 26 blogpost that he was involved in a major military procurement corruption scandal. A Niamey court acquitted Sabou and released her on July 28. On July 12, police detained Ali Soumana, the editor of the newspaper Le Courrier, a day after Soumana published an article regarding the same procurement scandal. On July 14, he was provisionally released pending trial.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists sometimes encountered pressure from authorities concerning reporting critical of the government. State-owned and -operated media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency in these regions on a rolling three-month basis through parliamentary approval.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, authorities arrested Ali Tera in 2019 based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention and under investigation.

The law to counter cybercriminality also regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders face from six months to three years in prison and fines. Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom. The government planned to appoint university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff in previous years. After a months-long strike by academic personnel, the government accepted peer-elected chancellors but appointed the university president, who presides over the chancellors. The Ministry of Higher Education returned payroll deductions to the striking teachers and paid backlogged salaries for researchers.

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice. At a protest against corruption in March, police made arrests and fired tear gas, and a resulting marketplace fire killed three persons.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

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

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

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices. The government continued its ban on motorcycles in Tillabery Region and parts of Dosso Region.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were approximately 257,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) nationally, including 103,000 in the Diffa Region, and approximately 34,000 returned citizens from Nigeria displaced by Boko and ISIS-WA-instigated violence. IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the Diffa Region. The government worked with foreign donors and the humanitarian community, including international aid organizations and NGOs, to supply displaced populations and hosting communities with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. The law provides for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.

Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. As of September UNHCR reported approximately 84,000 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and more than 55,000 in the Tahoua Region. Insecurity in the Maradi Region also caused a sharp increase in IDPs, rising to 17,000 newly displaced persons in September.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

UNHCR closed the three refugee camps it managed in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) as part of an urbanization strategy for the region. The refugees received shelter and plots of land near the villages of Ayerou, Ouallam, and Abala. UNHCR also managed one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane) and one refugee camp in the Diffa Region, and it assisted refugees in the urban centers of Niamey and Ayorou.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions were vulnerable to armed attacks. In the Diffa Region, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued unlawful recruitment of child soldiers among refugees. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they might harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.

Following a violent attack on Intikane in June by unidentified armed men on motorbikes, approximately 25 percent of the refugee population fled to Telemces.

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

Durable Solutions: A tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the government, and the Mali government provides a legal framework for voluntary refugee repatriation when conditions in Mali are conducive for sustainable returns. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive for large-scale returns in safety and dignity, and return was not promoted.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing the country to return to their countries of origin.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights topics, including prison and detention center conditions and allegations of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as the government ombudsman, including on some human rights topics. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often failed to carry out their work effectively.

For the third consecutive year, the government increased funding for organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Cabinet of Ministers, and National Assembly. In joint presidential and legislative elections from October 22-24, voters elected six-time presidential candidate Wavel Ramkalawan of opposition party Linyon Demokratik Seselwa with 54.9 percent of the vote. The Linyon Demokratik Seselwa party also won 20 of 26 seats in the National Assembly. International election observers determined the elections to have been free, credible, and transparent, despite some reports of vote buying and voter intimidation.

The Seychelles Police Force, which includes unarmed police and an armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, have primary responsibility for internal security and report to the minister of internal affairs. The Seychelles People’s Defense Forces–composed of the infantry, the special forces, the coast guard, and the air force–are responsible for external security and assist police with internal security as needed. These military services report to the president, who acts as minister of defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

The October 22-24 election was the first time that Seychellois voters elected an opposition party candidate as president since 1976. Former president Danny Faure of the United Seychelles Party immediately accepted the election results, conceded, and supported a peaceful and smooth transfer of power. On October 26, President Ramkalawan was sworn into office.

Significant human rights issues included: lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women, trafficking in persons, and the worst forms of child labor.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Speech: In the run up to the October elections, individuals continued to be more willing to exercise the freedom of speech, criticizing the government with less fear of reprisal, such as harassment by police or the loss of jobs or contracts. For example, the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation hosted the first-ever televised forum discussing the performance of the three presidential candidates during the country’s first-ever presidential candidate debate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the minister of information technology to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the “national interest” or “objectionable.” The law also requires telecommunication companies to submit subscriber information to the government. Although authorities did not enforce the law, after more than 40 years of working in a controlled press environment, journalists continued to practice some self-censorship. The high cost for requesting documents from the Land Registrar’s Office limited journalists’ access to information regarding land transactions, which are important documents when investigating existing and past corruption.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamatory libel and slander is considered a criminal offense under the penal code and several cases of defamation on social media were prosecuted in court during the year. In July presidential candidate Alain St. Ange filed a defamation complaint against Alexander Pierre for posting statements on social media that insinuated that St. Ange misappropriated One Seychelles party funds. Court hearings continued throughout the year.

Weeks before the October 22-24 election, then presidential candidate Wavel Ramkalawan withdrew a complaint for defamation he filed in 2018 against Raoul Rene Payet after Payet posted three articles on a social media website alleging that Ramkalawan accepted $150,000 to agree to sell Seychelles’ Assomption Island to the Government of India for a military base.

Internet Freedom

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

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

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

The law 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. The police commissioner may impose conditions or deny the right to assemble on security, morality, and public safety grounds. The commissioner may also set conditions on the timing and location of gatherings.

The government limited the exercise of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning in April, authorities banned large public gatherings, including political rallies. Because of these restrictions, there were few public demonstrations and marches during the year.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, authorities severely restricted internal movement and foreign travel in April and May due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not applicable.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the country cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which registered asylum seekers and conducted refugee status determinations.

The constitution provides citizenship to individuals born in the country, but existing laws may not provide safeguards to prevent statelessness of children born to parents whose nationality is unknown or who were abandoned by their parents.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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 and responsive to their views. 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 Seychelles, 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 legislation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In September, Human Rights Commission chairman Bernardin Renaud criticized the government’s systemic failures in public administration, which included ignoring public inquiries, failing to cite authoritative law in decisions, and police officers using their power to mask wrongdoing. Renaud called for increased education of public administration officials. Since its establishment the commission has received 88 complaints related to work, the right to property, right to liberty, right to family, and right to fair hearings.

The Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) heard cases of alleged human rights abuses and property expropriations throughout the year. Sessions were generally open to the public, televised, and streamed online; however, the TRNUC began closed hearings in the lead up to and during the October presidential and legislative elections. The TRNUC continued open hearings after the election. These cases included unlawful killings, disappearances, forced land acquisitions, and victimizations related to the 1977 military takeover. The TRNUC may recommend amnesty, compensation, and refer crimes to the attorney general for prosecution. As of November the TRNUC heard 180 of the 425 cases and anticipated hearing 194 cases by the end of the year.

In 2019 the Office of the Ombudsman received 179 complaints, 75 of which were considered premature because the complainant had not exhausted available avenues to seek remedies, 66 complaints involved matters outside of the jurisdiction of the office, 11 were completed, and 27 remained pending. The Office of the Ombudsman was established in 1993 by the constitution and the ombudsman is appointed by the president from candidates nominated by the Constitutional Appointments Authority. The ombudsman may investigate any public authority up to and including the president, including complaints of violation of fundamental rights and allegations of corruption by public officials.

Authorities rarely used the inquiry board (a police complaint office) but instead established independent inquiry commissions. In February former president Danny Faure established a commission of inquiry to investigate an unlawful search conducted on opposition presidential candidate Wavel Ramkalawan by the Anti-Narcotics Bureau when Ramkalawan arrived at the airport. The inquiry found the search was unlawful. Police challenged the findings in court.

Private attorneys generally filed complaints with police or published them in newspapers such as Today in Seychelles or in opposition party newspapers such as Seychelles Weekly and Le Seychellois Hebdo. Although respect for human rights was included as a core precept in police training, police stated the course was skeletal and did not comprehensively cover human rights.

Somalia

Executive Summary

Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” whom the bicameral parliament elected in 2017. Farmaajo is the country’s second president since the Federal Government of Somalia was founded in 2012. The federal parliament consists of the 275-member House of the People and the 54-member Upper House. The country’s last parliamentary elections took place from October 2016 to January 2017. Caucuses selected House of the People members, with seats distributed according to clan affiliation and a power-sharing formula. State assemblies elected Upper House members. The parliamentary electoral process was widely viewed as marred by corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland controlled its jurisdiction.

The 2012 provisional federal constitution states federal police, overseen by civilian leadership in the Ministry of Internal Security, have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. Many parts of the country remained outside government control, with the insurgent Islamist group al-Shabaab contesting government control. The African Union Mission in Somalia, under civilian African Union leadership, and the Somali National Army, under civilian leadership in the Ministry of Defense, are the primary internal security providers. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the federal and state security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by government forces; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, and criminal libel laws; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; pervasive acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation.

Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, particularly military and police personnel. COVID-19 exacerbated already pervasive sexual and gender-based violence.

Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. Clan militias and al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country. Al-Shabaab committed the majority of severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted killings, including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Al-Shabaab also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The law criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months.

The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland, Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, and Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 1.g.). On August 20, the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) filed a formal complaint with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, the UN Human Rights Council, and the OHCHR special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression alleging that the government was in breach of its obligations to protect journalists from attacks. The SJS alleged that the government failed to investigate the February 17 killing of journalist Abdiwali Ali Hassan by unknown assailants and the July 12 killings of journalists Mohamed Sahal Omar and Hodan Nalayeh by al-Shabaab.

Somaliland law prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or provocative news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.

