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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.

In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.

In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).

In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.

The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.

On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.

On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.

Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.

Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.

On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.

For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur during the year.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.

In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.

Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.

In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.

Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.

Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.

In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.

Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the LRA, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.

The country is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced from 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition the law provides a child who has served in an armed force or group may not be subject to criminal prosecution on this ground. The child must be considered a victim and not an alleged perpetrator, and the law favors social reintegration mechanisms for children.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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.

Freedom of Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, 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.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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.

f. Protection of Refugees

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 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and legislative elections were held on December 27. Armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day, threats and violence by armed groups reportedly stopped the vote in 26 of 68 subprefectures and interrupted the vote in six other subprefectures. At year’s end it was unclear what percentage of voters were unable to vote due to insecurity. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by armed groups. There were no reports government security actors attempted to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. If needed, a second round of presidential and legislative elections may be held in February 2021 and local elections are scheduled to be held later in 2021. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui; however, some media reported the threats of violence suppressed the turnout in insecure areas. NGO observers reported minor irregularities in places where the vote occurred, most commonly citing a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites and cases where voters who did not have a voter identification card were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. A local NGO group, National Observatory of Elections, stated the irregularities did not undermine the credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported the vote in Bangui conformed to CAR’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were expected to be announced in early January 2021.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Five of the 39 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 11 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men. In July 2019 the national assembly rejected the provision on gender parity provided in the draft electoral code and decided instead that political parties’ candidate lists must be composed of at least 35 percent women.

Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere.

In March 2019, 14 members of parliament, including three women, were elected to the Executive Bureau for one-year terms. The election of only three women did not comply with the law on parity, which requires there be a minimum of 35 percent representation by women in state and private institutions for a period of 10 years. The 2016 gender equality law also prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance; however, the National Observatory had not been established by year’s end.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities and ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues. In December 2019 President Touadera launched the National Good Governance Strategy.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult in view of limited government capacity.

Corruption: No corruption cases were brought to trial. There were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption and bribery. In February an audio recording circulated on social media alleging fraud during the vote of state budget by the national assembly. The fraud was allegedly orchestrated by the first vice president of the national assembly. The CAR government took no legal actions.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income to the Constitutional Court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

As of September there was no evidence that any ministers declared their assets.

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.).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. In 2019 MINUSCA verified 322 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 187 women, 124 girls, three men, two boys, and six women of unknown age. These incidents included 174 rapes or attempted rapes and 15 cases of forced marriage.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instruments prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

As of July the Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) received 501 complaints from victims of various profiles, including 227 victims of sexual violence (rape, assault, forced marriage) and 232 cases of other form of violence. According to UMIRR, there were 266 reported cases of women who were victims of societal abuse in the country.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women had been subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately one-half of girls were mutilated between ages 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice has substantially declined in recent years.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government does not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Reproductive Rights: After recurrent military-political crises, the CAR continued to be characterized by widespread insecurity and impoverishment. The state was largely absent outside of Bangui. This situation created barriers to providing adequate assistance, including health and reproductive care, to vulnerable populations. Many displaced families were in makeshift sites, in the bush, or in fields far from existing basic social services. Of the 814 hospitals and dispensaries in the country, only 55.3 percent were functional in 2015. Anecdotal evidence suggests NGOs were nearly entirely responsible for the provision of healthcare services outside of Bangui.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Nevertheless, most couples lacked access to contraception, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric care and postpartum care.

The government has committed to implementing the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action held in Cairo. Law number 06.005 of June 20, 2006, authorized abortion for pregnancy resulting from rape. The law prohibits certain acts that endanger sexual and reproductive health, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Article 29 of the law criminalizes all forms of sexual violence and exploitation in all its forms that target women.

Citizens, in particular women and girls, were affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. The country experienced multiple armed conflicts in the last 20 years, and customs and traditions in the country influenced the existence and exacerbation of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increases the risk of spreading of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) Findings Report, 82.2 percent of women did not use any form of contraceptive. For girls aged 15 to 19 years, 88.7 percent do not use contraception (MICS IV 2018-2019). The World Health Organization reported 22 percent of women said their need for family planning was satisfied with modern methods. The prevalence of HIV among people aged 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent (MICS 2010; contacts at the Institute Pasteur in Bangui reported the infection rate in the capital was approximately 18 percent. Data from the MICS IV survey (2018-2019) indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor involved in the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate healthcare. Only 18.9 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS IV 2018-2019). Fertility was very high (6.4 per MICS IV 2018-2019), and 42.8 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS IV 2018-2019). The lack of sexual and reproductive education led to early fertility among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). These factors partly contributed to high maternal and neonatal mortality. Only 53.4 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas).

Women were victims of many forms of gender-based violence, including FGM/C, sexual violence, and early marriage. This gender-based violence is exacerbated by conflicts. According to the MICS 2006 survey, nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 51.6 percent suffered verbal abuse, 32.2 percent were raped. According to MICS 2010, 24 percent of women aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C. Although UNICEF did not yet publish the 2020 MICS, contacts reported FGM/C remained a widespread issue in the country and rates may be higher now than in 2010. No information was available on the FGM/C’s implication on maternal morbidity. The MICS 2010 indicated that the induced abortion rate was 6.9 percent among women aged 15 to 45.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is in charge of investigating abuses against women and children. As of July children’s rights abuses were reported in 42 households. According to UMIRR, 214 girls and seven boys were reported victims of societal abuse.

With the support of UNICEF, Bethanie, a local NGO, provided legal, psychological, and socioeconomic assistance to 900 vulnerable children, including 200 children victims of sexual violence, 100 children accused of witchcraft, 250 children with HIV, and 350 children victims of other forms of violence in the prefecture of Ombella M’poko and Bangui.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2017 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls married before age 18 and 29 percent of girls married before age 15, and that 27 percent of boys married before age 18. The practice of early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: On June 15, the government enacted the Child Protection Act. The legislation has a series of measures that address the exploitation of minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 64 percent of IDPs, 48 percent of whom were children younger than five, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. There were no available statistics concerning the implementation of this provision.

The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Peuhl (also known as Fulani or Mbororo), primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the north. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Peuhl faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Peuhl began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Peuhl’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

In December 2019 a young man from the subprefecture of Baboua, who was heading to the cattle market, was killed by unidentified armed men. The population of Baboua accused the Peuhl community of being the perpetrators. On December 30, dozens of young persons armed with machetes, knives, and other bladed weapons retaliated against a Peuhl citizen from a neighboring commune of Baboua, killing him.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Peuhl minority, as well as the forest dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and those with disabilities, although its efficacy had yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who comprise 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Reports by credible NGOs, including the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, stated the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a moderate to substantial fine. When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a moderate to substantial fine. There were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. The IOM reported the case of an LGBTI person who had to move due to physical violence against him by neighbors due to his sexuality. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region the government often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed Anti-balaka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Interfaith Religious Platform, which includes Muslim and Christian leaders, continued working with communities to defuse tensions and call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Kara/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year, there were recorded acts of violence among the various ethnic groups–primarily between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to Ndele.

The law prohibits the practice of witchcraft. Conviction of witchcraft is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a moderate to substantial fine. Individuals accused of sorcery or witchcraft experienced social exclusion. According to a legal advocate, the penal code does not have an established definition of witchcraft, and the state does not typically intervene in these cases. District chiefs often preside over witchcraft trials: however, the accused are also often killed by the local population. For instance, on August 27, local press reported that in the village of Barka-Panziin, in the prefecture of Mambere-Kadei, a 60-year-old woman suspected of witchcraft by the inhabitants was severely beaten by her own children and buried alive by the local population. She was rescued by gendarmes stationed at a timber company located two miles away. Women accused of witchcraft faced the possibility of sexual violence in prison while waiting for their trial or serving their sentence. Those accused of witchcraft reported psychological harm from fearing for their physical safety due to the accusations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection (Ministry of Labor) has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The president of the labor court stated the court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The enforcement of penalties was not sufficient to deter violations. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports such practices occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all of the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education. The law stipulates the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. The government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. Government officials were alleged to have subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers during the year (see section 1.g.).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, if rigorously enforced, the laws would be sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting occupations and tasks. The labor code prohibits the employment of women in jobs that exceed their strength. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premise if persons work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the Ministry of Labor must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector are established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was below the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy without a minimum wage. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other crimes.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

If information exists concerning dangerous working conditions, the law provides that workers may remove themselves without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Violations for occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. Often miners supplemented these earnings with either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

The government does not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other OSH statistics, and officials failed to respond to International Labor Organization direct requests to provide this information.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 75/192 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 28, 2020, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Report on Human Rights for Russia.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General, applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the occupation judiciary; pervasive 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, and website blocking; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on 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 of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.

Occupation authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness.

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

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

According to the human rights group Crimea SOS, there were no new reports that occupation authorities committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, but impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.

There were no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. Crimea SOS reported 45 individuals have gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 15 of these individuals remained unknown. The OHCHR reported occupation authorities have not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in March 2014, Maidan activists Ivan Bondarets and Valerii Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives have had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including the OHCHR and OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.

Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

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

There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on January 28, plainclothes occupation authorities from the “ministry of internal affairs” detained Server Rasilchak, a 17-year-old Crimean Tatar, shortly after Rasilchak, his father, and two friends were stopped by traffic police at a gas station in Saki. The men beat and arrested Rasilchak and took him to a police station, where he was subjected to electric shocks, beaten, and threatened with sexual assault for several hours. Rasilchak’s mother claimed she filed a formal complaint with police, but human rights groups noted the difficulty of tracking the status of complaints and investigations in Crimea given the atmosphere of fear and impunity.

Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to press reports, on June 23, authorities transferred Crimean Tatar Ruslan Suleimanov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for a forced psychiatric evaluation. Suleimanov was arrested in March 2019 and charged with allegedly belonging to the pan-Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a terrorist group but legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of late September, approximately 10 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to a June interim report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.

Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts in order to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained about poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On July 7, the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that three of the defendants in a case involving alleged involvement in the group Hizb ut-Tahrir complained of harsh conditions, including being kept in a basement cell with a sealed window in one case and sharing a 20-bed cell with 23 inmates in another.

There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Dzhemil Gafarov, a 58-year-old Crimean Tatar civic activist imprisoned in Crimea, received inadequate treatment for severe kidney disease. On October 22, the Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsperson reported Gafarov’s medical condition had severely deteriorated while in detention. As of November occupation authorities continued to ignore requests from Gafarov’s lawyer that Gafarov be hospitalized or medically released.

According to the Crimean Resource Center, 32 Crimean prisoners were transferred to the Russian Federation in the first eight months of the year, 26 of whom were Crimean Tatars. One factor in the transfers was the lack of specialized penitentiary facilities in Crimea, requiring the transfer of juveniles, persons sentenced to life imprisonment, and prisoners suffering from serious physical and mental illnesses.

According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.

Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur, which observers believed were a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. Security forces conducted regular raids on Crimean Tatar villages and the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, accompanied by detentions, interrogations, and often criminal charges. The Crimean Resource Center recorded 68 detentions and 70 interrogations that were politically motivated as of September 30. For example, on May 30, Ukrainian soldier Yevhen Dobrynsky disappeared while on duty near the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. On June 2, the FSB announced it had detained Dobrynsky for “illegally crossing the border from Ukraine to Russia.” As of October, Dobrynsky was still detained by occupation authorities.

The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, of the 173 individuals arrested between January and August, 133 were Crimean Tatars. The HRMMU noted raids were often carried out on the pretext of purported need to seize materials linking suspects to groups that are banned in the Russian Federation, but lawful in Ukraine.

For example, according to press reports, on July 7, the FSB raided houses of Crimean Tatars in various parts of the peninsula. Security forces reportedly targeted the houses of activists belonging to the Crimean Solidarity movement, a human rights organization that provides the relatives and lawyers of political prisoners with legal, financial, and moral support. Seven individuals were arrested during the raid. According to human rights groups, security forces had no warrant for the raid and denied detained individuals access to lawyers. Of the seven men arrested during the raid, three were charged with organizing the activities of a terrorist organization (Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine), which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The rest were charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were also targeted for raids and arbitrary arrests. For example, on May 26, Russian security forces in Kerch conducted searches of four homes belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and one man was arrested on “extremism” charges as a result of the searches. The group is banned in Russia as an extremist organization but is legal in Ukraine. On June 4, Jehovah’s Witness Artyom Gerasimov was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on “extremism” charges. Prosecutors presented secret audio recordings of Gerasimov and his family reciting prayers and Bible verses in their home, alleging these actions constituted illegal “organizational activities” on behalf of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gerasimov was the second Jehovah’s Witness during the year to receive a six-year prison sentence on extremism charges after an arbitrary arrest for exercising his freedom of religion.

Failure to submit to conscription into the Russian military was also used as a basis for arbitrary arrests. Since 2015, Russia has conducted annual spring and fall conscriptions in Crimea, and failure to comply is punishable by criminal penalty. Since the beginning of the occupation, nearly 30,000 persons have been conscripted, and in February the Crimean Human Rights Group documented eight new criminal cases of Crimean residents for evading military service in the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Detainees were often denied access to a lawyer during interrogation. For example, on August 31, FSB officers searched the homes of four Crimean Tatar activists belonging to the group Crimean Solidarity. FSB officers detained all four activists: Ayder Kadyrov, a correspondent for the Grani.ru online media, Ridvan Umerov (a leader of the local mosque), and Crimean Solidarity members Ayder Yabliakimov and Enver Topchi. The men were interrogated for eight hours, during which authorities refused to grant their lawyers access to them. Kadyrov’s lawyer claimed that authorities forced Kadyrov to sign a confession.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government interference. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov reported that occupation authorities physically surveilled him and likely tapped his office phone. Kurbedinov has faced longstanding pressure for his involvement in defending human rights defenders and activists in Crimea, including being previously arrested in 2017 and 2018.

Trial Procedures

Defendants in politically motivated cases were increasingly transferred to the Russian Federation for trial. See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities limited the ability to have a public hearing. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities banned family members and media from the courtroom for hearings related to charges of Hizb ut-Tahrir membership and other activities deemed subversive under Russian law. The courts justified the closed hearings by citing vague concerns about the “safety of the participants.” The courts failed to publish judgments in these cases.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency.