There was evidence that the government continued to use outdated legal authorities to suppress criticism and dissent. On April 14, police arrested Goobjoog Media Group Deputy Director Abdiasis Ahmed Gurbiye after he published a series of Facebook posts alleging that President Farmaajo ordered a donated ventilator moved from Mogadishu’s De Martini Hospital to the presidential office during the COVID-19 pandemic. The arrest drew criticism from domestic and international media rights NGOs amid allegations that the government was attempting to suppress a matter of public health concern and possible wrongdoing. On July 29, the Benadir Regional Court sentenced him to six months in prison and a monetary fine for “publication or circulation of false, exaggerated, or tendentious information capable of disturbing public order.” While Gurbiye was able to pay a fine to avoid serving his prison sentence, media organizations noted the chilling effect of his case on journalists attempting to report on government activities.

On September 14, Somaliland police detained freelance radio journalist Ilyas Abdi Ali, according to media sources, for a Facebook post calling for the release of Astaan TV CEO Abdimanan Yusuf (see section 1.d.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and the search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Reports of such interference occurred in Mogadishu and remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland. Government authorities maintained editorial control over state-funded media and limited the autonomy of private outlets through direct and indirect threats. Threats were often applied through unilateral actions of security and other institutions.

Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Penalties included prison terms ranging from a few days to several months, and fines. Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.

Violence and Harassment: The National Union of Somali Journalists recorded two killings of journalists in the country during the year. Domestic media organizations reported regular harassment by the security forces, NISA, clan and other private groups, and al-Shabaab (see also section 1.d.).

Somaliland authorities also regularly harassed journalists through arbitrary detention when they reported on government shortcomings or union with Somalia, particularly in the Sool and Sanaag regions disputed with Puntland. On September 7, Las Anood Mayor Abdiaziz Hassan Tarwale reportedly ordered the detention of Saab TV reporter Abdifatah Mohamed Abdi in response to his reporting on the destructive floods that washed away sections of the town’s roads. On September 8, authorities detained Universal TV reporter Khadar Rigah, reportedly for covering a local businesswomen’s protest against the city’s demolition of business structures and increased imposition of taxes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals. Police forced one outlet in Barawe to cease broadcasting in a local dialect.

The publication Foore reopened after a one-year suspension imposed by a regional court in Somaliland for printing “false news and antinational propaganda” in a 2018 article concerning the construction of a new presidential palace. Somaliland authorities closed at least three outlets for their reporting, including Star TV and Universal TV in June.

Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws providing criminal penalties for publication of “false news” existed throughout the country, including Somaliland. The law criminalizes blasphemy and defamation of Islam, with punishments including cash fines, up to two years in prison, or both.

National Security: Federal and regional authorities frequently cited national security concerns to suppress media and other criticism and to prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.

Nongovernmental Impact: Clan militias, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups, foremost among them al-Shabaab, actively sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for members of the press, when it suited their interests.

On May 4, Said Yusuf Ali, a reporter for privately owned Kalsan TV, was stabbed to death in Mogadishu by unknown assailants. Shortly before his death, Ali had reported on the killing of a teacher in an Islamic school by al-Shabaab fighters.

Internet Freedom

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunications companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

There were no official restrictions on academic freedom, but academics practiced self-censorship.

Except in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, there were no official restrictions on attending cultural events, playing music, or going to the cinema. The security situation, however, effectively restricted access to and organization of cultural events in the southern and central regions.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require that it approve all public gatherings, citing security concerns such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.

Political groups faced obstacles holding rallies, reportedly due to informal control by security forces of access to hotels and conference facilities. On November 29, opposition presidential candidates sent a request to the Ministry of Internal Security to hold an event with supporters on December 3 at a venue in Mogadishu. The government denied the request.

The government also used security forces to suppress peaceful political protests. On December 14, the government deployed security forces around Mogadishu to suppress planned protests by supporters of opposition presidential candidates against the incumbent president regarding implementation arrangements for the upcoming elections. Some protests nonetheless took place on December 15, with at least one devolving into violent clashes between unknown parties and federal forces, leaving at least four persons wounded. In response, the government deployed security forces to quell further demonstrations.

In April, Mogadishu municipal authorities restricted public gatherings and imposed a curfew to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The forceful imposition of restrictions prompted hundreds of demonstrators to protest in the streets, according to an international news report.

Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.

The law provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate in areas it controlled.

Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems.

In addition to security and safety concerns, humanitarian organizations faced significant interference from federal and state authorities that attempted to impose taxation and registration requirements and control contracting, procurement, and staffing.

In August, Somaliland authorities issued a directive to international organizations and NGOs mandating that development and humanitarian assistance providers de facto recognize the self-declared independent republic’s sovereignty and territorial claims. The directive also included articles on registration and asset management that, if fully implemented, would likely result in a significant disruption to humanitarian operations.

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

The law provides that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas, particularly in Somaliland.

In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country.

Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in federal-government processes or cultural activities.

Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan regions, and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In September and October al-Shabaab imposed movement restrictions on civilians and humanitarian actors in Gedo region’s Beled Hawo and Garbaharrey towns, hindering humanitarian health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene programming targeting approximately 100,000 persons.

As of August continuing conflict and climate shocks during the year led to an increase in internal displacement. The country was home to more than 2.7 million IDPs. More than 893,000 new displacements were recorded during the year, with 177,000 primarily conflict- or security-related and 716,000 caused by flooding. Acute food insecurity and malnutrition levels remained elevated among IDPs–including in comparison with nondisplaced residents–although their magnitude and severity were lower than projected.

UNHCR advocated for the protection of IDPs and provided some financial assistance, and Somalis who have returned from refugee camps abroad often move to IDP camps. Fewer than 1,000 refugees returned to the country during the year, and those who returned previously continue to require humanitarian assistance.

While government and regional authorities were more involved in the famine prevention and drought response than in prior years, their capacity to respond was extremely limited. In addition forced evictions of IDPs continued. Forced evictions remained a significant protection issue, and relief agencies recorded the redisplacement of nearly 98,000 IDPs between January and August. Humanitarian actors’ efforts likely prevented nearly 21,000 evictions between February and July, according to UNHCR. Private persons with claims to land and government authorities, for example, regularly pursued the forceful eviction of IDPs in Mogadishu.

Increased reports of gender-based violence accompanied increased displacement, including reports of abuses committed by various armed groups and security personnel. Women and children living in IDP settlements were particularly vulnerable to rape by armed men, including government soldiers and militia members. Gatekeepers in control of some IDP camps reportedly forced girls and women to provide sex in exchange for food and services within the settlements.

The government worked to implement policies approved in November 2019 to increase protections of vulnerable populations. The government at both the federal and municipal levels developed policies and frameworks that aim to protect the rights of IDPs and promote lasting, durable solutions for them, including through local integration in urban areas.

Federal government and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The country hosted approximately 22,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Yemen and Ethiopia, with smaller numbers from other countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also use the country as a transit corridor en route to the Gulf, Yemen, and Europe, which exposes them to exploitation and abuse, primarily by human traffickers.

As of September 30, UNHCR supported the return of 331 Somali refugees from countries of asylum. A further 447 Somalis were registered as having returned from Yemen without the support of UNHCR during the same period. There were frequent disruptions in return movements to Somalia due to continuing violence and conflict. On December 5, a UNHCR-supported voluntary repatriation program from Kenya restarted, targeting 300 refugee returnees by the end of the year.

Access to Asylum: The law recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the federal government had no legal framework or system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to Yemenis while most other nationalities underwent individual refugee status determination procedures.

Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees. Refugees often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community.

Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations, although this remained a challenge primarily due to security, lack of political will, and financial constraints.

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

A number of local and international human rights groups operated in areas outside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Security concerns constrained NGOs’ ability to operate in southern and central areas of the country. International and local NGOs generally worked without major restrictions in Somaliland, although clan politics, localized violence, and perceived interference with traditional or religious customs sometimes curtailed NGO activity in these areas.

Authorities sometimes harassed or did not cooperate with NGOs, for example, by dismissing findings of official corruption. Harassment remained a problem in Somaliland.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government allowed the Panel of Experts to return after barring it in 2019, but due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, the most recent mission was conducted remotely.

On October 25, Somaliland issued a statement suspending all activities by UN agencies and other international humanitarian and development partners in its territory.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The provisional federal constitution calls for the formation of an independent national human rights commission and a truth and reconciliation commission within 45 days and 30 days, respectively, of the formation of the Council of Ministers in 2012, but these provisions have not been implemented. There was no formal government mechanism for tracking abuses.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

South Sudan is a republic operating under a transitional government formed according to the terms of peace agreements signed in August 2015 and September 2018. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The South Sudanese People’s Defense Forces are responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operate under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. The Internal Security Bureau of the National Security Service, under the Ministry of National Security, has arrest authority for cases connected to national security but operates far beyond its legal authority. Numerous irregular forces, including militias operated by the National Security Service and proxy forces, operate in the country with official knowledge. Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous serious abuses.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities and the conflict spread. The parties signed several cease-fire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A cease-fire generally held from August 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in 2018, which continued to hold as of mid-September. Fighting between government forces and other groups not party to the peace agreement, referred to as the “nonsignatories,” continued in the Greater Equatoria region. Subnational violence, often labeled “intercommunal” but frequently reflecting political causes, also continued, particularly in Jonglei and Warrap States.

Significant human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based, targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, mass forced displacement, widespread sexual and gender-based violence, and use of food as a weapon of war; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against and intimidation and detention of journalists; closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; the use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite isolated examples of prosecution for these crimes, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

Nongovernment armed groups, including the forces of peace agreement signatories and other opposition armed groups alike, also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment of children and adults into combat and noncombat roles.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government and its agents frequently violated these rights in the name of national security, however, and the downward trend in respect for these freedoms continued.