Occupation authorities intimidated witnesses to influence their testimony. On June 11, the FSB charged a former witness with providing false testimony at the hearings of individuals accused of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. In an August 2019 court hearing, the witness retracted his pretrial statements, claiming they had been coerced by FSB officers during interrogation. While the HRMMU found the witness’s claims of mistreatment to be credible, the court dismissed the allegations and ruled that the witness’s retraction was intended to assist the defendant in avoiding criminal liability. The former witness faced five years in prison.

The HRMMU reported that occupation authorities retroactively applied Russia’s laws to actions that took place before the occupation of the peninsula began.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of August, 105 Crimeans were being deprived of freedom in occupied Crimea or in Russia on political or religious charges, 73 of whom were Crimean Tatar Muslims prosecuted on terrorism charges.

Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media.

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 38 searches between January and August; 25 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights advocates, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes, and testimonies from unidentified witnesses as evidence in court. For example, in June 2019 occupation authorities detained four Crimean Tatars in the Alushta region of Crimea on terrorism charges related to alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian prosecutors used FSB wiretaps of the men’s conversations during private religious classes about the concept of an Islamic caliphate in Crimea as evidence the men were planning a “forcible seizure of power.” As of November the men were being held at detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices including the press to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Speech: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” On July 31, occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibited the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea deprived Crimean residents of the opportunity to publicly criticize and disseminate information about reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for voicing or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on January 18, the FSB placed a 34-year entry ban on Taras Ibrahimov, a Ukrainian journalist who covered politically motivated lawsuits and human rights violations in Crimea. Occupation authorities officially informed Ibrahimov of the ban but did not provide a justification.

Occupation authorities harassed and fined individuals for the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols, which were banned as “extremist.” For example, on March 9, police dispersed a small group of women who began singing the Ukrainian national anthem during an authorized ceremony next to a monument to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol. Police told the women their actions constituted an “act of provocation.”

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example, on May 22, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation charged in absentia Crimean Tatar television channel ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev with violating a Russian law against “public calls for committing terrorist activities.” The charges were purportedly due to his support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, which he routinely expressed on the daily talk show that he cohosted.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, journalist Amet Suleimanov was among those arrested on “terrorism” charges in the FSB’s March 11 raid on multiple Crimean Tatars’ homes in Bakhchisaray district. Occupation authorities first detained Suleimanov in 2017 for filming security forces during a raid on the home of a fellow member of Crimean Solidarity. Occupation authorities have detained and released him multiple times since 2017, citing vague “terrorism” concerns. As of October Suleimanov was under house arrest.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example, on May 28 a “district court” in occupied Crimea fined the acting chairman of the Alushta Muslim community, Ruslan Emirvaliev, for a social media post made in 2016 containing an image of a boy pointing at a banner displaying the words of the Islamic shahada, or statement of faith, in Arabic script. Court documents characterized these words as “an inscription in an unknown language, of an unknown nature and content.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example, on November 3, occupation authorities detained two journalists of the Russia-based Grani.ru website near a Russia-controlled military court building in Simferopol on administrative charges related to public order. The journalists had come to the military court building to report on the sentencing of three Crimean Tatars by a military court in Rostov-on-Don, which was due to be delivered on the same day. Occupation authorities suggested the reporters had been involved in protests in support of the defendants, although local media reported the crowds of protesters had already dispersed when the journalists were arrested.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content about Crimea they disliked. As of September Russia-led authorities blocked 30 websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (a representative body that Russia deems extremist), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. On June 22, the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities were continuing to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only five of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, on May 25, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea began hearing the in absentia trial of Lenur Isliamov, the owner of the Crimean Tatar television channel ATR. In 2015 occupation authorities charged Isliamov with “organizing an illegal armed group, committing sabotage, [and] public calls for extremist activities.” In 2015 Isliamov led a group of volunteers near the administrative border in blocking the transport of commercial goods to and from occupied Crimea. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group called the act an “essentially peaceful civic blockade of Crimea,” and the Ukrainian government subsequently approved the formal registration of Isliamov’s organization.

Internet Freedom

Russian occupation authorities restricted free expression on the internet (see section 2.a. of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia), by imposing repressive Russian Federation laws on Crimea. Security services routinely monitored and controlled internet activity to suppress dissenting opinions. According to media accounts, occupation authorities interrogated and harassed residents of Crimea for online postings with pro-Ukrainian opinions (see Censorship or Content Restrictions, above).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Occupation authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, “public events initiated by perceived supporters of Ukrainian territorial integrity or critics of policies of the Russian Federation in Crimea were reportedly prevented or prohibited by occupation authorities.”

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities routinely denied permission to hold assemblies based on political beliefs, in particular to opponents of the occupation or those seeking to protest the actions of the occupation authorities. Those who gathered without permission were regularly charged with administrative offenses. Expansive rules about what type of gatherings required permits and selective enforcement of the rules made it difficult for protesters to avoid such offenses. For example, according to a local news website, on January 19, police shut down a small women-led rally in Kerch against the possible closure of the Taigan Safari Park, which faced mismanagement-related litigation in Russia-based courts. Police and representatives of the Kerch city council told the rally’s participants that holding a public event unauthorized by the city council was illegal. The participants complied in ending the rally, and several of them began disseminating leaflets to passers-by. An hour later, police detained several of the women and took them to the police station. Police did not register the arrests.

Occupation authorities brought charges for “unauthorized assemblies” against single-person protests, even though preauthorization is not required for individual protests. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on June 8, police charged activist Serhiy Akimov with an administrative offense for holding a one-person protest in Simferopol in front of the Crimean “parliament” building in support of Russian politician Nikolay Platoshkin, who was under house arrest in Moscow.

There were reports that authorities used a ban on “unauthorized missionary activity” to restrict public gatherings of members of religious minorities. For example, on April 1, the “prosecutor” of Alushta opened administrative proceedings against Yusuf Ashirov, the imam of the local Islamic community, for “illegal missionary activity.” The prosecutor did not explain how Ashirov’s performance of Friday prayers, a traditional rite for Muslims, violated the law.

A “regulation” limits the places where public events may be held to 366 listed locations, which, as the HRMMU noted, restricted the ability to assemble to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” a move that appeared “designed to dissuade” peaceful assembly.

There were reports occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

Freedom of Association

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted the exercise of freedom of association for individuals who opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities (see section 1.d.). During the year the Crimean Human Rights Group documented multiple cases in which police visited the homes of Crimean Solidarity activists to threaten them or warn them not to engage in “extremist” activities. For example, on May 6, Seyran Menseitov, a member of the Crimean Solidarity movement, received a letter from the Yevpatoriya “prosecutor’s office,” which warned him against participating in gatherings related to the May 18 “Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide,” as they might constitute “extremist” activities. At least 10 other Crimean Tatar activists and journalists received similar “preventive warnings” in advance of the May 18 holiday.

According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russia sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants, whose secret testimony was used in trials of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People remained banned for purported “extremism” despite a decision by the International Court of Justice holding that occupation authorities must “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Occupation authorities imposed restrictions on freedom of movement.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state “border” at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly and individuals with limited mobility. The government simplified crossing the administrative boundary for children in a decree that came into force on February 9. Children younger than 16 were allowed to cross the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea both ways if accompanied by one parent. Notarized permission of the second parent was no longer required. Children ages 14-16 could cross the administrative line both ways unaccompanied if they studied at an educational institution located in mainland Ukraine and resided or were registered in Crimea.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours.

On March 14, Ukrainian authorities restricted crossing of the administrative boundary as a COVID-19 preventative measure. Under the restrictions, only individuals registered as residents of government-controlled territory could cross into mainland Ukraine, and only individuals registered in Crimea could cross into the occupied peninsula. Public backlash to the measures led the government to expand authorized crossings four days later, allowing for crossings for humanitarian reasons, such as family reunification, cases of serious illness, and the death of a close relative. On June 15, the State Border Guard Service rescinded the residency requirements and resumed normal operations of checkpoints along the administrative boundary, while still requiring self-isolation for persons leaving occupied Crimea. On August 1, the service rescinded the self-isolation requirement but temporarily closed the crossing points again from August 8 to 30.

On March 18, Russian occupation authorities banned Ukrainian citizens from entering occupied Crimea, citing COVID-19 prevention as justification. The number of administrative boundary crossings dropped to nearly 1 percent of historical levels as a result of these restrictions. For instance, from April to May, the State Border Guard Service registered 4,000 crossings of the administrative boundary, compared with 344,000 crossings during the same period in 2019.

On April 3, Russian occupation authorities imposed upon Ukrainians in Crimea a measure banning those they considered Russian citizens from leaving the territory of what they considered the Russian Federation. Occupation authorities justified the action by asserting that many Ukrainians in Crimea had Russian passports, many of which were issued without being requested. For example, on April 5, FSB officials at the administrative boundary denied the request of a Ukrainian citizen seeking cancer treatment in Kyiv to exit occupied Crimea, citing her alleged Russian citizenship. Similarly, on April 17, Soviet dissident and marathon swimmer Oleh Sofianyk presented a Ukrainian passport to Russian officials at the administrative boundary in order to cross into mainland Ukraine. The officials refused his request to exit occupied Crimea, citing his alleged Russian citizenship. On April 27, Sofianyk attempted a second time to exit Crimea, but authorities again refused his request. Sofianyk managed to leave the peninsula on June 2.

In other cases, occupation authorities issued entry bans to Crimean Tatars attempting to cross the administrative boundary. For example, on May 23, the FSB detained 61-year-old human rights defender Diliaver Memetov when he attempted to pass through an administrative boundary checkpoint for a planned trip to mainland Ukraine. Occupation authorities took Memetov to a police station, where he claims police tore out pages from his passport. Upon his release three hours later, Memetov attempted to cross again, but was denied entry and fined a substantial amount for presenting a damaged passport.

Occupation authorities launched criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including Member of Parliament Mustafa Jemilev; the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Refat Chubarov; the director general of the ATR television channel, Lenur Isliamov; and ATR deputy director Aider Muzhdabayev.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian law restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the six years of Russia’s occupation, approximately 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and approximately 530 persons were ordered to be “deported.”

According to the HRMMU, in 2019 Crimean “courts” ordered “deportation” and forcible transfer of 109 Ukrainian citizens whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners but in some cases could obtain a residency permit. Persons without Russian citizenship holding a residency permit were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to “government” employment, education, and health care as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize “passports” issued by Russian occupation authorities.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Approximately 47,000 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example, on March 28, a “district court” found the former head of the Feodosiya city administration, Dmitri Shchepetkov, guilty of abuse of office and attempted bribe taking. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and fined 42 million rubles ($560,000).

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

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the OSCE and the United Nations.

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

Children

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. In 2016 the Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, the Jewish population in Crimea was approximately 10,000 to 15,000, with most living in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Since the beginning of the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The June UN secretary-general’s report noted, “Law enforcement authorities seemed to target actual or perceived critics of the occupation of Crimea and the policies of the Russian Federation on the peninsula, such as the Mejlis and Crimean Solidarity.”

There were reports that Russian occupation authorities openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses (see section 2.b.).

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar flags and symbols (see section 2.a.).

By the end of 2014, Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the Crimean Resource Center, schools in Crimea no longer provided instruction in Ukrainian. Crimean Tatar was the sole instruction language for seven schools, and five schools that previously offered all instruction in Crimean Tatar added Russian language instruction. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. On July 24, “court bailiffs” issued an order to Archbishop Klyment of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to dismantle the only OCU church in Yevpatoriya within five days.

The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed in September 2019 following a ruling by occupation authorities that the cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by the authorities to allow it to register.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

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

Human rights groups and LGBTI activists reported that most LGBTI individuals fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert received reports of increased violence and discrimination of the LGBTI community in Crimea, as well as the use of homophobic propaganda employed by the occupation authorities. LGBTI persons reportedly were frequently subjected to beatings in public spaces and entrapped by organized groups through social networks. The council’s report noted, “this environment created an atmosphere of fear and terror for members of the community, with related adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.”

According to the HRMMU, NGOs working on access to health care among vulnerable groups have found it impossible to advocate for better access to healthcare for LGBTI persons due to fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI group from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their exercise of free expression and peaceful assembly, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would not be in effect after 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to the exercise of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. Pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.

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Ukraine

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya’s Government of National Accord is a transitional government, created through the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration envisions a parliamentary democracy that allows for the exercise of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected an interim legislature, the House of Representatives, in free and fair elections in 2014. The country is in a state of civil conflict. The Government of National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, governed only a limited portion of the country. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in eastern Libya, especially those aligned with the self-styled “Libyan National Army” led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued to challenge the authority of the Government of National Accord.

During the year the Government of National Accord had limited effective control over security forces, and these forces consisted of a mix of semiregular units, tribal nonstate armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense have the primary mission for external defense and also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate informal armed groups, which received salaries from the government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.

Conflict continued during the year between armed groups aligned with the Government of National Accord and nonstate actors including the Libyan National Army, with both sides benefiting from foreign military support. The Libyan National Army exercised varying levels of control over the majority of Libyan territory during the year. In June, following months of Turkish military intervention and support to the Government of National Accord as well as intense fighting through the spring, Libyan National Army-aligned forces, including Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group, pulled back from their prolonged offensive on the Libyan capital and other western cities, retreating to positions in central Libya. Foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries continued to operate in the country, reinforcing units aligned with both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a limited presence in the southwestern desert region. The United Nations and international partners led efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities, including the signing of a nationwide ceasefire in October, and convinced stakeholders to return to a UN-mediated political process. The UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum convened to make preparations for holding national elections in December 2021, including seeking agreement on a constitutional basis for elections and a reformed executive authority to govern the country in the interim.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and unlawful killings by various armed groups, including some aligned with the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians and the worst forms of child labor, such as the recruitment or use of children in conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression; substantial interference with freedom of association; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers; widespread corruption; lack of accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; threats of violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners; criminalization of same-sex sexual orientation; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including limits on collective bargaining and the right to strike; and forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between governmental, political, and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, the presence of criminal groups throughout the country, and the government’s weakness and limited reach outside of western Libya severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses across the country. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses within its area of reach; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants and opened prosecutions for abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out. In February the Government of National Accord called for the creation of an international fact-finding mission to investigate abuses perpetrated by all parties to the Libyan conflict. In June the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution to form this mission, and both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army issued statements welcoming the decision.