Freedom of Speech: Civil society organizations must register with the government under the law. The government regularly attempted to impede criticism by monitoring, intimidating, harassing, arresting, or detaining members of civil society who criticized the government.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government maintained strict control of media, both print and electronic. The government suppressed dissenting voices, forcing some civil society organizations and media houses to shut down or flee the country. Government officials or individuals close to the government regularly interfered in the publication of articles and broadcasting of programs, and high-level government officials stated press freedom should not extend to criticism of the government or soliciting views of opposition leaders.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces commonly intimidated or detained journalists whose reporting they perceived as unfavorable to the military or government. Security forces confiscated or damaged journalists’ equipment and restricted their movements. During the year journalists were interrogated, harassed, detained, and imprisoned. NSS representatives frequently harassed journalists by detaining them at NSS headquarters or local police stations without formal charges. Government harassment was so pronounced that several journalists chose to flee the country. Journalists and media agencies that reported on news of the opposition could expect questioning and possibly closure. Journalists in Juba experienced threats and intimidation and routinely practiced self-censorship. On several occasions, high-level officials used intimidating language directed toward media outlets and representatives.

There were multiple reports of such abuses, such as the following example: On January 10, authorities in Torit, Eastern Equatoria, arrested and detained Ijoo Bosco Modi, a freelance journalist working for Torit Radio 97.5 FM, for reading on air a press release concerning international sanctions imposed on Vice President Taban Deng Gai.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most organizations practiced self-censorship to ensure their safety, and authorities regularly censored newspapers, directly reprimanded publishers, and removed articles deemed critical of the government. Many print media outlets reported NSS officers forced the removal of articles at the printing company (where all newspapers are printed), often leaving a blank spot where the article was originally meant to appear.

Since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the government tried to dictate media coverage of the conflict and threatened those who tried to publish or broadcast views of the opposition. The Media Authority advised international journalists not to describe conflict in the country in tribal terms and deemed such references as “hate speech.” The NSS regularly harassed, intimidated, and summoned journalists for questioning. The environment for media workers remained precarious throughout the year.

In March the NSS shuttered the English-language newspaper Agamlong following the publication of articles critical of a senior government official.

Internet Freedom

The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority frequently blocked access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Radio Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, accused of disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals–especially those outside of Juba–who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.

The government restricted cultural activities and academic workshops. NSS authorization is required for public events, including academic workshops, which particularly affected NGOs and other civic organizations. To obtain permission, the NSS sometimes requested a list of national and international staff members employed by the organizations and names of participants. Permission was often predicated upon the expectation the NSS would be able to monitor the events. In February the University of Juba suspended Professor Lo Liyong after he wrote an article criticizing the government’s changing of state boundaries in the country. Professor Lo Liyong was reinstated in June and fined three months’ salary.

The government generally respected freedom of peaceful assembly but restricted freedom of association.

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right, but many citizens did not gather due to fear of targeted violence. Security officials lacked nonviolent crowd control capabilities and at times fired live ammunition into the air to disperse crowds.

In June police and military officers shot live ammunition into a crowd of approximately 1,000 civilians protesting the killing of three persons by military officers regarding a land dispute in Juba. Security forces fired into the air to disburse a peaceful protest regarding the same incident in Bor, arresting a journalist and youth leader. In November the NSS arrested individuals planning a peaceful demonstration regarding the rising cost of living.

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not respect this right for those suspected of associating with or having sympathies for opposition figures (see section 1.g.). Some civil society leaders interpreted a 2012 law as an attempt to suppress opposition to the SPLM (see section 3). Non-SPLM parties in the transitional government, particularly the SPLM-IO, noted increased ability to conduct activities during the year.

The NSS and other security actors widely enforced a 2016 law strictly regulating the activity and operations of civil society throughout the year. The law focused particularly on NGOs working in the governance, anticorruption, and human rights fields, and it imposed a range of legal barriers, including limitations on the types of activities in which organizations may engage, onerous registration requirements, and heavy fines for noncompliance. Human rights groups and civil society representatives reported NSS officials continued surveillance and threats against civil society organizations. Civil society organizations reported extensive NSS scrutiny of proposed public events; the NSS reviewed every proposed event and sometimes denied permission, rejected proposed speakers, or disrupted events (see section 7.a.).

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

The transitional constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, and repatriation. The government, however, often restricted these rights, routinely blocked travel of political figures within the country, and denied them permission to travel abroad. Despite multiple pledges from the government to dismantle checkpoints, they remained a common problem. Security forces manning these checkpoints routinely used them as opportunities to charge illegal fees and discriminate against minorities.

The transitional constitution does not address emigration.

In-country Movement: IDPs remained in UNMISS PoC sites due to fear of retaliatory or ethnically targeted violence by armed groups, both government- and opposition-affiliated. The government often obstructed humanitarian organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance to IDPs and refugees. Continuing conflict between government and opposition forces and subnational violence restricted the movement of UN personnel and the delivery of humanitarian aid (see section 1.g.), as did restrictions due to COVID-19.

Between March and August, at the height of COVID-19 movement restrictions, the number of humanitarian aid workers in the country dramatically decreased, with those remaining working from accommodations in Juba or other town centers. The preflight testing requirement for all domestic travelers and the lack of laboratory capacity and capability restricted the ability to travel within the country. Humanitarian workers reported being turned away from the testing facility due to the backlog of samples to be analyzed.

Foreign Travel: Individuals, due to arbitrary restrictions, were sometimes prevented from leaving the country.

Significant levels of subnational violence continued, particularly in Jonglei, Warrap, and the Greater Equatoria region. The result was sustained mass population displacement, both within the country and into neighboring countries, and high levels of humanitarian and protection needs, which strained the ability of UN and international humanitarian personnel to provide protection and assistance. According to OCHA, as of September conflict and food insecurity had displaced internally more than 1.6 million persons. Of these, more than 180,000 persons were sheltered in UNMISS PoC sites. The increased violence and food insecurity forced relief actors to delay plans for the safe return and relocation of some IDP populations.

Violence affecting areas such as the regions of Central Equatoria and Jonglei continued to result in dire humanitarian consequences, including significant displacement and serious and systematic human rights abuses, such as the killing of civilians, arbitrary arrests, detentions, looting and destruction of civilian property, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence, according to the UNMISS Human Rights Division and other organizations.

The government promoted the return and resettlement of IDPs but did not provide a safe environment for returns and often denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs.

The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Overall, coordination with the government continued across all sectors, including with the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. The coronavirus pandemic further deepened the plight of persons fleeing war, conflict, and repression and of vulnerable South Sudanese.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees sometimes suffered killings and abuse, such as armed attacks, gender-based violence, forced recruitment, including of children, and forced labor, according to UNHCR. This abuse was often perpetrated by armed SPLM-N elements that crossed the border and visited or temporarily took up residence in refugee camps and sites.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for protection of refugees as well as the granting of asylum and refugee status. The government allowed refugees from neighboring countries to settle and generally did not treat refugees differently from other foreigners. While most refugees in South Sudan were from Sudan, the government also granted asylum to refugees from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Somalia.

Access to Basic Services: While refugees sometimes lacked basic services, this generally reflected a lack of capacity in the country to manage refugee problems rather than government practices that discriminated against refugees. Refugee children had access to elementary education in refugee camps through programs managed by international NGOs and the United Nations. Some schools were shared with children from the host community. In principle refugees had access to judiciary services, although a lack of infrastructure and staff meant these resources were often unavailable.

Due to continuing conflict and scarcity of resources, tension existed between refugees and host communities in some areas regarding access to resources.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees and returnees for reintegration, and efforts to develop a framework for their integration or reintegration into local communities were in progress. No national procedures were in place to facilitate the provision of identity documents for returnees or the naturalization of refugees beyond procedures that were in place for all citizens and other applicants.

Citizenship is derived through the right of blood (jus sanguinis) if a person has a South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals also may derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. While the country had a Nationality Act in place since independence, less than 10 percent of South Sudanese were believed to have obtained national passports or certificates. There were no statistics or estimates of how many inhabitants may be at risk of statelessness. The Nationality Act does not include any specific provisions for stateless persons, children whose parents are without nationality, or children born in the country who otherwise would be stateless.

According to a 2018 report from the National Dialogue, a government-sponsored initiative, it was more difficult for those from the southern region of Equatoria to rightfully claim citizenship due to discrimination from other tribes, which suspected them of being Ugandans or Congolese. According to UNHCR, certain nomadic pastoralist groups had difficulty accessing application procedures for nationality certification, requiring UNHCR’s intervention to address matters with the Directorate of Nationality, Passports, and Immigration.

In 2019 the government declared five pledges toward ending statelessness by 2024, and with the support of UNHCR, the government drafted a national action plan to serve as a roadmap for implementation. In August the Ministry of Interior endorsed the plan.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published information on human rights cases and the armed conflict, often while facing considerable government resistance. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views and were often actively hostile. Reports outlining atrocities exacerbated tensions between the government and international organizations and NGOs. Government and opposition forces often blamed each other or pointed toward militia groups or “criminal” actors.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. A lack of security guarantees from the government and opposition on many occasions, as well as frequent government violations of the status of forces agreement, including the restriction of movement of UNMISS personnel, constrained UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate, which included human rights monitoring and investigations. Security forces generally regarded international organizations with suspicion.

UNMISS and its staff faced increased harassment and intimidation by the government, threats against UNMISS premises and PoC sites, unlawful arrest and detention, and abduction. The SSPDF regularly prevented UNMISS from accessing areas of suspected human rights abuses in violation of the status of forces agreement that allows UNMISS access to the entire country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints members of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, whose mandate includes education, research, monitoring, and investigation of human rights abuses, either on its own initiative or upon request by victims. International organizations and civil society organizations considered the commission’s operations to be generally independent of government influence. The commission cooperated with international human rights advocates and submitted reports and recommendations to the government.

While observers generally regarded the commission to have committed and competent leadership, severe resource constraints prevented it from effectively fulfilling its human rights protection mandate. Salaries and office management accounted for the bulk of its funding, leaving little for monitoring or investigation. In 2015 the commission released a three-year strategy and reported on 700 previously undocumented prisoners; however, it had produced little since.

The National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide remained largely inactive.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government, installed in August 2019, is led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who heads the Council of Ministers. There is also a Sovereign Council led by Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, who is one of the five military members, as well as six civilians. The Transitional Legislative Council had not been formed as of year’s end. Under the constitutional declaration signed in August 2019, general elections were scheduled for 2022, but following the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement on October 3, they were postponed to 2024.

Under the civilian-led transitional government, responsibility for internal security resides with the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police agencies as well as the Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Service. Ministry of Interior police agencies include the security police, special forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve Police. There is a police presence throughout the country. The General Intelligence Service’s mandate changed from protecting national security and during the year was limited to gathering, analyzing, and submitting information to other security services. The Ministry of Defense has a mandate to oversee all elements of the Sudanese Armed Forces, including the Rapid Support Forces, Border Guards, and defense and military intelligence units. During the year the police infrastructure was largely moved under executive authority to assure it would adhere to its mandate to protect individuals and enforce the laws. Civilian authorities’ control of security forces continued to improve. Nevertheless, members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Throughout the year the civilian-led transitional government continued its legal reform process. This included repealing the public order act and amending the criminal acts to outlaw female genital mutilation, remove capital punishment for conviction of sodomy, and increase freedoms for religious minorities, including repealing apostasy laws. The civilian-led transitional government and various armed rebel groups continued peace negotiations and signed a peace agreement on October 3 that sought to end decades of internal conflict.

Significant human rights abuses included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and cases of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by reportedly rogue elements of the security apparatus, especially in conflict zones; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with politicization of the judiciary by holdovers from the previous regime, prompting mass dismissals by the civilian-led transitional government; serious abuses in internal conflicts, including killings, abductions, torture and use of child soldiers by rebel groups; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct; and child labor.

The civilian-led transitional government continued its investigation into security force abuses that occurred throughout the 2019 revolution, including the violent dispersal of a peaceful sit-in in June 2019 in Khartoum, and the beating and sexual assault of others. As of year’s end, the investigative committee had not publicly submitted its findings. The Ministry of Justice also began investigations and trials for members of the deposed regime for alleged human rights abuses. The prime minister stated more than 35 committees were actively conducting investigations.

In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued sporadically to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports militias looted, raped, and killed civilians. Intercommunal violence originating from land-tenure disputes and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. There were also human rights abuses reported in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from local conflict over cattle and land between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya indigenous groups. Reports were difficult to verify due to access challenges. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were the main causes of insecurity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the unrestricted right of freedom of expression and for freedom of the press as regulated by law, and the CLTG reportedly respected these rights.

Freedom of Speech: There were few reports of reprisals against individuals who criticized the government, with the primary exception of criticism of the security services. On July 18, the SAF stated they had appointed a special commissioner to file lawsuits against individuals who insult the army, including activists and journalists; however, no such cases were filed during the year. According to Human Rights Watch, there were also reports of intimidation of journalists and activists who criticized the security services.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CLTG generally respected press and media freedoms and issued a number of media licenses, although media continued to be dominated by former regime loyalists.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike under the prior regime, there were no reports of the CLTG using violence and harassment against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of government censorship or print confiscations. Many journalists, however, practiced self-censorship in reporting on corruption (see section 4).

Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief potentially criminally liable for slander for all content published or broadcast.

National Security: In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of authorities using national security as a justification to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of the government.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for freedom of expression, including for media, and the CLTG took measures to respect these rights. The CLTG allowed foreign journalists, including those previously banned by the Bashir regime.

Internet Freedom

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

Unlike in the previous regime, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom, but in one case a cultural event was restricted. The CLTG started drafting a curriculum for public schools that would respect diversity and freedom of religion or belief. The CLTG appointed university leadership after dismissing those appointed by the Bashir regime. All major universities returned to operation after the 2019 revolution.

On August 10, a total of 11 artists were arrested and charged with endangering public safety and creating public disturbance, reportedly after neighbors complained of excessive noise during a rehearsal of a theater piece. The artists were tried and on September 18 and September 24 convicted and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a fine. In October the court of appeal annulled the sentences, and the 11 artists were released.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected the right of peaceful assembly; however, it restricted the freedom of association of civil society and NGOs.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government in most cases respected those rights. Peaceful protests were generally allowed to occur. For example, on June 30 and October 21, protesters conducted demonstrations. Demonstrations were largely peaceful; police used nonviolent measures to maintain order. But in August media reported police forcibly dispersed protesters with tear gas.

Although the 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the right of freedom of association, the existing law still included many restrictions on civil society organizations and NGOs.

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

The law provides for the freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration, and although the government largely respected these rights, restrictions on travel to conflict areas remained.

In-country Movement: Armed opposition groups still reportedly restricted the movement of citizens in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).

Internal movement was generally unhindered for citizens outside conflict areas. Foreigners needed travel permits for domestic travel outside Khartoum, which were bureaucratically difficult to obtain. Foreigners were required to register with the Ministry of Interior’s Alien Control Division within three days of arrival and were limited to a 15.5-mile radius from Khartoum. Once registered, foreigners were allowed to move beyond this radius, but travel to conflict regions required official approval. The CLTG eased some of these requirements, especially for travel to tourist sites.

Foreign Travel: The Miscellaneous Amendments Act abolished the requirement for an exit visa thus allowing Sudanese citizens to depart the country without prior permission.

Exile: Many activists returned to the country from self-exile after the CLTG took power. For example, after the removal of President Bashir in 2019, the former Transitional Military Council forcibly deported leaders of armed movements to South Sudan; in July some of these leaders returned to participate in peace discussions in Khartoum. Several prominent opposition members also returned to the country to participate in the formation of the new government. Some members of the armed movements remained in exile, however, and some expressed concern regarding their civic and political rights should they return to Sudan.

Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the vast majority of the displacement during the year was triggered by intercommunal and other armed conflict. Reports of IDPs attempting to return to or access their farmlands in Darfur increased. Many IDPs faced chronic food shortages and inadequate medical care. Significant numbers of farmers were prevented from planting their fields due to insecurity, leading to near-famine conditions in parts of South Kordofan. Information regarding the number of IDPs in these areas remained difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 IDPs and severely affected persons, while the government estimated the number as closer to 200,000. UN agencies could not provide estimates, citing lack of access. Children accounted for approximately 60 percent of persons displaced in camps.

Some UN agencies were able to work with the Darfur governor’s advisers on women and children to raise awareness of gender-based violence and response efforts.

There were reports of abuse committed by government security forces, and armed opposition groups against IDPs in Darfur, including rapes and beatings (see section 1.g.).

Outside IDP camps and towns, insecurity restricted freedom of movement; women and girls who left the towns and camps risked sexual violence. Insecurity within IDP camps also was a problem. The government provided little assistance or protection to IDPs in Darfur. Most IDP camps had no functioning police force. International observers noted criminal gangs aligned with armed opposition groups operated openly in several IDP camps.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.

UNHCR reported more than one million refugees and asylum seekers in the country, the majority of whom were South Sudanese. Some South Sudanese and Syrian refugee and asylum-seeker populations did not present themselves to the government’s Commission on Refugees (COR) or to UNHCR for registration. UNHCR reported there were many South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.

As of mid-December, UNHCR had registered 49,370 refugees and asylum seekers from the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The refugees had crossed the country’s eastern border and remained in temporary camps located in Kassala and Gedaref at year’s end.

Approximately 3,000 refugees from Chad and 14,000 from the Central African Republic remained in Darfur. Eritrean refugees entering eastern Sudan often stayed in camps for two to three months before moving to Khartoum, other parts of the country, or on to Libya in an effort to reach Europe.

UNHCR estimated that 859,000 South Sudanese refugees remained in the country. The government claimed there were between two and three million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. It remained unclear how the government was categorizing who was South Sudanese and who was Sudanese. Many South Sudanese refugees resided in remote areas with minimal public infrastructure and where humanitarian organizations and resources had limited capabilities.

UNHCR Khartoum registered an estimated 284,000 South Sudanese refugees, including 60,000 refugees who lived in nine settlements known as “open areas” around Khartoum State. South Sudanese refugees in the open areas made up approximately 20 percent of the overall South Sudanese refugee population and were considered among the most vulnerable refugee communities. Sudan’s and South Sudan’s “four freedoms” agreement provides their citizens reciprocal freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but it was not fully implemented. Implementation varied by state, as well as refugees’ relations with local host communities. For example, South Sudanese in East Darfur had more flexibility to move around (so long as they were far away from the nearest village) than did those in White Nile State.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and harassment outside of camps because they did not possess identification cards while awaiting government determination of refugee or asylum status. According to authorities, registration of refugees helped provide for their personal security.

There were some reported abuses, including gender-based violence and exploitation, in COR-managed refugee camps. The CLTG worked with UNHCR to provide greater protection to refugees and stateless persons.

Refugees often relied on smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned kidnappers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid. Fear of violence prompted some of the South Sudanese refugee population in Khartoum and White Nile to return to South Sudan. South Sudanese refugee returnees faced arrest, extortion, and theft along the route through Sudan to South Sudan.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.

Refoulement: The country generally respected the principle of nonrefoulement. With UNHCR’s assistance, authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries. During the year there were no reported cases of refoulement; however, individuals who were deported as illegal migrants may have had legitimate claims to asylum or refugee status.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law nominally requires asylum applications to be submitted within 30 days of arrival in the country. This time stipulation was not strictly enforced. The law also requires asylum seekers to register both as refugees with the COR and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).

The government granted asylum to asylum seekers primarily from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria; it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be illegal migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, and in some cases took significantly longer, but they worked with UNHCR to implement quicker status determination procedures in eastern Sudan and Darfur to reduce the case backlog.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 93,000 Syrians registered with UNHCR in Sudan. Government sources, however, claimed there were far more Syrians in the country than were registered with UNHCR and the COR. More than 1,600 Yemeni refugees had registered in the country.