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

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

There were numerous reports that armed groups aligned with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe capacity constraints.

Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, nonstate actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

In July, GNA Coast Guard officials shot and killed three migrants as they attempted to escape from authorities after being disembarked from a vessel intercepted on the Mediterranean.

In June at least eight mass graves were discovered in the city of Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the territorial control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, since April 2019. According to Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 102 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late October. More than 100 additional bodies were recovered from Tarhouna Hospital, reportedly including many civilians. An additional 270 persons were missing from the area, according to accounts from families. On October 18, GASIMP reported the discovery of an additional five mass graves near Tarhouna containing the remains of at least 12 unidentified persons, six of whom were bound and blindfolded. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.

Eastern authorities reportedly killed one civilian and injured three others during peaceful demonstrations in the city of al-Marj on September 12, according to UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

In some cases foreign mercenaries carried out unlawful killings with support from their home governments. The Russia-linked Wagner Group provided command and control support in the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.

Nonstate armed groups and criminal gangs committed other unlawful killings. In May a trafficking ring in the northwestern city of Mizda massacred 30 migrants and seriously injured several others. The MOI announced an investigation and arrest warrants for suspects shortly after the incident, which was ongoing at year’s end.

Armed groups in Tripoli linked to the GNA used machine guns and vehicle-mounted antiaircraft weapons to disperse largely peaceful anticorruption protests between August 23 and August 29, allegedly killing one protester, according to Human Rights Watch. The armed groups–including the Nawasi Brigade and the Special Deterrence Forces/Rada Group–reportedly arbitrarily detained at least 23 protesters and a journalist covering the event, with additional allegations of torture and disappearances.

In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated. Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.

Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.

On June 3, drone strikes in support of the GNA struck the Qasr bin Gashir District of southern Tripoli, resulting in the killing of 17 civilians, according to UNSMIL.

In early June, as LNA units withdrew from Tripoli, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries indiscriminately planted land mines, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices around the outskirts of Tripoli, including in heavily residential areas. UNSMIL subsequently determined these devices were responsible for 43 civilian casualties, including the killing of two mine-clearing experts and the injury or maiming of 41 other civilians, including a number of children.

On November 10, unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent lawyer and anticorruption activist Hanan al-Barassi in the eastern city of Benghazi. Al-Barassi was an outspoken critic of abuses in areas controlled by the LNA. Amnesty International reported al-Barassi had received death threats and had planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar’s family on social media. The LNA ordered an investigation into the assassination.

b. Disappearance

GNA and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). Due to its limited capacity, the GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

In March, UNSMIL expressed concern over an increase in abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with total impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that between January and November, 192 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing and 107 bodies were recovered during search and rescue operations.

Following the LNA’s capture of Sirte in January, UNSMIL received reports of enforced disappearances perpetrated by armed groups perceived as being loyal to the GNA.

In June following the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna, UNSMIL reported it had received reports of hundreds of crimes, including a significant number of forced disappearances, perpetrated in Tarhouna in recent years. On February 5, it was widely reported that the Tarhouna-based Kaniyat militia abducted several women whose fates remain unknown.

July 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown, and her disappearance reportedly had a chilling effect on women’s political participation.

Libyan and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists have been forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as being disloyal to the GNA or LNA. On February 26, unknown individuals abducted Judge Mohamed bin Amer while he was walking with his wife and children in the western city of al-Khoms. Numerous judges, lawyers, and public prosecutors across western Libya protested publicly to demand his release. His whereabouts remained unknown. On March 2, armed men from the “Security Operations Room” of the LNA in Derna arrested the general manager of al-Harish hospital from his home; he was reportedly subsequently released. On October 21, the head of the GNA Media Corporation, Mohamed Bayou, along with his two sons and the newly appointed head of programs at the Libya al-Wataniya television channel, Hind Ammar, were abducted by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, a Tripoli-based militia. Bayou’s two sons and Ammar were released soon afterwards.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Authorities engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there could be up to 15,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.

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

While the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNA continued to rely on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNA-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.

International and Libyan human rights organizations noted that the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force and Nawasi Brigade conducted summary executions, acts of torture, and other abuses at official prisons and unofficial interrogation facilities.

In June following the withdrawal of the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia from the city of Tarhouna, advancing GNA forces found corpses at Tarhouna Hospital that bore wounds indicative of torture. In July a pro-GNA news network broadcast footage of an extralegal detention facility where it claimed the Kaniyat had tortured victims by confining them in metal cell-like containers and lighting fires on top of the containers.

In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2,565 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM) as of December. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps, controlled by criminal and nonstate armed groups. Persons held in these facilities were routinely tortured and abused, including being subjected to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups. In January, for example, UNSMIL interviewed 32 migrants who had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture or rape for ransom by nonstate criminal groups and state officials, including DCIM and Coast Guard employees.

In June and July, migrants who claimed to have escaped from informal human trafficking camps in Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, appeared at aid organization offices in Tripoli bearing wounds indicative of torture.

Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, and the GNA lacked the ability seriously to pursue accountability for abuses due to challenges posed by the ongoing civil conflict, political fragmentation, a lack of territorial control over much of the country, and widespread corruption.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNA control (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: During the year prisons remained overcrowded, were in need of infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities, which did not receive a food budget.

Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. There were unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the LNA-controlled Kweifiyah Prison in Benghazi. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members to bring them medicine. Inmates who needed medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lack ambulances.

There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.

UNSMIL estimated there were approximately 500 women detained in Libyan prisons as of May. Women prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women who were subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.

According to international and Libyan migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of July, the IOM estimated 27 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA-aligned Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a rival, eastern “Ministry of Justice” that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.

Units affiliated with the GNA-aligned Ministries of Interior and Defense and rival eastern security forces operated other prisons and detention centers.

As of April, UNSMIL estimated there were 9,000 persons detained in 28 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight and up to 10,000 individuals in prisons controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or nonstate armed groups. As of July, the IOM estimated there were 2,400 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.

Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in eastern Libya. The GNA permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the ICRC, but these movements were tightly controlled. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNA authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of November, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 250 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum-seekers.

Improvements: As of May, the GNA reported that it had released nearly 2,000 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of COVID-19. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international watchdogs welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons in prisons and detention facilities were being held in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNA to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

There were continued reports by UNSMIL of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. The government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. UNSMIL, along with other local and international organizations, reported that a number of individuals arriving in Tripoli from eastern Libya were arbitrarily arrested by armed groups in early November. At least one person was followed to his destination in Tripoli and then arrested, while others were allegedly arrested at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport upon arrival.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” In addition, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 60-70 percent of persons detained in Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. The number of persons held in pretrial detention in Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and extralegal detention facilities was not publicly known.

Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding and COVID-19 transmission risk in prisons. The GNA-affiliated Office of the Attorney General established a committee in late 2018 to review cases of arbitrary detention and process detainees for potential release, but international watchdogs criticized the committee for acting slowly.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts during the year. For persons held in migrant detention facilities, there was no access to immigration courts or due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. In some cases trials were held without public hearings. Judges and prosecutors faced threats, intimidation, violence, and lack of resources. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas affected by continuing hostilities and in the country’s south. All judicial sector proceedings in GNA-controlled areas, including court appearances, were suspended in April and May due to COVID-19 concerns. There were reports of some civilian activists tried in LNA military courts in eastern Libya under dubious charges.

Trial Procedures

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but this was not implemented in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, criminal groups, and other nonstate actors violated these prohibitions by monitoring communications without judicial authorization, imposing roadside checks, and entering private homes.

In August a number of Libyan human rights organizations protested the practice by Libyan authorities of searching cell phones, tablets, and laptops at roadside checkpoints, airports, and border crossings. These organizations noted the practice was widespread across both western and eastern Libya and was used as a means to target activists, lawyers, media professionals, bloggers, and migrants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The House of Representatives, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to reduce restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and those opposed to the GNA. Many armed groups aligned with the GNA or LNA maintained databases of persons being sought for their alleged opposition activities or due to their identity. Some journalists and human rights activists chose to depart the country during the year rather than remain and endure harassment.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to monitor and target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which seriously affected the operations of journalists in Tripoli.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

On January 1, a group of youth activists launched the National Initiative for Peace calling for a ceasefire and were immediately attacked by both LNA- and GNA-affiliated media outlets as “traitors.” Several members received death threats against themselves and their families, and some were arbitrarily detained by LNA forces in Benghazi. Well known blogger and activist Khalid Sakran was among those briefly detained in January. In June he was summoned by LNA military intelligence authorities and held arbitrarily for 11 days before being released after intensive lobbying by UNSMIL and other local and international organizations.

On January 20, the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force abducted a Libyan journalist working for al-Wataniya from his office in Tripoli, allegedly for sharing information with the LNA. He was tortured then released in late January.

On January 16, LNA-aligned units set fire to a radio station in Sirte.

In July it was reported that journalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zwei was sentenced in May in a Benghazi military court to 15 years in prison for his affiliation with a satellite television channel deemed “hostile” to eastern Libyan interests. Human rights activists said he was tried in a closed hearing without access to his lawyer and sentenced under the country’s 2014 counterterrorism law, which provides for the arrest of civilians for perceived terrorist acts. He is one of possibly dozens of such journalists, activists, and other civilians who have been detained and tried in LNA military courts in recent years. Human rights defenders have voiced concern that the LNA unfairly applied the counterterrorism law to silence dissent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalizes a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalizes speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.

Internet Freedom

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNA-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.

A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Some members of the Tebu minority residing in southern Libya reported their access to higher education was limited as university campuses were located in geographic areas controlled by Arab tribes that routinely harassed or denied freedom of movement to members of the Tebu minority. Universities reportedly did not provide offsite learning alternatives to these Tebu students.

According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

There were reports of several small public protests in Tripoli and other major cities, in which participants expressed frustration with civilian casualties and fatalities caused by the continuing conflict, lack of public utilities such as electricity, and poor service delivery by the national and municipal governments.

Freedom of Association

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) are required to register with the GNA-affiliated Civil Society Commission (CSC) in Tripoli if they have activities in the west and with an eastern, parallel “CSC” in Benghazi if they have activities in the east. International and local CSOs report that the Tripoli and Benghazi commissions, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate of International Affairs, are known to sometimes delay or deny their attempts to register or renew registrations, or unduly to scrutinize their activities. Registration obstacles included: 1) ad hoc preapproval processes that required interfacing with formal and informal security forces, 2) restrictions and approvals for routine meetings, 3) inordinately detailed requests for financial and human resource information, and 4) direct harassment in some cases.

In the west, this type of interference was frequently attributed to Nawasi Brigade affiliates working in the Tripoli-based CSC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, in July the CSC in Tripoli directed one international CSO seeking to renew its registration to get “preapproval” from a Nawasi Brigade official. In another example, on September 10, the Tripoli-based CSC released an official letter that warned Libyan organizations not to meet with international organizations absent CSC approval, hampering local CSO operations. Threats, including death threats, were made against numerous CSO staff members because of their human rights activities, and several of them believed they were under surveillance by intelligence services; they also reported being unjustly detained for short periods. Numerous activists have sought sanctuary abroad

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south.

There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, including of their personal electronic devices. The country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, western and eastern authorities as well as local municipalities imposed curfews and restrictions on intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus. International and local aid workers noted that these restrictions had the secondary effect of restricting humanitarian access to communities in need.

Citizenship: The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there is still no process for obtaining such permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or the withholding of relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother’s citizenship is also revoked in this case. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities, such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country. In addition, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

As of September, the IOM estimated there were more than 392,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. More than half of these IDPs were displaced from the southern Tripoli area alone since April 2019. Following the end of hostilities in southern Tripoli, a slow return of some displaced households commenced in western Libya in July and August; however, the lack of basic services combined with the presence of explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance in previously contested areas hindered IDP returns.

IDPs generally resided in rented accommodations or with relatives and other host families. A smaller portion of IDPs lived in schools or other public buildings, in informal camps, shelter facilities, or abandoned buildings.

Most of the 48,000 former residents of the town of Tawergha, near Misrata, who were forcibly displaced after the 2011 revolution for their perceived affiliation with the former regime, remained displaced.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services, including to those with disabilities.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies that operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and migrants in some geographic areas and facilities across the country. UN agencies monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year international aid organizations provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNSMIL and various UN agencies, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were routinely subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Perpetrators included state officials, armed groups, smugglers, traffickers, and criminal gangs.

Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.

Armed groups and criminal gangs involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. There were limited arrests and no known prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling. The GNA did not seriously pursue accountability for the massacre of 30 migrants in Mizda in May (see section 1.a.).

In 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement. In September 2019, UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. In January the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM), the state’s migration authority, mobilized hundreds of DCIM guards and Tripoli militia personnel at a site adjacent to the GDF. This militarization of the GDF raised concerns that the facility could be targeted in the continuing Tripoli conflict. UNHCR was forced to suspend its activities at the GDF and negotiated for the evacuation of its residents. According to migrant advocates, numerous other DCIM-affiliated migrant facilities were colocated with or in close proximity to weapons depots and other dual-use sites.

Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups. There were reports that migrants in some official or informal detention locations were forced to engage in forced labor, such as construction and agricultural work, for no wages. According to international observers, some migrants were also forced to provide services for armed groups, such as carrying and transporting weapons, cooking food, cleaning, and clearing unexploded ordnance. In June reports emerged that some Libyan families had hired migrants to clear debris in mine-contaminated areas of Tripoli, exposing these migrants to potential grave bodily harm.

After the onset of COVID-19, there were numerous reports that migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, were harassed or discriminated against by citizens due to the perception that foreigners were transmitting the virus.

Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult situations, and international organizations received extensive reports of rape and other sexual violence. Nigerian women and girls were vulnerable to trafficking and were routinely detained in houses in Tripoli and Sebha, a southwestern Libyan city. Migrant women and girls were forced into prostitution in both official and unofficial detention facilities in conditions that sometimes amounted to sexual slavery. Other migrant women reported being harassed when leaving their homes to search for work. Many migrant women who had been abused could not return to their countries of origin for fear of stigmatization. The country lacks legal protections for survivors of sexual violence.