Freedom of Movement: The country maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951 regarding refugees’ right to move freely and choose their place of residence within a country. The government’s encampment policy requires asylum seekers and refugees to stay in designated camps; however, 76 percent of South Sudanese refugees (the great majority of refugees in the country) lived with local communities in urban and rural areas. The government continued to push for the relocation of South Sudanese refugees living outside Khartoum city to the White Nile state refugee camps. UNHCR notified the government relocations must be voluntary and dignified. By year’s end the CLTG had yet to relocate most South Sudanese and Ethiopians refugees to camps. The government previously allowed the establishment of two refugee camps in East Darfur and nine refugee camps in White Nile for South Sudanese refugees.

Refugees who left camps without permission and were intercepted by authorities faced administrative fines and return to the camp. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas were also subject to arrest and detention. UNHCR worked with legal partners to visit immigration detention centers and to provide persons of concern with legal assistance, such as release from detention centers and help navigating court procedures. On average, 150 to 200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and COR legal team.

Employment: The government in principle allowed refugees to work informally but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). A UNHCR agreement with COR to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program was being implemented in Kassala and Gedaref. To get a work permit, the CLTG required refugees to apply for a “foreigner number,” but most refugees did not have one, which is why the number of issued work permits remained low. Some refugees throughout the country found informal or seasonal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Some women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal alcohol production and were harassed or arrested by police. In urban centers the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector (for example, as tea sellers, house cleaners, and drivers), leaving them at heightened risk of arrest, exploitation, and abuse.

Many South Sudanese refugees in the country not registered with the South Sudanese government risked statelessness.

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

Unlike under the Bashir regime, 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 often were cooperative and responsive to their views, although some restrictions on NGOs remained, especially in conflict zones.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Access for UN agencies to Darfur, the Two Areas and other conflict-affected regions vastly improved under the leadership of the CLTG; however, challenges remained. In the greater Jebel Marra region of Darfur, the government sporadically denied access to UNAMID in areas where conflict continued. The CLTG also continued to restrict the number of visas issued for UN police for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei. Sudan is a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

In September 2019 the CLTG signed an agreement to open a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Khartoum, with field offices in Darfur, the Two Areas, and East Sudan, and the CLTG cooperated with these offices.

In April the CLTG authorized the UN independent expert on human rights in Sudan to visit the country, but due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the visit was cancelled.

The CLTG also allowed the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan to conduct an assessment in August, including on human rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Human rights defenders were allowed to file complaints with the National Human Rights Commission regarding perceived human rights abuses. The commission typically referred complaints back to the accused institution.

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The United Republic of Tanzania is a multiparty republic consisting of the mainland region and the semiautonomous Zanzibar archipelago, whose main islands are Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. The union is headed by a president, who is also the head of government. Its unicameral legislative body is the National Assembly (parliament). Zanzibar, although part of the union, exercises considerable autonomy and has its own government with a president, court system, and legislature. On October 28, the country held its sixth multiparty general election, resulting in the reelection of the union president, John Magufuli, with 85 percent of the vote, and the election of Dr. Hussein Mwinyi with 76 percent of the vote for his first term as president of Zanzibar. International and local election observers and civil society noted widespread election irregularities in the pre-election period, on election day, and in the postelection period which affected the credibility of the electoral process. Prior to the election, opposition candidates were routinely disqualified, harassed, and arrested. There were reports of significant and widespread voting irregularities, internet disruptions, intimidation of journalists, arrests, and violence by security forces both in mainland Tanzania and on Zanzibar resulting in an election that was neither free nor fair.

Under the union’s Ministry of Home Affairs, the Tanzanian Police Force has primary responsibility for maintaining law and order. The Field Force Unit, a special police division, has primary responsibility for controlling unlawful demonstrations and riots. The Tanzania People’s Defense Forces include the army, navy, air force, and National Services. The Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces and directed their activities. Members of domestic security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government; forced disappearance by the government or on behalf of the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, the existence of criminal libel laws even if not enforced; overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom or other mistreatment of refugees that would constitute a human rights abuse; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/racial/ethnic minorities, or indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

In some cases the government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity in police and other security forces and civilian branches of government was widespread.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech but does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press. There were criminal penalties for libel, and authorities used these laws to stifle freedom of expression. Additionally, government attacks on human rights defenders and the arrest of opposition leaders calling for peaceful, democratic protests were restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. These rights have been further severely limited through a number of formal (legislative, regulatory) and informal (executive, government, and police statements) actions. These include the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act, No. 3 of 2020, which curtailed the ability of citizens to bring suit against government legislative or executive action unless an individual can prove the action has affected him or her personally, effectively outlawing public interest litigation.

Freedom of Speech: Public criticism of the government resulted in punitive action in some cases. Authorities used the Cybercrimes Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government on a variety of electronic media.

On April 24, journalist Prince Bagenda was arrested for sedition for writing a book tentatively titled Magufuli Personification of Power and the Rise of Authoritarianism. He was detained for six days before being released on bail. His laptop was seized and not returned. He had to report to police headquarters every Monday as a condition of his bail.

On May 29, Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, who has frequently been arrested for being critical of the government, was found guilty of sedition and incitement for having made false statements that 100 persons were killed in his home region in 2018 during clashes between herders and police forces. He was released without sentencing under the condition that he not say or write anything potentially seditious for one year.

On July 14, the Registrar of Societies under the Ministry of Home Affairs instructed all societies–specifically religious institutions–to stop engaging in politics, and threatened legal action and deregistration if they did not comply. Minister of Home Affairs Simbachawene also warned that he would not hesitate to deregister religious organizations. At the time, some pointed to this as a way to prevent religious institutions from participating in election observation. However, none of the religious institutions was accredited as observers anyway (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation). Many religious institutions have viewed election observation as a longtime priority (see also section 1.b., Disappearance).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed varying views, although media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government. The government often utilized COVID-19 as a means to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Registering or licensing new print and broadcast media outlets was difficult. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministries on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage. The TCRA imposes registration and annual fees for commercial and community radio stations which disadvantage the creation and operation of small community radio stations.

On April 13, the TCRA suspended the newspaper Mwananchis online license for six months and fined it five million TZS ($2,100) for allegedly violating the Electronic and Postal (Online Content) Regulations of 2018 by publishing false and misleading news. The newspaper had published a video of President Magufuli buying fish at a market, apparently not complying with social distancing and COVID-19 regulations.

On June 23, the Information Services Department, which registers print media, announced it would revoke the Swahili newspaper Tanzania Daimas distribution and publication license as of June 24. The government alleged Tanzania Daima had violated journalistic ethics and laws, including spreading false information. Tanzania Daima is associated with the opposition politician Freeman Mbowe. The newspaper had just published a front-page article concerning a local bishop who called for peaceful protests to demand an independent electoral commission.

On August 6, the TCRA summoned Mwanza-based Radio Free Africa and demanded an explanation of why Radio Free Africa ran a BBC-produced interview with opposition party CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu on July 29 without pursuing the government’s position on some of Lissu’s criticisms. Just days later, new rules were issued that required TCRA approval of all local radio and television outlet agreements with domestic and foreign content providers and required TCRA presence at meetings between foreign and domestic media representatives. Local television and radio outlets with existing agreements with foreign content providers were given seven days to comply.

All broadcast stations are required to receive approval from the Tanzania Film Board for locally produced content, including music videos, films, cartoons, and other video content. In June the government passed an amendment to the Films and Stage Plays Act (Amendment 3), providing the Tanzania Film Board with the authority to regulate, monitor and determine if foreign and local motion pictures, television shows, radio shows, and stage performances are approved for exhibition.

The government of Zanzibar controlled content on the radio and television stations it owned. There were government restrictions on broadcasting in tribal languages, and broadcasts in Kiswahili or English were officially preferred. The nine private radio stations on Zanzibar operated independently, often reading the content of national dailies, including articles critical of the Zanzibari government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. Journalists and media outlets frequently self-censored to avoid government retribution.

On July 2, the TCRA Content Committee suspended Maria Sarungi’s Kwanza Online TV platform for 11 months for allegedly generating and disseminating biased, misleading, and disruptive content after reporting on a health alert by an embassy. According to TCRA Content Committee Vice-Chairperson Joseph Mapunda, Kwanza Online TV’s Instagram page posted COVID-19 stories that contradicted the government’s official reporting. Kwanza Online TV submitted a response on July 3 to the Ethics Committee arguing that it is the duty of the government to respond to anything misleading that could be in the embassy’s alert. On July 9, Kwanza Online TV announced its intention to appeal the suspension.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices and authorizes the minister of information to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”

According to Reporters without Borders, after President Magufuli came to office in 2015 the laws regulating media tightened and there have been cases of newspapers and radio stations being suspended for “incitement.” The TCRA publicized a mobile number and email address for the public to use for reporting all misleading information concerning COVID-19, and encouraged citizens to share screen shots of social media groups discussing the pandemic. While combatting the considerable amount of conspiracy theory and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 may have had good intentions, over time the TCRA used the Cyber Crimes Act to punish critics of the government’s handling of COVID-19 and those sharing COVID-19 information contrary to the tightly controlled government information on COVID-19.

In August the government banned all local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without official permission. The new regulation requires local media organizations to submit their agreements with foreign media outlets to the authority within seven days and prohibits meetings between local and international media representatives without government authorities present. These regulations had a chilling effect on local broadcasts, with Voice of America, BBC, and Deutsche Welle reporting that media outlets throughout the country quickly stopped airing their content, although most stations resumed broadcasting after a week. On August 14, the TCRA announced it was placing four local radio stations (Radio Free Africa, Radio One, Radio Abood, and CG FM Radio) under close monitoring for violating broadcasting regulations after airing the BBC interview with Lissu.