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.

Authorities continued to expel migrants and asylum seekers across the country southern borders, and in some areas these activities reportedly increased. In May, UNSMIL noted that at least 1,400 migrants and refugees had been expelled from eastern Libya during the year, contrary to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. These persons were forcibly deported to Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Somalia.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, refugee resettlement, emergency evacuation, and migrant voluntary humanitarian return flights were temporarily suspended in the second quarter of the year.

Freedom of Movement: Migrants and asylum seekers were generally considered to be illegally present in the country and were subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean and who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated the law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.

At least 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to the country during the year. UN agencies expressed concern that thousands of these migrants remained unaccounted for after disembarkation and disappeared into informal detention by human-trafficking networks.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners, but during the year the GNA did not provide refugees with reliable access to health care, education, or other services, given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

g. Stateless Persons

Libyan national mothers alone are generally unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children only in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, or of unknown nationality. In contrast, the law provides for automatic transmission of nationality to children born of a Libyan national father, whether the child is born inside or outside of Libya and regardless of the nationality of the mother. There are naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

According to some reports, up to 30 percent of the population in southern Libya are of undetermined legal status, which has fueled discrimination in employment and services. Noncitizens without national identification numbers cannot access basic services; register births, marriages, or deaths; hold certain jobs; receive state salaries; vote; or run for office.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no comprehensive data on the number of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people. In practice national elections continued to be delayed as a result of the conflict. In November the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum agreed on the date of December 24, 2021, for national elections and an electoral roadmap on the structure and eligibility requirements for a reformed interim executive authority to govern the country in the run-up to those elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission successfully administered the election of members to the House of Representatives, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. Observers mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities, with the largest national observation umbrella group citing minor technical problems and inconsistencies. Violence affected some polling centers. A total of 11 seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community.

The term of the House of Representatives has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized as the nation’s legitimate parliament by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015, which created the interim GNA.

In 2018 leaders of the country’s rival factions agreed to convene parliamentary and presidential elections that year, but parties eventually delayed the elections to 2019. A UN-facilitated Libyan National Conference planned for April 2019 in Ghadames, a city in northwestern Libya, was intended to create a roadmap for elections, but LNA-aligned forces began their offensive on Tripoli, and the National Conference did not occur.

In March and April 2019, the GNA-aligned Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections (CCMCE) held 22 elections for municipalities in southern and western Libya. Although voter turnout was not high across the board, domestic observer organizations concluded they were professionally and fairly administered. Due to the conflict, elections did not go forward in 11 municipalities, including Kikla, al-Saabaa, South Zawiya, Sabratha, and Surman.

The CCMCE held municipal elections in Sebha in April 2019, electing a new municipal council. LNA-aligned forces had entered the city earlier in the year, and in May 2019 a local court annulled the municipal election results. Following an appeal, the court’s decision to annul the April results was overturned. In January a peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected municipal council occurred. In April the GNA unilaterally appointed a new steering council in Sebha, claiming that the elected council had violated its mandate by aligning with the LNA. In July a Sebha court ruled that the GNA lacked authority to appoint a new steering council. To date the presence of two rival councils in Sebha–a GNA-leaning one and an LNA-leaning one–reportedly complicated local governance. International aid organizations expressed frustration that political divisions in the city stifled COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts in the second quarter of the year.

In August following the initial ceasefire, the CCMCE gradually resumed its municipal elections schedule. Municipal elections were carried out successfully in Ghat (August 18), Kikla (August 25), and Misrata (September 3). A fourth election, in Traghen, was canceled after an armed group took over two polling centers. The CCMCE planned elections for six municipalities of Greater Tripoli in late December 2020 or in January 2021: Tripoli Center, Hay al-Andalous, Tajoura, Swani Beni Adam, Garabouli, and Qaser al-Akhiar.

LNA-aligned authorities in eastern Libya sought to establish a rival counterpart to the CCMCE and appointed several new municipal or steering councils in several eastern cities over the last two years, replacing elected officials with appointed personnel linked to the LNA.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the 2011 revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity, public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability.

The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits persons who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office. The House of Representatives voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women in the House of Representatives; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were estimated to be 21 active female members in the House of Representatives. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the House of Representatives.

Women were underrepresented in public health decision making related to COVID-19. The GNA’s two COVID-19 response committees–the Supreme Committee for Coronavirus Response and an advisory Scientific Committee–lacked female members.

Ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, including the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg, voiced frustration with what they perceived as their deliberate marginalization from political institutions and processes.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, but, as in 2019, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred.

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states that the government shall provide for the fair distribution of national wealth among citizens, cities, and regions. The government struggled to decentralize distribution of oil wealth and delivery of services through regional and local governance structures. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to the lack of transparency in the GNA’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that officials in the GNA submitted fraudulent letters of credit to gain access to government funds. The LNA-orchestrated shutdown of the country’s oil sector from January to September further disrupted the distribution of revenues.

Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including reports that officials engaged in money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among police and security forces.

Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of revenues from oil and gas exports and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.

The Audit Bureau, the highest financial regulatory authority in the country, made efforts to improve transparency by publishing annual reports on government revenues and expenditures, national projects, and administrative corruption. The Audit Bureau also investigated mismanagement at the General Electricity Company of Libya that had lowered production and led to acute power cuts.

In a landmark development in July, it was announced that an independent, international audit of the divided branches of the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) would proceed after a lengthy delay. The audit was underway at year’s end and scheduled to conclude in early 2021. The CBL split between parallel western and eastern branches in 2014. In December the unified CBL board met for the first time in five years and agreed on a unified exchange rate and a process for reunifying the institution.

The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations, including on corruption and human rights issues.

Financial Disclosure: No financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

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

A number of human rights groups encountered government restrictions when investigating alleged abuses of human rights. The GNA and affiliated nonstate armed groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: UNSMIL maintained its headquarters and staff in Tripoli during the year. UN agency representatives were able to visit some areas of the country, contingent on the permission of government and nonstate actors and on local security conditions.

The GNA was unable to assure the safety of UN officials, particularly in areas of the country not under GNA control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, a national human rights institution created by legislative authority in 2011, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns and a lack of a budget. The council maintained limited engagement with other human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses was unclear.

The GNA Ministry of Justice chaired an interagency joint committee to investigate human rights abuses in the country. The joint committee reportedly compiled quarterly reports on human rights conditions. These reports were not publicly available. Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity and noted that it lacked sufficient political influence to effect change.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence but does not contain reference to penalties for those convicted of violence against women.

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence. Social and cultural barriers–including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault–contributed to lack of effective government enforcement. Some local civil society organizations reported in the second quarter of the year that women were experiencing higher rates of domestic violence due to COVID-19 curfews and extended confinement at home.

By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes, provided her family consents. Rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.

Migrant women and girls remained particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual violence, including forced prostitution and sexual exploitation in conditions amounting to sexual slavery. There were reports of egregious acts of sexual violence against women and girls in government and extralegal detention facilities (see section 2.d., Protection of Refugees).

The Supreme Judicial Council established two courts in Tripoli and Benghazi dedicated to addressing violence against women, men, and children. In October authorities appointed five women judges who will serve on these two specialized courts.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no information available about laws on FGM/C. FGM/C was not a socially acceptable practice, although some of the migrant populations came from sub-Saharan countries where it was practiced.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to civil society organizations, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by armed groups, including harassment and arbitrary detention based on accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.

There were reports armed groups harassed women traveling without a male “guardian” and that men and women socializing in public venues were asked by armed groups to produce marriage certificates to verify their relationship.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from discrimination, coercion, or violence; however, the law limits abortion to cases in which the life of a girl or woman is at risk. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted family planning services were significantly limited due to cultural and social norms favoring large families, as well as the absence of prioritization of the issue by the government. Access to information on reproductive health and contraception was also difficult for women to obtain given social norms surrounding sexuality.

According to UNFPA estimates, the reported contraceptive prevalence rate was approximately 27 percent, and nearly 41 percent of women had unmet needs with respect to family planning using modern methods. Women’s access to maternal health-care services and contraceptive supplies declined during the year due to continued political instability. Additionally, the UNFPA stated political unrest exacerbated existing social disparities in the provision of health-care services, creating inequities between urban and rural populations. According to the WHO, the large number of IDPs and access restrictions in conflict zones significantly affected the provision of reproductive health services. The WHO also reported lack of access to family planning services, obstetrical care, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

According to UNSMIL, incidents of conflict-related sexual violence by armed groups remained severely underreported because of fear, intimidation, and stigma related to underlying discriminatory gender norms. The government generally did not effectively provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual abuse. Civil society actors provided limited legal assistance to survivors in the absence of the government. A coalition of NGOs reported to the United Nations in 2019 that survivors and victims of sexual violence often found it difficult to locate information on existing services and resources available for them, particularly among indigenous and rural communities.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The 2011 Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the GNA did not effectively enforce these declarations.

Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, and their mobility and personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) noted that survey data indicated a significant disparity in earned incomes between men and women, even when adjusted for educational attainment. There were significant inequalities in women’s access to insurance, loans, and other forms of social protection.

The country lacks a unified family code. Sharia often governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia that favor men.

Children

Birth Registration: By law, children derive citizenship from a citizen father. The law permits citizen women who marry foreign men to transmit citizenship to their children, although some contradictory provisions may potentially perpetuate discrimination. There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

Education: The continuing conflict disrupted the school year for thousands of students across the country; many schools remained unopened due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns. Internal displacement further disrupted school attendance as many schools were repurposed as IDP shelters. School and university classes were suspended in March following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may permit those younger than 18 to marry. LNA authorities reportedly imposed a minimum age of 20 for both men and women. Early marriages were relatively rare, according to UN Women, although comprehensive statistics were not available due to the lack of a centralized civil registry system and the continuing conflict.

There were anecdotal reports of child marriage occurring in some rural and desert areas where tribal customs are more prominent. There were also unconfirmed reports that civil authorities could be bribed to permit underage marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no information available on laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or for child pornography, nor on laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.

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

Anti-Semitism

Most of the Jewish population left the country between 1948 and 1967. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no high-profile reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. IDPs, migrants, and refugees with disabilities were especially vulnerable to poor treatment in detention facilities.

Some organizations estimated that up to 13 percent of citizens may experience some form of disability, although GNA estimates were much lower. Years of postrevolutionary conflict also led to a greater incidence of persons maimed by shelling or explosive war remnants.

In the second quarter of the year, human rights activists called on health authorities to make their COVID-19 response plans more inclusive of persons with disabilities. These activists reported that COVID-19 curfews and movement restrictions made it more difficult for persons with disabilities to access cash, food, and medicine.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, or mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute a majority of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. With the exception of some Amazigh, who belong to the Ibadi sect of Islam, minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but often identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages over Arab traditions.

The law grants the right for “all linguistic and cultural components to have the right to learn their language,” and the government nominally recognizes the right to teach minority languages in schools. Minority and indigenous groups complained that their communities were often allowed to teach their languages only as an elective subject within the curriculum.

The extent to which the government enforced official recognition of minority rights was unclear. There were reports that teachers of minority languages faced discrimination in receiving accreditation and in being eligible for bonuses, training, and exchange opportunities provided by the Ministry of Education.

There were also reports that individuals with non-Arabic names encountered difficulties registering these names in civil documents.

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “local” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.”

Some representatives of minority groups, including from the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg communities, rejected the 2017 draft constitution because of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities, although the draft explicitly protects the legal rights of minority groups.

A number of Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (see section 2.d.), faced widespread social discrimination, and suffered from hate speech and identity-based violence. In southern Libya, if a member of one tribe or group attacked a member of another tribe or group, it was not uncommon for the latter tribe to take retribution against multiple members of the former group.

Some members of ethnic minority communities in southern and western Libya reported being unwilling to enter certain courthouses and police stations for fear of intimidation and reprisal.

There were numerous reports throughout the year of ethnic minorities being injured or killed in confrontations with other groups.

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

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted, and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.

There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Armed groups often policed communities to enforce compliance with their commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.

In December 2019 an internationally recognized, Tripoli-based journalist, Redha al-Boum, was arbitrarily detained and tortured by a GNA-aligned group for two weeks for reporting on human rights conditions in the country, including coverage of the LGBTI community. According to international watchdog groups, he was conditionally released while awaiting a potential referral for trial proceedings.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no available information on societal violence toward persons with HIV or AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law, workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remain in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.

The GNA was limited in its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces, generally to protest delays in salary payments.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law did not criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Article 425 of the penal code criminalizes slavery and prescribes penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. Article 426 criminalizes the buying and selling of slaves and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment although other forms of forced labor are not criminalized. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws. In 2018 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against a commander from the Libyan Coast Guard and three other Libyans with close links to fundamentalist terror groups for their roles in human trafficking and labor exploitation. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators.

There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes under threat of violence.

Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities. In October, in the latest string of violence against migrant workers, three individuals stormed a factory in Tripoli where African migrants were working. During the attack, they poured gasoline on a Nigerian worker and burned him alive. Three other workers suffered burns in the attack, and the perpetrators were arrested.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available concerning whether the law limits working hours or sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children.

There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the ongoing hostilities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s employment or occupation. The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Discrimination in all the above categories likely occurred.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. The law prohibits women from working in jobs that are deemed morally inappropriate. Regulations issued by the General People’s Committee prohibit women from working in roles that are unsuited to their nature as women, and women’s work hours may be reduced for certain professions and occupations determined by the General People’s Committee that takes into account the requirements of the work and the proportion of male and female workers, as set forth in implementing regulations under the law. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service. They reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

On October 15, UNHCR resumed charter flights from Libya, ending a seven-month suspension due to the pandemic. As of October 19, nearly 3,200 migrants trying to reach Europe via Tripoli’s rocky coastline (including unaccompanied children younger than 18 and refugees) were still confined in squalid and overcrowded conditions in 11 detention centers that lacked adequate food and water. UNHCR evacuated nationals from primarily the sub-Saharan countries of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. This second UNHCR flight during the year evacuated 501 migrants from Libya, including 221 individuals who were resettled in Europe. As of year’s end, more than 200 migrants drowned and more than 280 went missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and more than 9,800 were intercepted and returned to Libya.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. There is a national monthly minimum wage. There is not an official poverty income level.

The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. There was no information available on whether inspections continued during the year. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for occupational safety and health concerns, but no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers have departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is the body responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.

On May 11, in the city of Kayes in the central part of the country, an off-duty police officer allegedly shot and killed a teenager for a traffic infraction, prompting protests during the ensuing days that left at least two more persons dead. There were allegations that security forces killed these additional two civilians, but the Gendarmerie conducted an investigation and concluded that those killings were carried out by a protester.

Between July 10 and 13, a total of 14 persons, including two children, were killed in the course of interventions by security forces during antigovernment demonstrations in the capital, Bamako. In November the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA’s) Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) attributed the deaths to actions by the National Gendarmerie, National Police, National Guard, and the Special Anti-Terrorist Force (FORSAT); it noted furthermore that FORSAT, whose actions it concluded were responsible for two of the 14 deaths, not only used disproportionate force but also acted illegally by intervening in law enforcement operations outside of the scope of its counterterrorism mission. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also documented the use of excessive force by security forces and the role of FORSAT during the same protests. On July 15, the then prime minister’s office announced an investigation into the alleged role of FORSAT in the deaths, and on December 3, the transition government’s National Council recommended renewed investigations into the July 10-13 events.

Separately, MINUSMA’s HRPD, tasked with monitoring human rights abuses throughout the country, reported more than 700 civilians killed from January to June. Among these the Malian defense and security forces (MDSF) allegedly committed at least 195 extrajudicial killings during the first six months of the year. Among other cases of extrajudicial killings documented by Amnesty International during the year, on February 16, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) reportedly committed five killings of unarmed individuals in the village of Belidanedji in the central part of the country. A number of investigations ordered by the Ministry of Defense regarding extrajudicial killings continued.

Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias also committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. According to the same HRPD reports covering the first six months of the year, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 82 killings, while signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform) and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 18 deaths. The HRPD furthermore reported that intercommunal violence, often by ethnic militias, accounted for the deaths of at least 350 civilians during the same period. The HRPD reports also alleged instances of extrajudicial executions within the country committed by members of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (18), the Nigerien armed forces (34), and the Burkinabe armed forces (50).

Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements continued to reach beyond the northern regions to the Mopti and Segou Regions in the central part of the country, and to the Kayes Region in the West. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. For example, on June 7, a civilian transport truck traveling from Jamweli to Douentza, Mopti Region, struck an IED, killing seven persons and injuring at least 24. On March 19, in a non-IED-related attack, armed individuals attacked a military camp in Tarkint, Gao Region, killing at least 29 soldiers and wounding five others. On May 10, a Chadian MINUSMA peacekeeping convoy struck an IED in Aguelhoc, Kidal Region, killing at least three peacekeepers and wounding four others. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, such as bridges, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects–including the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo–in the disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets (members of FAMa’s 33rd Parachute Regiment) and former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. On January 28, the Appeals Court of Bamako granted Sanogo, incarcerated since 2013, conditional release on the grounds his pretrial detention period was unreasonably long.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the MDSF in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF was responsible for 40 disappearances during the first six months of the year while armed groups were responsible for 71 forced disappearances or kidnappings during the same time period. In its June report on human rights abuses by security forces in the Sahel, Amnesty International similarly reported dozens of forced disappearances and possible summary executions at the hands of the MDSF in the course of counterterrorism operations and on other occasions. In December 2019 at least 26 individuals were arrested by a FAMa patrol at the Maliemana market in Segou and never seen again. Bodies were reportedly discovered in a well in the nearby village of N’Doukala seven days later. The government issued a communique 10 days after the arrests announcing an investigation and, as of December, a military prosecution order to investigate formally the allegations was pending the assignment of an investigative judge. The United Nations launched a fact-finding mission into the allegations, but the results of that mission were not made public. In one high-profile instance of kidnapping by armed groups, on March 25, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse was abducted while campaigning for legislative elections. The kidnapping was reportedly carried out by Amadou Kouffa’s Macina Liberation Front (MLF), a Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) affiliate. On October 8, Cisse was released along with three foreign hostages in exchange for the release of nearly 200 suspected extremists.

Human rights observers continued to report they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. This might have been due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Limited capacity to keep up accurately with case management exacerbated the difficulty in locating individuals within the country’s penal system. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a contributing factor, since many organizations were either denied access or unable to visit prisons for health-safety reasons. Human rights organizations estimated that the DGSE held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities. Following advocacy from the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), at least two of these unreported detention cases were transferred to the justice system during the year: one involving a member of the 2012 junta, Seyba Diarra, and the other of civil society leader Clement Dembele.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including JNIM-affiliated member groups (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA’s HRPD reported 56 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by the MDSF during the first six months of the year. Other organizations reported extensively on torture allegations. In February, according to reports by Amnesty International and others, an elected official from Kogoni-Peulh, Oumar Diallo, was asked by his community to inquire at a gendarme base in Segou as to the whereabouts of previously arrested villagers. He was allegedly arrested and detained at the military camp in Diabaly where he was reportedly treated poorly. He died while subsequently being transferred to Segou by the military. Amnesty International reported that those who buried him stated, “On his corpse you could see traces of ill treatment.” Leaders of the opposition movement the June 5 Movement-Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), arrested in the wake of the violent July 10-12 protests, claimed they were tortured or mistreated by the gendarmerie at the Gendarmerie Camp I detention facility in Bamako. Investigations into these allegations by international organizations continued at year’s end.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there remained one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by a peacekeeper from the country deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The allegation was submitted in 2017 and allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with two adults. As of September the United Nations substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not disclosed the accountability measures taken.

Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: As of August the Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,300 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There were significant rates of overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.

By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prisons authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of August authorities held 372 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The general security situation, together with population growth and overloaded, inefficient courts, exacerbated already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.

The country’s prison administration (DNAPES) reported that, as of August, a total of 18 prisoners and detainees died in custody due to heart attacks, brain trauma, and respiratory problems. The CNDH, an independent entity that receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Additionally, inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons. On June 5, a mutiny at Bamako Central Prison left four inmates dead and eight others (including one prison guard) injured.

Prison food was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and prison medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities in order to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH regarding their detention conditions. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison and other localities. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities. On July 12, the CNDH was denied access to the Bamako Gendarmerie Camp I, where M5-RFP leaders were detained following the July 10 protest and subsequent violence. The United Nations reported that it was eventually allowed access to detained protest leaders. The CNDH frequently visited prisons outside of Bamako, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Bamako. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. During the year ICRC officials visited at least 11 prisons in the country, including in Bamako, Koulikoro, Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, and found that prisoners’ basic needs were regularly being met. The ICRC also assisted DNAPES in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by making recommendations and providing hygiene and sanitary equipment.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion CFA franc ($15.6 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Much of the structure was complete; however, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment for the intended operations. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards but as of September confined approximately 400 inmates. As a COVID-19 mitigation measure, in April at least 1,400 prisoners were pardoned and released from national prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Authorities may grant conditional release to detainees, who have limited right to bail, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation. There was also at least one incident in which a high-profile figure, Clement Dembele, was arrested and was not granted prompt access to a lawyer.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel or resources, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the state as a de facto authority in the north of the country, they also illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center. MINUSMA’s HRPD stated that on May 22, as a COVID-19 mitigation measure, the president of the CMA pardoned 21 persons who the HRPD contended were being illegally detained.

On June 23, the Fulani organization, Tabital Pulaaku, denounced the arbitrary arrest of civilians in the town of Niaouro in the circle of Djenne. Fulani organizations also denounced the unlawful arrest of approximately 20 persons in the village of Nema in the circle of Bankass on July 5, following attacks on the Dogon villages of Gouari, Diimto, Diallaye, and Pangabougou which killed at least 32 civilians. The organization alleged these individuals were arrested based solely on their ethnic origin. While many were subsequently released, others were transferred to Bamako.

On August 18, in the wake of the military overthrow of the government, more than a dozen military and government officials, including the president and the prime minister, were arrested and held at the military base at Kati. Following repeated interventions and demands for their release by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the diplomatic community, and human rights organizations, on August 27, the president was released and placed under house arrest. Following hospitalization in Bamako, on September 5, he was permitted to leave the country to seek medical attention. At least 13 members of the former government, including the prime minister, the president of the National Assembly, and military leadership, remained in custody until their release without charge on October 7, following the September 25 swearing in of the president and vice president of the transition government. While some human rights organizations were never permitted access to them, others reported delays before eventually being granted access to the detainees while in custody. One such organization reported that some of the detainees referred to themselves as “hostages” and that the detainees stated their right to information and visits were not respected.

According to local press, on August 18, Boubacar Keita, the son of the deposed former president, was also detained and as of December continued to be held under house arrest at his father’s family home. In a letter attributed to Boubacar Keita, he lamented his conditions, noting, “I would like to remind you that since the confiscation of [my] phones, I have not been able to hear from my wife, my children and the family in general, only orally, sporadically, and only through an intermediary.”

Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trial to occur within prescribed periods of time, depending on sentencing tied to conviction of the offense charged. For the contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a monetary fine, there is no pretrial detention, since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years of incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two years to five years or serious felonies with potential sentencing ranging from five years to life (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years. Despite these legal restrictions, excessive pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of September, 69 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.

On January 28, the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, was ordered released by the Appeals Court of Bamako. Authorities cited the fact that his detention period exceeded legal limits on pretrial detention as one of the reasons for his release, although many saw his conditional release as politically motivated.

In April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, convicted felons were granted early release to minimize the spread of the virus, but such measures were not taken for pretrial detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups. There were problems enforcing court orders. One judicial employee noted military interference and noncompliance with summons for military members, alleging members of the Gendarmerie refused to support the judiciary in carrying out arrest warrants when requested. Judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally tried to enforce this right, inadequate staffing, logistical support (such as translators), infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), as well as undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, and in many cases, beyond legal pretrial detention limits before having their case heard. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties to the case, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense for felony cases and cases involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of private attorneys, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. For example, on May 9, security forces arrested Clement Dembele, chairman of the Platform against Corruption and Unemployment, shortly after he released a Bambara language video on social media advocating for large-scale civil disobedience. On May 25, following his release, Dembele recounted in a media interview having a hood placed on his head before being taken into custody. He stated he was held by the DGSE and detained with terrorist suspects before being placed in an underground isolation cell. Following the intervention of the CNDH, Dembele was eventually presented to the Bamako Commune I prosecutor who charged him with using the press to incite the disobedience of the security forces. On September 2, his case was heard, and on September 30, it was dismissed by the tribunal.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of August authorities detained 372 persons charged with terrorism in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained complained they were political prisoners. Persons found to be fighting for independence or for the creation of an Islamic state were charged with terrorism and claimed this as political detention. At year’s end, however, there was no clear indication they were detained for political reasons or as opponents of the government. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. They may appeal their cases to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of hereditary slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The military; formerly separatist forces, including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA); northern militias aligned with the government, including the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (MSA and GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations, including the ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), JNIM, MLF, and al-Murabitoun, committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either in reprisal for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or as a result of increased counterterrorism operations.

Government and French troops targeted terrorist organizations–including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, MLF, al-Murabitoun, JNIM, and ISGS–that were not party to the peace talks or the resulting accord. These terrorist organizations often maintained links to armed groups participating in the peace process.

The government failed to pursue and investigate human rights abuses in the North, which was widely controlled by CMA. Despite international assistance with investigating some human rights cases in the center, there is no evidence any were prosecuted there. Human rights organizations maintained that insufficient resources, insecurity, and a lack of political will were the largest obstacles to fighting impunity.

Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations killed persons throughout the country, but especially in the central and (to a lesser extent) northern regions. The HRPD reported more than 700 civilian deaths during the first six months of the year. It stated that from January 1 to March 31, 82 percent of conflict-related civilian deaths occurred in Mopti and Segou Regions. The report noted similar trends from April 1 to June 30.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou Regions reported abuses by government security forces. According to the HRPD first quarterly report, on February 16, a total of 19 individuals suspected of terrorist activities were allegedly arrested by FAMa soldiers in the Circle of Niono, Segou Region. The HRPD went on to report that 13 of the suspects were killed and six forcibly disappeared. As of August the Gendarmerie was conducting an investigation into these extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, and the Ministry of Defense directed a military prosecution of members of the detachment, including the lieutenant who commanded the detachment.

According to MINUSMA, on June 5, a military convoy of approximately 30 vehicles entered the village of Binedama in Mopti, allegedly accompanied by a group of traditional Dozo hunters, and indiscriminately opened fire on the villagers, killing 37 (including three women and children). MINUSMA’s HRPD report alleged at least three victims were burned to death when their homes were set ablaze; granaries were also set on fire during the attack.

HRPD’s quarterly report, covering the period April to June, alleged that between June 3 and June 6, the FAMa killed or summarily executed at least 61 individuals during the course of three separate raids in the villages of Yangassadiou, Binedama, and Massabougou in the central area of the country. In some cases (specifically with respect to the attacks in Yangassadiou and Binedama but not Massabougou), the FAMa were reportedly accompanied by traditional Dozo hunters. Regarding the attack in Massabougou, the report stated, “On June 6, around 11 a.m., FAMa elements in several military vehicles raided the village of Massabougou (Dogofry Commune, Niono Circle) during which they searched houses and arrested nine villagers whom they summarily executed near the village cemetery. According to credible sources, the raid was carried out by FAMa elements sent on patrol following an armed attack on a military post in the village of Sarakala (located 20 miles northeast of the city of Segou) by unidentified armed elements at approximately 3 a.m. on the same day.” The Gendarmerie conducted an investigation into the allegations in Massabougou, and the Ministry of Defense directed a military prosecutor in Mopti to prepare legal proceedings against the detachment including its commander.