On August 27, the TCRA suspended Clouds TV and Radio operations for seven days for violating television broadcasting regulations when they reported election candidates’ nominations that were uncontested and without certification from the National Electoral Commission (NEC). NEC Director for Elections Wilson Mahera warned media not to report unofficial election nomination results. On September 11, the TCRA banned Watafi FM from broadcasting for 7 days for allegedly broadcasting abusive language.

Authorities require a permit for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists need special permission to cover meetings of the National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities is liable to a monetary fine, three years’ imprisonment, or both. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.

There were examples of the government repressing information, extending to online newspapers and journals. Many government officials did not provide access to information for fear of sharing information that had not been approved by the National Bureau of Statistics. In June 2019 parliament lifted some restrictions on publishing statistical information and removed the threat of prison for civil society groups if they published independent statistical information. The law now allows individuals and organizations to conduct surveys and collect research data; however, Amnesty International stated that under the new law, authorities still maintain control over who is able to gather and publish information, as well as to determine what is factual. While the World Bank stated the amended law was in line with international norms, many observers continued to self-censor because of possible personal and professional repercussions, including the government’s ability to use media services and cybercrime acts against individuals who publish or share data that does not align with the government’s messaging.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership. The law makes defamation a criminal act. Defamation is defined as any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.

In May authorities arrested and detained prominent comedian Idris Sultan for eight days before charging him on May 29 with “failure to register a SIM card previously owned by another person” and “failure to report change of ownership of a SIM card.” Police claimed that Idris had used the internet to harass the president after Idris had posted a video of himself laughing at the president in an ill-fitting suit. Amnesty International called the charges “politically motivated” and stated the government was trying to criminalize humor.

On October 2, authorities suspended campaign operations of CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu for ethics violations after he reportedly used “seditious language” towards President Magufuli after Lissu accused Magufuli of attempting to rig the October 28 elections.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet and monitored websites and internet traffic. In July the TCRA introduced new categories for online content licenses for news, educational, religious, and entertainment content, which widely expanded the scope of required license holders. The new categories require applicants for online content services, such as bloggers and persons operating online forums, to obtain licenses specifying a category of license depending on the content being offered. In addition, all online content providers must pay application and licensing fees totaling more than two million TZS ($870) in initial costs. Licenses are valid for three years, must be renewed annually for one million TZS ($435), and can be renewed upon expiration. Prohibitive costs led some citizens to stop blogging or posting content on online forums, including international social media platforms.

Under the regulations, internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor persons online. Online material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance” is prohibited, and those charged with violating the regulations face a substantial monetary fine or a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison. The law criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments on electronic media about the government were charged under the law, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.

On January 21, police in Dodoma arrested Mugaya Tungu, a second-year student at the University of Dodoma, for cybercrimes. He allegedly posted on social media a photo of a long line of students waiting for water at the university campus.

On April 11, police in Shinyanga arrested Mariam Jumanne Sanane for cybercrimes for allegedly posting false information regarding COVID-19 on social media. On April 14, another person was arrested in Kilimanjaro for alleged cybercrimes after reporting on COVID-19 numbers. As of October, Sanane was awaiting trial.

In the days leading up to the October 28 elections, the internet slowed down and popular social media sites including Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube were either blocked or rendered unusable, preventing the free flow of information. The TCRA also blocked bulk SMS messaging in the lead-up to the elections until November 11.

In June 2019 parliament passed amendments to the law that previously had required individuals and organizations to obtain permission from the National Bureau of Statistics before conducting surveys, collecting research data, or publicizing results. The amendment removes the threat of prison for civil society groups if they publish independent statistical information. It also states persons have the right to collect and disseminate statistical information, and puts a system in place for persons who want to access or publish national data. (See also section 2.a., Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media.) Researchers were still required to obtain permission to conduct and publish research. There was a degree of self-censorship due to the government’s lack of tolerance for criticism.

The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, including through bans decreed by authorities but not supported by law. For example, in June 2016 the government banned political parties from organizing political activities and rallies until the campaign schedule for the October 28 elections was announced in August. The government requires organizers of political rallies to obtain police permission. Any organizing of demonstrations or rallies online is prohibited. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit-seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police limited the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to opposition political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. The only allowable political meetings are by MPs in their constituencies; outside participants, including party leaders, are not permitted to participate. The government restricted nonpolitical gatherings deemed critical of the government.

Prior to the beginning of the election season in August, the ruling Revolution Party (CCM) was the only party allowed to conduct public rallies on a regular basis. It used the umbrella of the implementing party manifesto to inform members when it was time to register to vote.

The opposition party rallies were not only shut down but police also used teargas to disperse CHADEMA gatherings on numerous occasions. For example, on September 28, police in the Mara region used teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered to support CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu as his motorcade passed by en route to an official campaign event.

On January 14, police briefly detained popular Zanzibar opposition leader Seif Sharif Hamad and questioned him concerning alleged illegal assembly in December 2019. He was later released.

On February 29 in Kilimanjaro, police arrested CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe shortly after his political rally at Nkoromu Hai, for allegedly not obtaining a permit. He was later released.

On June 23 in Kilwa, police arrested ACT-Wazalendo party leader and MP Zitto Kabwe and five others for illegal assembly while they attended an internal party meeting. They were later transferred to Lindi and released on bail. At the end of the year, the case was ongoing.

On July 22, ACT-Wazalendo party representatives reported that police arrested 14 party members in Masasi, Mtwara, for attending an internal party meeting. The meeting was led by ACT Chair Seif Sharif Hamad, who departed the meeting before the arrests.

In the aftermath of the elections, the government arrested opposition leaders in both the mainland and on Zanzibar. On November 1 and 2, several opposition leaders and members were arrested after calling for peaceful democratic protests in opposition to the October 28 elections. Some of those arrested included CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe, along with other prominent opposition leaders and members throughout the country. The protests never manifested.

On Zanzibar several ACT-Wazalendo leaders, including Zanzibar presidential candidate Sharif Seif Hamad and Deputy Secretary General of Zanzibar Nassor Mazrui were arrested after calling for peaceful protests. Some ACT-Wazalendo leaders were reportedly beaten by police after they were arrested. There were also reports of heavily armed security forces patrolling the streets to stop any protests. In Pemba, the smaller of the two main islands that make up Zanzibar, there were reports of a full security lockdown, with some reports of widespread violence, including gender-based violence. Pemba was also reportedly subject to a complete internet blackout while the lockdown was in place.

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Thousands of NGOs and societies operated in the country. Political parties were required to register and meet membership and other requirements. Freedom of association for workers was limited (see section 7.a.).

According to the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the freedom of association for NGOs has been jeopardized by the law, which reduces the autonomy of NGOs and provides for excessive regulation of the NGO sector. The registrar stated that the process of deregistering underscored the need for NGOs to comply with the law and provide transparency and accountability in their activities. Under existing law, however, the registrar of NGOs is granted sweeping powers to suspend and deregister NGOs, leaving loopholes that could be used to obstruct political opposition and human rights NGOs.

The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on topics of public interest. Societies and NGOs may not operate until authorities approve their applications.

In May the minister of home affairs stated that from July 2019 to March the Registrar of Societies received 248 registration applications, 156 from religious institutions and 92 from CSOs. The registrar registered 71 applications, three were disqualified as they did not meet the registration criteria, and 174 were still working on their applications. NGOs in Zanzibar apply for registration with the Zanzibar Business and Property Registration Agency. While registration generally took several weeks, some NGOs waited months if the registrar determined additional research was needed.

In September an official from the Zanzibar office of the Tanzania Media Women Association said registering NGOs was still a problem in Zanzibar. This official also said authorities continued to interfere with the affairs of NGOs. NGOs were forced to change wording in their constitutions to get registered, and some NGOs were blacklisted, deregistered, or had their operations withheld.

During the year the NGO registrar sought to deregister at least 250 NGOs. In August the government froze the bank accounts of the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition and arrested its director, Onesmo Olengurumwa, and has actively sought to suspend or prevent the functioning of several others–including the NGO Inclusive Development for Change, and on Zanzibar, the Centre for Strategic Litigation (see also section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

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

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

In-country Movement: Refugees are confined to camps. The government limited refugee movement and enforced its encampment policy more strictly during the year, including the arrest of refugees caught moving outside the camps without official permission. With permits more difficult to obtain and livelihood opportunities inside the camps heavily constrained, refugees who left the camps in search of work were apprehended by police and arrested. Usually these persons were prosecuted and sentenced in local courts to six months’ detention or payment of a fine.

Foreign Travel: During the election, several opposition political leaders were blocked from leaving the country. Immigration officers blocked Godbless Lema (the former CHADEMA MP from Arusha) from leaving the country, alleging that he had committed economic crimes and that he lacked proper travel documentation. He later escaped using informal routes to Kenya and was granted political asylum in Canada. Another CHADEMA leader, Lazaro Nyalandu, was also blocked from crossing into Kenya at the Namanga border. Opposition presidential candidate Tindu Lissu, due to fear for his life and of being arrested, sought refuge in the German embassy and later moved to Belgium. Some opposition leaders were unable to travel out of the country without permission from police, due to ongoing investigations against them.

There were no reports of large numbers of internally displaced persons.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding treatment of internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons along the western border. The government did not grant UNHCR access to the southern border to assess the status of refugees entering from Mozambique.

Despite government assurances that its borders remained open to refugees, authorities closed the borders to new refugee arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. In 2018 the government withdrew from the UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, announced it would no longer provide citizenship to Burundian refugees, and stated it would encourage refugees to return home. At that time the government assured UNHCR it would respect the choice of refugees on whether to return to their country of origin. While nearly 88,000 Burundian refugees have been repatriated since September 2017, there were numerous accounts of refugees facing intimidation or pressure by Tanzanian authorities to return home. UNHCR was concerned about validating the voluntariness of the returns. Some refugees who were pressured into returning to Burundi became refugees in other countries or returned to Tanzania. In November, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting at least 18 cases between October 2019 and August of Burundian refugees being forcibly disappeared, abused, and arbitrarily detained by police and intelligence services. Victims reported to Human Rights Watch that authorities detained them in rooms with no electricity or windows, hung them from the ceilings by their handcuffs, gave them electric shocks, rubbed their faces and genitals with chili, and beat and whipped them.

The government suspended livelihood options for refugees by closing businesses operating inside the camps and common markets outside the camps where refugees and the surrounding communities could exchange goods. According to NGOs working in the camps, there was an increase in gender-based violence and other problems due to the loss of livelihoods.

There were reports of refugees found outside the camps being detained, beaten, abused, raped, or killed by officials or citizens.

Sex- and gender-based violence against refugees continued, including allegations against officials who worked in or around refugee camps. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. The public prosecutor investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp, while international NGOs provided assistance to the legal team when requested by a survivor. Local authorities and the public prosecutor handled most cases of refugee victims of crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.

Refoulement: The government closed the last of the country’s official refugee reception centers in 2018, and during the year there were credible reports of push backs at the border as well as instances of obstructions to access for Congolese and Burundian asylum seekers following requests for international protection. In addition, the Burundian refugees who had been assisted by UNHCR during the year to return voluntarily to Burundi, but were forced to flee again and seek asylum for a second time, were unable to register with authorities. This prevented them from being able to access humanitarian assistance or basic services.

There were reports of refugees from Mozambique seeking asylum who were returned without access to UNHCR assessments of the voluntariness of the returns.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee is required to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications. In December the committee conducted interviews in Dar es Salaam with asylum seekers for the first time since 2018. The rejection rate was 80 percent, but some families were recognized as refugees. The last session of the committee was held in the camps in 2018, at which point the rejection rate was 100 percent.

Despite the government’s strict encampment policy, authorities continued to permit a small population of asylum seekers and refugees to reside in Dar es Salaam. This group consisted principally of persons in need of international protection arriving from countries that are not contiguous, as well as individuals with specific reasons for being unable to stay in the refugee camps in the western part of the country. While access to formal employment opportunities remained limited for urban refugees, they did enjoy access to government health services and schools. UNHCR intervened in cases of irregular migrants in need of international protection following their arrest by authorities in Dar es Salaam or other urban centers to ensure that the migrants had access to national asylum procedures and were protected from forced return to their country of origin.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: No policy for blanket or presumptive denials of asylum exists for applicants arriving from a “safe country of origin” or through a “safe country of transit.” All asylum applications are evaluated individually. The law provides that, unless the transit country is experiencing a serious breach of peace, an asylum claim can be refused upon failure to show reasonable cause as to why asylum was not claimed in the transit country prior to entry into the country.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees apprehended more than 2.5 miles outside their camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. Policy restrictions limiting refugee freedom of movement and access to livelihoods left the refugee population almost totally dependent on humanitarian assistance and vulnerable to a range of protection risks, including sexual and gender-based violence. Interpartner violence continued to be reported as the leading category of sexual and gender-based violence, accounting for approximately 75 percent of incidents. Observers attributed this level of violence to the difficult living conditions in refugee camps, split-family decisions resulting from government pressure to return to their countries of origin; substance abuse; closure of larger markets, which undermined women’s self-reliance; and restrictions on freedom of movement, which placed women and girls in a precarious situation when they left the camps to collect firewood and seek foods to diversify their family’s diet.

Employment: Even when refugees have official status, they generally are not able to work, especially in view of the country’s strict encampment policies.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government focused on repatriation and did not support local integration as a durable solution. The government maintained pressure on Burundian refugees to return to Burundi, promoting repatriation as the only durable solution for Burundian refugees. UNHCR continued to assist voluntary returns under the framework of a tripartite agreement between the governments of Burundi and Tanzania and UNHCR, stressing that conditions inside Burundi were not yet conducive for large-scale returns because many Burundian refugees remained in need of international protection. Nonetheless, the government increased pressure on Burundian refugees to sign up for returns. The government implemented measures to make life more difficult for refugees, including closing the shared refugee and host community markets in February and restricting camp exit permits.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, from July 2018 to March 2019 a total of 662 Burundian refugees repatriated voluntarily. According to UNHCR, nearly 88,000 Burundian refugees have returned to Burundi with assistance since 2017. The government granted 162,000 former Burundian refugees citizenship in 2014-15. During 2019, 1,350 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 82 from other countries were resettled in other countries.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups have generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The overall climate for NGOs, however, has shifted in the last few years. Some international organizations have had delays in receiving work and residency permits. Some human rights NGOs complained of a negative government reaction when they challenged government practice or policy.

Many NGOs are concerned the government is using the NGO registration law passed in June 2019 to deregister NGOs that focus on human rights. In August 2019 the registrar of NGOs deregistered 158 NGOs for “unaccepted” behavior, alleging they were used for profit sharing and benefiting their members, which is outside the permitted NGO activities. In August the government froze the bank accounts of the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and arrested its director, Onesmo Olengurumwa. He was later released on bail. At the end of the year, the investigation of his case was ongoing. In the past, THRDC funded and trained many of the election-observer NGOs. The government actions against them created a void in the lead up to the elections, as many of the NGOs that were accredited did not have the needed expertise and guidance that THRDC usually provided.

In May 2019 the registrar of societies in the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a public notice requesting that all religious institutions and community-based organizations registered with the ministry verify their registration status, including all the required documentation. The countrywide process began with Dar es Salaam and the coastal regions in May and continued at year’s end. There are concerns about how the government can use this process to deregister organizations that make any statements related to human rights.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with visits from UN representatives, such as special rapporteurs, as well as those from UN specialized agencies such as the International Labor Organization or other international organizations (but not including NGOs) that monitor human rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The union parliamentary Committee for Constitutional, Legal, and Public Administration is responsible for reporting and making recommendations regarding human rights.

The CHRAGG operated on both the mainland and Zanzibar, but low funding levels and lack of leadership limited its effectiveness. The commission has no legal authority to prosecute cases but can make recommendations to other offices concerning remedies or call media attention to human rights abuses, violations, and other public complaints. It also has authority to issue interim orders preventing actions in order to preserve the status quo, pending an investigation. The CHRAGG also issued statements and conducted public awareness campaigns on several topics. These included the need for regional and district commissioners to follow proper procedures when exercising their powers of arrest, the need for railway and road authorities to follow laws and regulations when evicting citizens from their residences, and a call for security organs to investigate allegations of disappearances or abductions, including of journalists, political leaders, and artists.

In September 2019 President Magufuli appointed a CHRAGG chairman and five commissioners. Activists expressed concern that the CHRAGG was not acting independently nor holding the government accountable for human rights abuses.

Uganda

Executive Summary

Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned a National Resistance Movement majority to the unicameral parliament. Allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission marred the elections, which fell short of international standards. The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.