Terrorist groups and unidentified individuals or groups carried out many attacks resulting in the deaths of members of the security forces and signatory armed groups, peacekeepers, and civilians. For example, on October 13, JNIM attacked a FAMa outpost in Soukoura town in the central Mopti Region that left nine soldiers dead; shortly thereafter, JNIM killed at least two more soldiers who had been sent as reinforcements to the base. On October 15, one peacekeeper was killed and others injured when the convoy in which he was travelling struck an IED near Kidal. Amnesty International reported that on July 1, unidentified armed individuals in a convoy of at least 60 motorbikes and armed vehicles killed community, civil society, and religious leaders as they attacked the villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari, and Dialakanda in the communes of Tori and Diallassagou in the Bankass Circle of Mopti Region. They first attacked Panga Dougou, killing at least one person, before continuing to Djimdo where an additional 15 persons were killed, and then on to Gouari, killing at least 16 others and injuring four more. The attackers also reportedly stole cattle and motorbikes, and the insecurity prevented farmers from cultivating crops.

Intercommunal violence related to disputes regarding transhumance (seasonal migration) cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani communities in the Mopti Region, between Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and between various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

Several international and human rights organizations expressed concern regarding increased intercommunal violence in Mopti Region, mainly between pastoralist Fulani and agriculturalist Dogon ethnic groups. According to the HRPD, intercommunal violence resulted in more than 350 civilian deaths as a result of 98 separate attacks in the first six months of the year. The data further revealed that Fulani self-defense groups were responsible for 81 attacks that resulted in the deaths of at least 250 Dogons, while Dogon and Dozo self-defense groups were responsible for 17 attacks resulting in the deaths of nearly 100 Fulanis.

On February 14, more than 35 villagers were killed in the village of Ogossagou by an ethnic militia. According to reports the attack occurred hours after the country’s military abruptly vacated their nearby post without replacement. The military post was established following an attack on the same village in March 2019 that left more than 150 villagers dead. According to several reports, for many hours prior to the attack, local villagers alerted the military, MINUSMA, and local government to their fear that an attack was imminent. The attack ended only after Malian and MINUSMA troops eventually returned to the village. A MINUSMA human rights fact-finding mission concluded that armed men from the Dogon community planned, organized, and conducted the attack, resulting in the death of at least 35 Fulani villagers, three injured, and 19 more missing. According to Human Rights Watch reporting, the government noted that disciplinary actions would be taken in response to what it called a “tactical error,” pending an investigation. Army Chief of Staff Keba Sangare was relieved of his post following the attack. Sangare remained in the military, however, and was later appointed a governor. MINUSMA also announced an investigation into the attack, which occurred one hour after peacekeepers passed through the village. Two individuals were arrested and detained, and arrest warrants were also issued against three other individuals in connection with the February 14 attack. Of the 10 suspects who were arrested following the March 2019 attack against the same village, seven remained in detention, while three were released due to a lack of evidence. The case, which was being investigated by the Specialized Judicial Unit that has jurisdiction over terrorism and transitional crime, continued at year’s end.

In June and July, there were several reports of peace agreements between Fulani and Dogon communities in several parts of Koro Circle, Mopti Region, which allowed the latter to cultivate their farms and the former to go to local markets. The government was reportedly not part of brokering these peace agreements; rather, local contacts reported they were brokered by community leaders, sometimes with the assistance of NGOs. Violent extremist organizations were also rumored to have aided in brokering some agreements.

Abductions: Jihadist groups; the CMA alliance of the MNLA, HCUA, and MAA; and militias in the Platform, such as GATIA, reportedly held hostages.

A Colombian national Roman Catholic missionary Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, captured in 2017 in Koutiala, in the southern part of the country, remained in captivity with terrorist groups. On October 8, the transition government announced the release of French humanitarian Sophie Petronin along with local political opposition leader Soumaila Cisse and Italian citizens Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio as part of a prisoner exchange. On March 25, Cisse was captured while campaigning for legislative elections in the Timbuktu Region, reportedly by the MLF, a JNIM affiliate. Edith Blais of Canada and Luca Tacchetto of Italy, abducted in Burkina Faso in 2018, escaped terrorist custody, according to a UN spokesperson on March 13.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights NGOs reported a number of instances of conflict-related physical abuse, torture, and punishment perpetrated by the MDSF, armed groups, ethnic self-defense groups, and terrorist organizations.

Child Soldiers: For the first time since 2014, the UN’s annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict alleged that FAMa recruited and used children in domestic capacities. As of October all children known to have been recruited and used by FAMa had been released.

CMA and some armed groups in the Platform, including GATIA, reportedly recruited and used child soldiers in combatant and noncombatant roles.

The United Nations documented the recruitment and use of children between ages nine and 17, by armed groups–including by some that received support from and collaborated with the government–and in some cases also by the MDSF. According to two reports of the UN secretary-general to the Security Council covering the first five months of the year, the United Nations documented 164 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers, which included 127 by signatory armed groups in the North, 21 by the MDSF, 14 by Katiba Macina in Segou and Mopti, and two by Dan Na Ambassagou in Mopti. According to those reports, many of the children–including all of those known to be recruited and used by FAMa–were released back to their families following UN intervention. The HRPD also reported it collected information regarding the exploitation of children in the gold mines controlled by the CMA in Kidal and that within the framework of the “Tagaste” operation to strengthen security in Kidal, children were used to manage checkpoints. Other organizations reported on the recruitment and use of child soldiers, including the National Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families, which reported that as of October 6, it had identified 70 such cases during the year, among 290 cases since 2013.

In June the United Nations also published its annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict covering January 2019-December 2019, a period during which it verified the recruitment and use of 215 children (189 boys, 26 girls) between ages nine and 17 in most cases by armed groups, but also by the MDSF, for the first time since 2014. In 140 of these cases, the children had been recruited and exploited in previous years. The United Nations identified CMA, MNLA, MAA, HCUA, and Platform members, including GATIA, among armed groups responsible. The MDSF reportedly recruited and used 24 children from the Gao Region in support roles as couriers and domestic help; in November 2019 these 24 children were released to their families or an international organization for care.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for any child-soldiering offenses during the year.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: There were attacks on the MDSF, peacekeepers, international forces, and international humanitarian organizations. Lethal attacks targeted local, French, and international forces in the central and northern regions of the country and resulted in the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of the country’s soldiers (the government does not provide aggregate data related to MDSF deaths) as well as deaths of peacekeeping and international forces. For example, among numerous other attacks, on March 19, a total of 30 soldiers were killed and 20 injured in an attack in Gao, and on April 6, another 25 soldiers were killed and 12 injured in another attack in Gao. On May 10, three Chadian peacekeepers were killed and four others wounded in an IED blast in Aguelhoc, in the North. In September, two French soldiers associated with France’s Operation Barkhane were killed and one was wounded in the northern region of Tessalit when their armored vehicle struck an IED. The United Nations also reported an increase in attacks against peacekeepers and humanitarians in the North. Several nongovernmental organizations reportedly suspended operations in various regions of the country periodically due to insecurity.

As of November 30, MINUSMA suffered at least 231 fatalities since the beginning of MINUSMA’s mission in 2013. According to MINUSMA, as of October authorities tried no cases related to peacekeeper deaths.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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.

Freedom of Association

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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: 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.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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.

f. Protection of Refugees

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 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that right, but with some difficulty.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Originally scheduled for October 2018, after repeated delays, on March 29, legislative elections were held nearly 18 months late. On April 19, runoff elections took place. The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, allegations of voter intimidation and elections tampering, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the central and northern parts of the country. On March 25, opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was captured–reportedly by the MLF (a JNIM affiliate) while campaigning for legislative elections in the Timbuktu Region. On October 8, he was released.

According to MINUSMA, an estimated 5,000 election monitors deployed throughout the country reported incidents of voter suppression and intimidation, election material destruction, and kidnapping in the central and northern parts of the country. COVID-19, insecurity, and allegations of election tampering and intimidation led to low voter turnout (reported by the United Nations at 35 percent for the first round and 36 percent for the second round) and contested results. On April 30, the Constitutional Court changed the provisional results for 30 seats that had been announced by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, which oversees elections. The final results were widely contested across the country, sparking a political crisis and sometimes violent demonstrations from June to August, drawing to the streets tens of thousands of protesters demanding the president’s resignation, the dismissal of the National Assembly, and the resignation of the members of the Constitutional Court (see also section 1.a.).

Following a military mutiny on the morning of August 18, which resulted in the arrest of several members of the government and military, then president Keita, was arrested the evening of that same day. Shortly after midnight on August 19, Keita gave a short televised address in which he resigned as president and dissolved the government and the National Assembly. Later on the morning of August 19, the leaders of the mutiny announced the formation of the CNSP, a military junta. ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions on the country, initially demanding an immediate return to constitutional order and eventually agreeing to an 18-month civilian transition government. On September 24, a former minister of defense, retired Colonel Major Bah N’Daw, was sworn in as president of a transition government, and CNSP president Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as transition government vice president. On September 27, N’Daw named former minister of foreign affairs (2007-09) Moctar Ouane as prime minister of the transition government. On October 1, the transition charter was published; however, it does not specifically elucidate the line of succession in the event of the president’s incapacitation (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest).

Participation of Women and Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural or religious factors, however, sometimes limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles due to a perception that it was taboo or improper to have women in such roles. A 2015 law requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in former president Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. In his second cabinet formed in April 2019, however, eight of the 38 ministers were women. Four of the 25 ministers of the transition government were women.

Compliance with the law mandating female candidate participation was nearly achieved for the March and April legislative elections, with 41 seats of the 147-member National Assembly going to women, representing 28 percent of the National Assembly. This represented an increase from the previous National Assembly, in which 14 seats were held by women. The National Assembly was ultimately dissolved by former president Keita, following the overthrow of the government on August 18 and his resignation and dissolution of the government on August 19.

Before it was dissolved on August 19, the National Assembly had at least eight members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The cabinet of former prime minister Boubou Cisse included one nomadic ethnic minority member.

Three Tuareg members of the dissolved National Assembly elected during the March and April elections were members of northern armed groups, including one member from Gao representing MAA, one member from Kidal representing HCUA, and one member from Ansongo representing CMA. A member of the Dogon ethnic self-defense group, Dan Na Ambassagou, was also elected from the circle of Koro.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes.

In 2019 and July, the general auditor released reports on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The country’s embassies in Abidjan, Cairo, and Addis Ababa were investigated for financial irregularities amounting to 1.16 billion CFA ($2.01 million), 2.6 billion CFA ($4.51 million), and 15.6 million CFA ($27,000), respectively. The irregularities were reportedly related to exchange rate manipulation, unauthorized obligations of funds, and undue financial gains provided to certain personnel at these Embassies. As of October the case continued. In October 2019 the former mayor of Bamako was prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for alleged corruption related to a 2010 contract regarding the electrification of Bamako valued at 1.4 billion CFA ($2.4 million). On May 22, he was released on bail.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all their assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The Central Office to Fight Illicit Enrichment (OCLEI), the agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures, remained operational, and reported approximately 1,500 officials had filed disclosures since OCLEI became responsible for receiving such disclosures. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be made public, this did not generally occur. While the transition charter does not specifically require disclosures, it is understood that the constitution still applies where it is not in contradiction with the transition charter.

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.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men and provides a penalty for conviction of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing their cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where victims might be pressured by family to accept monetary “compensation” for the crime committed against them instead of seeking justice through the legal system. There were several convictions related to rape and domestic violence during an extended Court of Assizes session that began in August. The court convicted one suspect of pedophilia; he received a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. Two suspects convicted of rape and pedophilia each received five-year prison sentences; including a Guinean national convicted of raping a minor. On September 30, an individual convicted of murder and attempted rape was sentenced to death.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012/2013 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence and concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse; the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men still believed this behavior was justified. The same survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual); 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence; and one in every eight women (13 percent) experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.

Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported as a result of both cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Nonetheless, police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Additionally, many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Ministry of Justice Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

On September 21, following a complaint from his girlfriend, prominent singer Sidiki Diabate was arrested by the Bamako police judicial investigations unit for allegations of domestic violence and sequestration. A robust social media campaign denouncing the artist also resulted in him being dropped from concert appearances. On September 24, he was formally charged and imprisoned. On September 26, the Platform Against Gender-Based Violence held a march in support of victims of gender-based violence. On October 2, supporters of the artist announced a demonstration in his honor, but it was cancelled. Local media reported Diabate was provisionally released on bail on December 29; his trial was pending at year’s end.

According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were also responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by imposing the veil on women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil. The United Nations also reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country.

In the March 20 report of the UN secretary-general to the Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least eight cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, “The cases included the forced marriage of four girls by alleged extremist elements in Timbuktu Region; the rape of two women, reportedly by Mouvement pour le salut de l’Azawad members in Menaka; the gang rape of a girl, imputed to elements of the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad et Front patriotique de reisistance in Gao; and the sexual assault of a five-year-old girl, perpetrated by a member of the MDSF in Gao.”

According to MINUSMA, following a January 21 workshop discussing the role of the High Islamic Council in countering conflict-related sexual violence, the president of the High Islamic Council signed a declaration, making commitments to prevent gender-based violence, including the issuance of a fatwa to denounce conflict-related sexual violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15-49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location with rates as low as less than 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked the information and means to enjoy these rights.

While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.

Distance to health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to access adequate healthcare easily.

In accessing information about their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.

While government sexual and reproductive health services were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized. In instances of gender-based violence such as sexual violence, survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union and the UNFPA and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral health center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.

The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in a health center assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to the UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 per 1,000.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries held by men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population is younger than age 18. As of June the United Nations estimated 2.42 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF’s data regarding children, repeated attacks led to death; gunshot or burn injuries; displacement and separation from families; and exposure to violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; arrests and detention; and psychological trauma. Hundreds of children were estimated to be recruited by armed groups annually.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country, and the law requires registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations indicated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a December 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and ignorance of the importance of birth certificates by parents were among challenges for birth registration. According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown. Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which is critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also plays an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers, a protracted teachers’ strike from December 2019 to September 13, shortages of instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15-49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men.

On March 19, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced the closure of schools. Compounded with a simultaneous teachers’ strike, schools effectively remained closed until September 13, when a salary increase agreement was reached between the teachers’ union and the CNSP (the de facto authority following the overthrow of the government). In December schools were again closed in an effort to stymie a second wave of COVID-19 cases. It was estimated that nearly 3.8 million children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.

In June the United Nations reported that conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,261 schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou since the beginning of the year. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations also reported the government security forces also sometimes used school compounds as bases. MINUSMA reported that during the first half of the year, at least seven schools were attacked or targeted. Jihadist groups often threatened teachers and communities to close schools that did not offer solely religious instruction. The conflict-related closure of more than 1,261 schools during the year was an increase from approximately 900 closures during the 2018-19 school year, and nearly doubled the number of school closures in the same period in 2017-18. The majority of closed schools were located in the Mopti Region.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. According to MINUSMA’s HRPD reports detailing the first six months of the year, 39 children were killed, less than a one-quarter the number reported during the same period of 2019. The United Nations documented 402 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 254 children between January and June. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g, Child Soldiers).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was a problem throughout the country. Girls were also taken as ‘wives’ for combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.

In some regions of the country, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months’ to three years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for conviction of indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge of contraception.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported that, as of March, 79 unaccompanied and separated children had received interim care and protection services since the beginning of the year. According to the OCHA, children made up 58 percent of IDPs in the country.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on a doctor’s recommendation–medical doctors sometimes lacked training in psychology–the court would either send the individual to a mental institution in Bamako or proceed with a trial.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal discrimination continued against black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in the Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. More than 2,000 families who were displaced in 2019 due to their refusal to be subjected to slavery practices remained displaced and continued to be prevented from farming and accessing social services in the areas of Diema, Nioro du Sahel, and Yelimane in the Kayes Region. In addition despite government negotiations that allowed for the return of 213 families to Kerouane in Kayes Region, villagers prevented the families from accessing basic needs.

In September human rights organizations reported that four persons in Diandioume, circle of Nioro du Sahel, were bound, beaten, and drowned for refusing the practice of hereditary slavery. At least 95 of their family members fled or were displaced. The CNDH and other human rights organizations condemned the situation and called on the government to take action. At least 30 persons were reportedly arrested as a result.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani or Peuhl ethnic groups and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities for their alleged support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension has given rise to ethnic “self-defense groups” and driven thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Such groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.

In the center, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see section 1.g, Killings).

In another example, over the course of several hours on July 1, unidentified gunmen attacked the Dogon villages of Panga Dougou, Djimdo, Gouari, and Dialakanda, in the circle of Bankass, Mopti region, killing at least 32 civilians and wounding several others, and burning and looting several houses.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggested there was an upsurge in targeting of LGBTI individuals and their full protection remained in question. In January, reportedly in response to allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, 15 young men were arrested at a social event. The defendants were apparently targeted for their perceived sexual orientation and were accused of indecency, trafficking in persons, corruption of minors, and rape. Following their arrest, clinics where some of them were receiving HIV care were ransacked and temporarily closed. Observers believed the clinics were targeted for their work serving key populations at risk of HIV. It was difficult to obtain information regarding the specific sequence of events and the young men’s treatment while in police custody. According to the government, their detention was intended to protect this vulnerable group. As of December three of the 15 remained in pretrial detention pending a continuing investigation.

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTI. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. For example, in October 2019 a group of persons, including the victim’s husband, killed an albino pregnant woman in Kita on the orders of a traditional spiritual leader. Two of the perpetrators were arrested. As of December, the victim’s husband remained under arrest and the case remained pending. Singer-songwriter and albino activist Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition continued and impeded such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer. Keita founded the Salif Keita Global Foundation in 2006, which continued to provide free health care to persons with albinism, advocated for their protection, and provided education to help end their abuse.

On October 3, the Malian Association for the Protection of People with Albinism hosted a press conference in Bamako to demand authorities apply the 2017-21 regional action plan on albinism in Africa. While the plan aims to promote the rights of albinos in the country and across Africa, the association contended that since its adoption, authorities have struggled to apply it.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers, except members of the armed forces, have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process is cumbersome and time consuming, and the government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectoral collective bargaining and to approve sectoral collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code in order to strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor may order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike. During the year teachers went on strike, calling for higher wages, while health professionals in Bamako and Kayes also called for increased resources and personal protective equipment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. Officials had not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and conviction includes fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties may be doubled if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Government officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating community members in an effort to have charges dismissed.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation, and in artisanal gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers compelled boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the North subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Girls between ages six and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The government prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. This law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards regarding the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared among the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor; the Ministry of Justice through different courts; the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police; the National Social Security Institute through its health service; and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate. The penalties for violations were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes but were not applied in all sectors.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy.

Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the northern and central parts of the country (see section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as garibouts or talibes, to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes were also used as domestic workers without receiving compensation.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks considered dangerous, and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women are also legally prohibited from working on the creation or sale of writing and images considered contrary to good morals. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wage allows one to live above the World Bank’s poverty line. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In 2018 the government increased the salaries of public-sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In 2018 banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries. In September teachers received a pay increase following strikes in 2019 and during the year.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 93 percent of workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization report.

The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations due to fear of losing their jobs.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors, and the few inspectors it did employ lacked resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. No government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to worksites only after labor unions filed complaints.

Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. A government commission conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines; mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso; and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath Party leaders dominated all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the regime that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election resulted in the re-election of Assad, and the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front won 177 of the 250 seats in the People’s Council 2020 parliamentary elections. These elections took place in an environment of widespread regime coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

The regime’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Regime-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces, integrated with other regime-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but possessed limited influence over foreign military or paramilitary organizations operating in the country, including proregime forces such as the Russian armed forces, Iran-affiliated Hizballah, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Regime and proregime forces continued major aerial and ground offensives initiated in 2019 to recapture areas of northwest Syria, killing thousands of civilians and forcing nearly one million persons to flee before the brokering of a ceasefire in March, which largely held through the remainder of the year. The assault, involving the use of heavy weapons, devastated the civilian infrastructure in the affected areas and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation. Syrian and Russian airstrikes repeatedly struck civilian sites, including hospitals, markets, schools, settlements for internally displaced persons, and farms, many of which were included in UN deconfliction lists. As of August the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported there were 6.6 million internally displaced persons, 2.6 million of whom were children, and more than 5.5 million Syrian registered refugees outside the country. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria found it probable that the regime, its Russian allies, and other proregime forces committed attacks “marked by war crimes” that “may amount to crimes against humanity” during these attacks.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the regime; forced disappearances by the regime; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prolonged arbitrary detention; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in internal conflict, including aerial and ground attacks impacting civilians and civilian infrastructure including schools, markets, and hospitals; serious restrictions on free expression, including restrictions on the press and access to the internet, censorship, and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections, including severe restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; coerced abortion; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the regime and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; violence and severe discrimination targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The regime took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security and intelligence forces and elsewhere in the regime.

Regime-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres; indiscriminate killings; kidnapping of civilians; extreme physical abuse, including sexual violence; and unlawful detentions. Regime-aligned militias, including Hizballah, repeatedly launched attacks that killed and injured civilians.

Russian forces were implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from airstrikes characterized by the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria as indiscriminate and resulting in the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly during support of the regime’s military campaign in northwest Syria. These airstrikes destroyed hospitals, shelters, markets, homes, and other integral civilian facilities, damaging medical supplies and equipment and shutting down vital health-care networks, and followed a well documented pattern of attacks with serious and deleterious humanitarian and civilian impact.

The unstable security situation in areas under the control of armed opposition groups continued to foster an environment in which human rights abuses were committed, including killings, extreme physical abuse, and detention.

Armed terrorist groups, such as al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), committed a wide range of abuses, including unlawful killings and kidnappings, unlawful detention, extreme physical abuse, deaths of civilians during attacks described by the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria as indiscriminate, and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS in 2019, the group continued to carry out unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings, sometimes targeting civilians. The Carnegie Corporation assessed that ISIS benefited from a security vacuum left by the various military forces reducing activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turkish-supported Syrian armed opposition groups in northern Syria committed human rights abuses, reportedly targeting Kurdish and Yezidi residents and other civilians, including the arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of civilians, torture, sexual violence, forced evacuations from homes, looting and seizure of private property, transfer of detained civilians across the border into Turkey, the cutting of water to civilian populations, recruitment of child soldiers, and the looting and desecration of religious shrines.

Elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minority groups that included members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, reportedly engaged in human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, acts of corruption, and restrictions on freedom of assembly.

The UN Commission of Inquiry and human rights groups reported that perpetrators often acted with a sense of impunity, and the vast majority of abuses committed since 2011 went uninvestigated.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the regime and its agents, as well as other armed actors, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.). No internal governmental bodies meaningfully investigated whether security force killings were justifiable and pursued prosecutions.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), more than 227,180 civilians were killed in the conflict from 2011 to December. Other groups estimated this number exceeded 550,000. This discrepancy was due in part to the vast number of disappeared, many of whom remained missing.

During the year the SNHR reported 1,462 civilians were killed, including at least 200 women and 218 children. The majority of these deaths occurred at the beginning of the year, during a military operation led by the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies against the areas in and around Idlib.

The regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and to cause the death of large numbers of civilians throughout regime-controlled territories. For example, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) reported that the Eighth Brigade of the Fifth Assault Corps of the Syrian Arab Army entered al-Quraya on March 27, killed six armed residents in the fighting, and later summarily executed five men and detained others.

The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) and numerous human rights groups reported the regime continued to torture and kill persons in detention facilities. According to the SNHR, more than 14,500 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and December, including 179 children and 91 women; the SNHR attributed approximately 99 percent of all cases to regime forces, including 115 deaths during the year (see section 1.c.).

Despite a ceasefire established in March, the regime maintained its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling, killing hundreds of civilians during the year. In 2019 the UN secretary-general established a Board of Inquiry (BOI) to investigate attacks on civilian sites shared between humanitarian groups and military actors for the purpose of deconfliction from September 2018 through 2019 in northwest Syria. In April the BOI concluded that, in four of the seven incidents investigated, it “was highly probable” the Assad regime and its allies were responsible for attacks on UN deconflicted hospitals. In March the COI reporting on Idlib determined there were reasonable grounds to believe Russian forces were guilty of the war crime of “launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas” and that “progovernment forces repeatedly committed the war crime of deliberately attacking protected objects and intentionally attacking medical personnel. In attacking hospitals, medical units, and health-care personnel, progovernment forces violated binding international humanitarian law to care for the sick and wounded and committed the war crime of attacking protected objects.”

Other actors in the conflict were also implicated in extrajudicial killings (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances by or on behalf of regime authorities, and the vast majority of those disappeared since the start of the conflict remained missing. Human rights groups’ estimates of the number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a common practice. The SNHR reported approximately 1,185 forced disappearances during the year and documented at least 149,360 Syrians were detained or forcibly disappeared between 2011 and December, with the regime responsible for at least 88 percent of those detentions. The regime targeted medical personnel and critics, including journalists and protesters, as well as their families and associates. Most disappearances reported by Syrian and international human rights documentation groups appeared to be politically motivated, and a number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.).

In July, Syrian journalist Wafa Ali Mustafa told the UN Security Council the number of detained and disappeared was still growing as the regime continued to use detention “as a weapon to terrorize civilians.” As of December the regime issued nearly 17 amnesty decrees, the last of which was in March and included only a small number of cases heard by the Counter-Terrorism Court and military field courts. The decree excluded the vast majority of detainees who were never formally convicted of a crime in any court of law and were classified by the international community as unacknowledged detainees or forcibly disappeared.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) reported in August that it had requested information from the regime on 113 individuals whom the regime reportedly subjected to enforced disappearance between May 2019 and May 2020. The UNWGEID received no response from the regime on these or other outstanding cases. The UNWGEID also received reports of disappearances, including women and children, perpetrated by various armed groups, including those affiliated with the Turkish armed forces.

According to the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity, in February the regime released the bodies of Maher Suleiman al-Dali and Ahmad Ali al-Awad, who were arresting after defecting from the Syrian army. Both had signed reconciliation agreements.

Throughout the year the regime continued publishing notifications of detainees’ deaths in regime detention facilities. According to Families for Freedom, many families were unaware of the status of their detained family members and learned that relatives they believed to be alive had died months or even years earlier. In many cases the regime had denied the presence of these individuals in its detention centers until it released death notifications. The SNHR recorded at least 970 of these notifications but estimated that the number of detainees certified as dead was in the thousands. The regime did not announce publication of notifications on updated state registers, return bodies to families, or disclose locations where remains were interred.

For example, the SNHR received information in June that Wesam Fawwaz Mer’i al-Haj Ali, a college student detained and forcibly disappeared by regime forces in 2013, had died in regime custody. As was frequently the case, the regime did not provide Wesam’s body to the family or officially inform the family of the timing or manner of his death, although the SNHR reported it was likely due to torture.

The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared approaching authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals.

Some terrorist groups and armed opposition groups not affiliated with the regime also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected regime affiliates, journalists, and activists (see section 1.g.).

The regime made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such actions.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Human rights activists, the COI, and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, reported thousands of credible cases of regime authorities engaging in systematic torture, abuse, and mistreatment to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations, a systematic regime practice documented throughout the conflict and even prior to 2011. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights assessed that, while individuals were often tortured in order to obtain information, the primary purpose of the regime’s use of torture during interrogations was to terrorize and humiliate detainees.

While most accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in regime custody during the year. Activists maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of regime reprisal. Many torture victims reportedly died in custody (see section 1.a.).

A military defector, nicknamed “Caesar,” testified outside the country in April that he had been ordered to take photographs of the bodies of victims–including thousands of photographs he later smuggled out of the country–who had been detained, tortured, and extrajudicially killed in regime detention centers between 2011 and 2013. Caesar said the bodies had signs of burning, strangulation, and whipping with cables. NGOs continued to report various forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. The Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison described the testimonies of 14 former detainees held by the regime in Sednaya Prison and reported prison officials subjected detainees to a wide range of torture as an interrogation tactic and, at times, for no reason at all. The SNHR documented the deaths of at least 33 individuals between March and June, including one woman, due to torture and medical negligence in regime detention centers. For example, the State Security Force arrested Mahmoud Abdul Majid al-Rahil from Daraa on May 4, returning his body to his family three days later. Al-Rahil, whose body bore signs of torture, had previously settled his legal and security status with the regime via a reconciliation agreement and was not engaged in military activity at the time of his arrest. In May the SNHR interviewed 96 individuals released under the March amnesty decree, all of whom had been arrested for their connection to protests. Many reported being subjected to torture by regime security forces as a method for extracting confessions to “terrorism” related crimes.