The national police maintain internal security, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees the police. While the army is responsible for external security, the president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police force. The Ministry of Defense oversees the army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government forces, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Speech: The government restricted citizens’ ability to criticize its actions or to discuss matters of general public concern. It also restricted some political symbols. The UPF randomly attacked and arrested persons it found wearing camouflage clothing, red berets, and red insignia associated with Kyagulanyi’s People Power political movement and the NUP party, which the security agencies stated were reserved for use by security forces (see section 3). Military police officers wear red berets, which feature a distinct logo from those on the berets that NUP supporters wear. Human Rights Watch reported that on July 24, the UPF raided the premises of Radio Simba FM station in Kampala and arrested four comedians (Julius Serwanja, Simon Peter Ssabakaki, Merceli Mbabali, and Gold Kimatono), accusing them of promoting sectarianism and “causing hatred and unnecessary apprehension.” On July 15, the comedians had posted on the internet a satirical video of a mock prayer session, in which they asked a mock congregation to pray for specific political, public service, and military leaders including the president, all hailing from the western region. On July 28, a court ordered the UPF to release the comedians, which the police did.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media and Political Crimes Unit and the communications regulator Uganda Communications Commission, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media. The government restricted media.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces subjected journalists and media houses to violence, harassment, deportations, and intimidation. On December 10, the Uganda Media Council (UMC) cancelled all existing accreditations for foreign journalists and required them to reregister within a week to be able to continue working in the country. On November 30, journalist Margaret Evans, working with the Canadian CBC News, reported that immigration authorities had deported her and her team after the UMC cancelled their accreditation. In response to Evans’s comments that the government was avoiding outside scrutiny ahead of the elections, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo stated the government reserved the right to admit or refuse admission to foreign persons, including journalists, and it did not need outside scrutiny to qualify its electoral process as credible. Opondo later added that Evans’ team had violated provisions of their tourist visas and that they were welcome to reapply for a visa that allowed them to work as journalists in the country. The Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJU) reported in January that the UPF blocked journalists from covering opposition rallies, confiscated their recording equipment, and forcibly deleted the content. On July 22, the UPF arrested five journalists working at Baba FM radio station, accusing them of inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders. On July 18, the journalists had hosted opposition politician Kyagulanyi on Baba FM for a political talk show. Police released the journalists on July 23 without charge. The HRNJU reported numerous incidents between April and August when UPF, UPDF, and LDU officers beat, detained, and confiscated equipment of journalists covering implementation of the COVID-19 restrictions. On April 13, CMI officers arrested blogger and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) activist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who had published a book ridiculing the president and his family. Rukirabashaija stated that CMI officers chained him by the legs and hands to stair railings through the night. On April 21, the UPF arraigned Rukirabashaija in court and formerly charged him with “doing an act likely to spread disease,” in relation to Facebook posts he made critical of the COVID-19 restrictions. The court granted him bail on May 6. The trial continued at year’s end (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest). On September 18, CMI officials again arrested Rukirabashaija in relation to an unpublished manuscript detailing his torture during the earlier arrest. CMI officers transferred him to SIU, whose officers stated they were investigating Rukirabashaija for inciting violence and promoting sectarianism. SIU officers released Rukirabashaija on September 21 without charge. On November 18, local media broadcast images of a UPF officer spraying pepper spray into the eyes of journalist Ashraf Kasirye as he recorded other UPF officers arrest Kyagulanyi while holding a presidential election campaign (see section 1.e.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to its guidelines and directly and indirectly censored media, including by controlling licensing and advertising, instructing editors to suspend critical journalists, arresting and beating journalists, and disrupting and ransacking photojournalistic exhibitions. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. Journalists, under government pressure, practiced self-censorship. On August 1, the UPF wrote to Victoria Broad Link radio in Jinja City and instructed it not to host the opposition Democratic Party President Norbert Mao for a talk show. The UPF letter stated that hosting Mao “conflicted with COVID-19 guidelines of implementing curfew.” The UPF also noted in the letter, however, that the radio station could host Mao via a Zoom internet connection and only if the discussion topics stayed clear of politics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel, defamation, and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On May 7, the UPF arrested human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde, accusing him of breaching the law on offensive communication and criminal libel after he posted a tweet criticizing the newly installed director of public prosecutions, Jane Francis Abodo. The UPF released Ssemakadde later that day without formal charges.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies. On December 9, the Ugandan Communications Commission wrote a letter to Google asking the company to block certain YouTube accounts for disseminating content “contrary” to the country’s laws after they posted videos showing security force abuses. Security agencies arrested numerous dissidents on charges of incitement of violence. On the evening of April 20, UPF officers stopped journalist Samson Kasumba outside the NBS TV offices and arrested him after he completed his evening newscast. UPF officials declared they detained Kasumba over his alleged involvement in subversive activities. The UPF kept Kasumba at the Kira Road Police Station, and on April 21, UPF officers from the Electoral and Political Crimes desk carried out a search of Kasumba’s home. The UPF released Kasumba soon thereafter.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, and punished internet users who expressed divergent political views. On September 8, the Uganda Communications Commission announced that it had given online publishers, bloggers, and influencers until October 5 to register with them for a $20 annual license before they continued content production for public consumption, which some criticized as an attempt to restrict online media. According to the Freedom on the Net Report, government officials openly monitored social media posts. Human rights activists, journalists, and opposition politicians reported the ruling party’s communications arm sponsored a multitude of bots and fake online accounts to attack opposition politicians and activists on social media. Authorities used laws against cyberharassment and offensive communication to intimidate critics and to stop women from publicly identifying their abusers online (see section 6). On March 5, the HRNJU reported the UPF in Kumi District arrested journalist James Odongo Akia on cyberharassment, defamation, and computer misuse charges, accusing him of using a pseudo account to defame the UPDF commander for land forces, Peter Elwelu, and a local medic, John Okure. A court remanded Akia to prison on March 10 and granted him bail on March 13. The trial continued at year’s end.

The government restricted artistic presentations, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. On June 6, the government announced that on July 31 it would start to enforce a raft of regulations it had passed in 2019, which placed significant restrictions on the arts, telecommunications, and media such as the requirement to secure government permits before making film, documentary, or commercial photography content. On August 6, Minister for Information, Communications Technology, and National Guidance Judith Nabakooba indefinitely suspended implementation of the regulations to enable her ministry to carry out wider consultations with the arts industry. Authorities harassed musicians who recorded songs critical of ruling party politicians. On July 23, the UPF arrested musician Gerald Kiweewa, accusing him of defaming ruling party MP and former minister Idah Nantaba. Kiweewa had earlier recorded a song entitled “Nantaba” that alluded to the former minister’s romantic relationships. On July 29, a court ordered the UPF to release Kiweewa, which they did.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government used the Public Order Management Act (POMA) to limit the right to assemble and to disrupt opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies until March 26 when the Constitutional Court nullified sections of the law, which had granted the UPF vague powers to block gatherings. The law had placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event. While the law only required individuals to “notify” police of their intention to hold a public meeting, it also gave police the power to block meetings they deemed “unsuitable.” Typically, the UPF simply failed to respond to “notifications” from opposition groups, thereby creating a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering.

On numerous occasions between January and March, the UPF blocked presidential hopeful Kyagulanyi from holding consultative meetings with his supporters in preparation for his presidential bid. On January 6, the UPF fired tear gas and bullets to disperse one of Kyagulanyi’s consultative meetings, arguing that Kyagulanyi had not fulfilled POMA requirements, which call for holding the event in an enclosed space, providing ambulances for emergency evacuation, providing firefighting trucks, and providing toilets. After the POMA nullification, the UPF used COVID-19 restrictions to block and disperse political opposition gatherings and rallies. On March 18, the president banned political and cultural gatherings as part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On March 24, the government published the Public Health (Control of COVID-19) Rules that made it an offense to “hold public meetings, including political rallies, conferences, and cultural related meetings,” punishable by two months’ imprisonment. Opposition politicians, however, reported the UPF blocked opposition politicians from holding meetings but allowed ruling party politicians to hold rallies and processions. On July 10 and July 16, the UPF arrested FDC MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, accusing him of violating COVID-19 restrictions when he organized a meeting of party members. The UPF fired teargas and bullets to disperse the meetings. The UPF released Ssemujju Nganda without charge. In contrast, ruling party politicians such as State Minister for Investment Evelyn Anite, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Ephraim Kamuntu, and Minister for Health Jane Ruth Aceng held large campaign rallies and processions without interruption from security forces. On August 29, however, the UPF arrested ruling party MP Sam Bitangaro for holding a rally in violation of COVID-19 rules. He was released that day without formal charges.

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government restricted the operations of local NGOs, especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). Government regulations require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. They enable the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on topics deemed “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. The NGO Bureau imposed registration, permit renewal, and administrative fees that local NGOs declared were exorbitant. On December 2, local media reported that the Financial Intelligence Authority had directed commercial banks to freeze the bank accounts of four human rights civil society organizations over suspicions that they were supporting political opposition. The organizations’ bank accounts remained frozen at year’s end. Authorities harassed and blocked activities run by organizations that advocated for the human rights of LGBTI persons (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

The government also restricted the operations of opposition political parties (see section 3).

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

Not applicable.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government continued to uphold its enabling asylum policies and practices toward refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Somalia. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR and NGOs continue to receive reports that some government officials demanded bribes from refugees to process or issue paperwork.

Refoulement: Although there were no credible reports of refoulement during the year, Rwandan and Burundian refugee groups continued to express fear that authorities were either complicit in or unable to stop extrajudicial actions by neighboring governments.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals fleeing South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (as long as Congolese are from eastern DRC) who enter the country through a designated border point have automatic prima facie refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status). The local Refugee Eligibility Committee, however, determines whether individuals fleeing from Rwanda, Somalia, Burundi, and other countries are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but administrative matters and the continued influx of asylum seekers continued to cause backlogs, although UNHCR and the government were working to address them.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. A 2015 constitutional court ruling confirmed that certain long-term refugees have the right to naturalize, and in 2016 the government committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. During the year there were no known cases of a refugee having completed naturalization.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated with government restrictions. The president continued repeatedly to accuse civil society of accepting funding from foreign donors interested in destabilizing the country.

NGOs reported the government’s measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly restrictions on the use of private and public vehicles from March to May, made community-level work especially difficult. NGOs continued to report subtle intimidation by government officials at the district level. In particular, NGOs reported having to pay fees to local government officials that are not required by law. Local government officials insisted on these payments before allowing NGOs to conduct activities in their respective areas. The law continued to hinder NGOs’ operations. In particular, the requirement for local authorization through district-level memoranda of understanding proved difficult for many NGOs to execute and threatened their compliance with the law.

Following advocacy from the NGO Forum, an organization that represents NGOs in the country, the Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to allow NGOs that had missed a 2019 deadline to register (despite its premature November 2019 announcement that it had shut down 12,000 NGOs that had not done so), and by the end of the year, the ministry had not shut down any NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is the constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers authorized to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, direct the release of detainees, and award compensation to abuse victims. The president appoints its board, consisting of a chairperson and five commissioners.

The UHRC pursues suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. It visits and inspects places of detention and holds private conferences with detainees on their conditions in custody. It investigates reports of human rights abuses, reports to parliament its annual findings, and recommends measures to improve the executive’s respect of human rights. The UHRC reported the executive did not always implement its recommendations.

In November 2019 the UHRC chairperson died suddenly of natural causes, and by year’s end, the UHRC had not yet appointed a permanent replacement. Members of parliament and NGOs expressed concern that although there was an acting chairperson, the lack of an official chairperson hindered the work of the UHRC. The UHRC’s annual report cannot be publicly released without the chairperson first presenting it to parliament–without a chairperson, this report remained pending. On July 30, parliament’s Public Accounts Committee questioned the UHRC regarding 1.3 billion Ugandan shillings ($351,000) of unspent funds in the 2018/19 fiscal year. The UHRC responded that with only two commissioners, the lack of a fully constituted committee meant they had been unable to conduct tribunal sessions and hear cases.

The UHRC provided human rights guidance to the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting on March 27 that the measures the government imposed did not infringe on the human rights of citizens. On June 23, the acting UHRC chairperson told reporters that through UHRC helplines they had received 283 complaints of torture perpetrated by security forces since the March implementation of COVID-19 countermeasures began. Of these, 150 complaints listed the UPF as perpetrators, 83 cited the UPDF, and five the Uganda Prison Service. The UHRC investigated these claims, referring them to the COVID-19 task force and district authorities as needed. Throughout the implementation of COVID-19 measures, the UHRC cautioned security forces to reduce their use of force, and citizens to follow the government regulations.