The COI and Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported regular use of torture against perceived regime opponents at checkpoints and regime facilities run by the Air Force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. Human rights groups identified numerous detention facilities where torture occurred, including the Mezzeh airport detention facility; Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291; Adra Prison; Sednaya Prison; the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch; Harasta Military Hospital; Mezzeh Military Hospital 601; and the Tishreen Military Hospital.

The SNHR estimated that parties of the conflict committed at least 11,520 acts of sexual violence between 2011 and December. Regime forces were responsible for at least 8,020 cases of sexual violence between 2011 and December, including 879 cases inside detention centers and 443 violations against girls younger than age 18. American University’s Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence stated that regime authorities subjected men, women, and children in detention to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, sexual torture and abuse, and other forms of humiliating and degrading treatment.

In July, HRW reported the regime and, to a lesser extent, nonstate actors subjected men, boys, transgender women, and nonbinary persons to sexual violence during detention, and that this violence was perpetrated with the intent to torture and terrorize detainees. Those interviewed by HRW described being subjected to rape, threat of rape, genital violence, forced nudity, and sexual harassment. One interviewee, 28-year-old Yousef, stated he was detained by regime intelligence agencies and, once his sexual orientation was revealed, the interrogations increased drastically, accompanied by torture and sexual violence designed to humiliate detainees, particularly those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) assessed in June that the regime perpetrated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the detention and torture of medical workers, intending to “make delivery of health care a crime and to criminalize doctors for treating people.”

There continued to be a significant number of reports of abuse of children by the regime. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relationships, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities. According to the SNHR’s database, at least 4,815 children were still detained or forcibly disappeared as of September, with at least 100 of those detentions having taken place during the year. In January the COI issued a special report on abuses against children throughout the conflict in Syria. The report noted that regime coerces detained boys as young as 12, subjecting them to severe beatings and torture and denying them access to food, water, sanitation, and medical care. The COI also noted the presence of male and female detainees as young as age 11 recorded in Security Branches 215, 227, 235, and 248 in Damascus. The COI reported that children were made to witness the torture and other abuses inflicted on family members and, on occasions, were forced to inflict torture on other detainees. One COI interviewee described how a 16-year-old boy was forced to electrocute the genitals of another detainee.

The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing throughout the conflict, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique of abuse and interrogation.

Numerous human rights organizations concluded that regime forces continued to inflict systematic, officially sanctioned torture on civilians in detention with impunity. There were no known prosecutions or convictions in the country of security force personnel for abuses and no reported regime actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.

In April the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, initiated the first trial for state-sponsored torture in Syria, charging former regime officials Anwar Raslan and Eyad al-Gharib. Raslan was charged with crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault, and 58 murders at Branch 251, where he allegedly oversaw the torture of at least 4,000 individuals between April 2011 and September 2012. Al-Gharib was charged with aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and complicity in some 30 cases of torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) assessed in April the conditions in regime prisons were alarming and presented unique risks of a COVID-19 outbreak. The SNHR estimated at least 149,360 Syrians were in detention centers or forcibly disappeared, with the regime responsible for at least 88 percent of those detentions.

Physical Conditions: Prison facilities were grossly overcrowded. Authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. Poor conditions in detention centers were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy. Human rights groups reported that authorities continued to hold children in prison with adults.

Reports from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) suggested that there continued to be many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the regime housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of food, medical care, and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and often denied pregnant women any medical care. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. One former detainee, Omar Alshogre, testified the regime detained him as a minor in 2012 and subjected him to extensive torture, including at Branch 215 where he was held in an underground prison cell with hundreds of other detainees. He said malnutrition and disease, including tuberculosis, was prevalent among the detainees.

Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable. The OHCHR reported in April that Syrian detainees with disabilities and underlying health conditions were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

According to the COI, conditions in detention centers run by nonstate actors, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked HTS, violated international law (see section 1.g.).

Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with most families waiting years to see relatives and, in many cases, never being able to visit them at all without bribing regime officials.

In areas where regime control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. Reports of control and oversight varied, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not respect due process and lacked training to run facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The regime prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suspended its visits to formal prisons in 2016 and reported making limited progress on restoring family links to relatives in detention. The ICRC was unable to visit intelligence and military detention centers during the year.

The ICRC and Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties to gain access to detention centers across the country but were unable to gain access to any regime-controlled facilities during the year. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) provided the ICRC and UN-supported NGOs access to SDF prisons during the year.

Reportedly, the regime often failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political or national security charges. The regime also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in its custody or even in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but a 2011 decree allows the regime to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and related offenses. The COI and various NGOs, activists, and former detainees reported police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the regime did not observe this requirement. Arbitrary arrests continued during the year, according to the COI, local news sources, and various human rights organizations.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, which was permitted under the law. Under the constitution and code of criminal procedure, for example, defendants must be informed of the reasons for their arrest, and they are entitled to legal aid and are presumed innocent until convicted by a court in a fair trial. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from pretrial detention on their own recognizance, but the regime applied the law inconsistently. At the initial court hearing, which could be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not ensure lawyers’ access to their clients before trial. The ICTJ reported the accused were generally tried without a lawyer and denied the right to present a defense. Judges usually followed the intelligence director’s sentence recommendations, even though it was widely known many confessions were made under torture.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret, with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to the Counterterrorism Court (CTC), courts-martial, or criminal courts. The CTC, military field courts, and military courts are exempted from following the same procedures as ordinary courts, allowing them to operate outside of the code of criminal procedure and deny basic rights guaranteed to defendants. Numerous human rights organizations asserted that trials before these courts were unfair and summary in nature. The regime reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not identify themselves or inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months or years after their arrest. Of the former detainees interviewed by ICTJ, mostly from Sednaya Prison, 99 percent said they were never provided paperwork describing the charges against them during their entire period of detention.

NGOs such as the STJ and the Office of Daraa Martyrs confirmed that reported intelligence branches had arrested at least 500 Syrians who had signed reconciliation agreements with the regime during the last two years. The Office of Daraa Martyrs stated reconciliation agreements did not include amnesty for crimes other than opposing the government; therefore, the regime often fabricated criminal charges against former opposition members. Organizations such as Amnesty International also charged the regime with breaking terms of surrender deals and arresting civilians in Homs, Daraa, and the Damascus countryside.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGO reports and confirmed by regime memoranda secured and released by human rights documentation groups, the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. In areas under regime control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that regime forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests.

Estimates varied widely on the number of Syrians remaining in arbitrary detention, as the regime continued to withhold information on the status of the vast majority of detainees. Between the start of the conflict in 2011 and March, the SNHR reported at least 149,360 arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances; it attributed 88 percent of these cases to the regime.

In May the ICTJ issued a report stating that the Syrian Arab Army and the four main security services–Political Security Directorate, General Intelligence Directorate, Military Intelligence Directorate, and Air Force Intelligence Directorate–were responsible for the majority of arbitrary arrests and detentions, often on fabricated charges. The SNHR reported that regime forces and proregime militias were responsible for nearly 500 cases of arbitrary arrest in the first half of the year, including eight minors and 11 women. The COI stated regime forces and affiliated militias continued to hold tens of thousands of persons arbitrarily or unlawfully in official and makeshift detention facilities. It further reported that women with familial ties to opposition fighters or defectors were detained for intelligence-gathering purposes or retribution.

In June, Amnesty International reported regime security forces arrested 11 men for participating in peaceful protests in Sweida. The regime threatened to send eight of them to the “antiterrorism” court in Damascus if protests in Sweida continued. The regime reportedly carried out a campaign of raids and arrests in Douma, arresting 12 civilians in June and taking them to an undisclosed location.

The PHR reported that regime forces continued to target specifically health-care workers because of their status as medical professionals and their real or perceived involvement in the provision of health services to opposition members and sympathizers. Survivors reported the regime relied on torture to coerce medical workers to confess to crimes they did not commit and gather information on other health workers and healthcare activities. Additionally, human rights activists said the regime was arresting health-care providers who spoke to international media outlets about the COVID-19 crisis or contradicted the tightly controlled narrative on the impact of the pandemic on the country.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) reported authorities continued to arrest men and boys arbitrarily at checkpoints, often citing no reason for their arrest or solely for being of military age. Some who had previously settled their security status with the regime via reconciliation agreements were then transferred to a long-term detention facility or forcibly disappeared.

The HRW reported regime intelligence branches were arbitrarily detaining and disappearing persons in areas retaken by the regime, in violation of reconciliation agreements. The COI reported fear of such arbitrary arrests and detention deterred internally displaced persons (IDPs) from returning to their homes in areas retaken by regime forces.

There also were instances of nonstate armed groups reportedly engaging in arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention (see section 1.g.). The STJ reported that Turkish-supported armed opposition groups (TSOs) detained residents based on their affiliation with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (SNES). For example, the STJ reported that civil police affiliated with the Syrian National Army (SNA), a coalition of Syrian armed opposition groups receiving support from the government of Turkey, arbitrarily arrested Kurdish civilians Samia Alo, Abdulhamid Shaiko, Mustafa Ahmad Ibrahim, Abdulrahamn Mustafa Alo, and Rashid Mustafa Ibo in an April 8 raid, demanding their families pay a fine to secure their release.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held thousands of detainees incommunicado for months or years before releasing them without charge or bringing them to trial, while many detainees died in prison (see section 1.a.). A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. There were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for the prison and detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available. Syrian human rights groups continued to highlight the plight of detainees and advocate for their release.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds that authorities detained persons unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both. Few detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation for unlawful detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence and prosecutors and defense attorneys to intimidation and abuse. Outcomes of cases where defendants were affiliated with the opposition appeared predetermined, and defendants could sometimes bribe judicial officials and prosecutors. The SNHR reported regime authorities detained and denied access to fair public trial at least 1,730 individuals during the year, including those associated with NGOs, human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, religious figures, and medical providers.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial. The judiciary generally did not enforce this right, and the regime did not respect judicial independence.

The constitution presumes that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, but numerous reports indicated the CTC or courts-martial did not respect this right. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them, with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not enforce this right, and a number of detainees and their families reported the accused were unaware of the charges against them. Trials involving juveniles or sexual offenses, or those referred to the CTC or courts-martial, are held via video conference instead of in person. The law entitles defendants representation of their choice, but it does not permit legal representation for defendants accused of spying. The courts appoint lawyers for indigents.

The ICTJ reported that, in the majority of cases involving individuals arrested by regime intelligence branches, defendants were held incommunicado throughout their detention and denied access to a lawyer. The SNHR reported detainees on trial in military courts were often transferred to unknown locations without notification to their attorneys or families. Numerous NGOs reported families of individuals detained by the regime continued to be unable to access information on the status of their relatives.

Human rights groups reported that in some cases the regime provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence, if they provided anything at all. By law defendants may present witnesses and evidence or confront the prosecution witnesses, but authorities often did not respect this right. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs routinely reported defendants were tortured and intimidated to acquire information and force confessions, as described in a May ICTJ report.

Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation. Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws apply sharia (Islamic law) regardless of the religion of those involved.

Additionally, media and NGO reports suggested the regime denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes, violence against the regime, or providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in opposition-held areas. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, if they reached trial, with violent and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. The regime did not permit defendants before the CTC to have effective legal representation. Although activists reported individuals charged under the counterterrorism law could retain attorneys to move their trial date, according to the International Legal Assistance Consortium, authorities did not allow them to speak during proceedings or retain copies of documents from the court’s file.

In opposition-controlled areas, legal or trial procedures varied by locale and the armed group in control. Local human rights organizations reported that local governing structures assumed these responsibilities. NGOs reported that civilians administered these processes employing customary sharia laws in some cases and national laws in others. Sentencing by opposition sharia councils sometimes resulted in public executions, without an appeals process or visits by family members.

According to local NGOs, opposition-run sharia councils continued to discriminate against women, not allowing them to serve as judges or lawyers or to visit detainees.

In the territories they controlled, Kurdish authorities continued to implement a legal code based on the “Social Charter.” Reports described the Social Charter as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law, but without certain fair trial standards–such as the prohibition on arbitrary detention, the right to judicial review, and the right to appoint a lawyer. The justice system consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies.

Human rights groups and media organizations continued to report that the HTS denied those it had detained the opportunity in its sharia courts to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. The HTS reportedly permitted confessions obtained through torture and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.

Tens of thousands of men, women, and children from former ISIS held areas remained in the overcrowded al-Hol camp, administered by an international NGO with security assistance provided by the SDF, where living conditions remained challenging. While basic humanitarian needs were met, services were at times reduced at times due to COVID-19, security incidents persisted, and camp residents did not have freedom of movement.

The SDF reportedly provided information to the COI on its procedure for the return of al-Hol inhabitants and facilitated the return of approximately 1,500 inhabitants between December 2019 and February.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression reported the regime continued to detain civilians systematically. At greatest risk were those perceived to oppose the regime, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents and their families. The four government intelligence agencies–Air Force, Military, Political Security, and General–were responsible for most such arrests and detentions.

Authorities continued to refuse to divulge information regarding the numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges. Human rights groups noted detainees included doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, and journalists.

Prison conditions for political or national security prisoners, especially accused opposition members, reportedly continued to be much worse than those for common criminals. According to local NGOs, authorities deliberately placed political prisoners in crowded cells with convicted and alleged felons and subjected them to verbal and physical threats and widespread torture. Political prisoners also reported they often slept on the ground due to lack of beds and faced frequent searches. According to reports from families, particularly the Families for Freedom collective, authorities refused many political prisoners’ access to family and counsel. Some former detainees and human rights observers reported the regime denied political prisoners access to reading materials, including the Quran, and prohibited them from praying in their cells.

Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. There were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by regime forces: nonviolent protester Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo.

NGOs continued to report the regime used the counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

Amnesty: The regime had issued 17 amnesty decrees since 2011, but decrees generally resulted in the release of limited numbers of ordinary criminals. These amnesties excluded detainees who had not been charged with any crimes, which comprised the majority in regime detention. In May the SNHR reported the regime only released 96 detainees in the two months following the March amnesty announcement, arbitrarily detaining 113 others within that same period. Limited releases of detainees occurred within the framework of localized settlement agreements with the regime. During the year regime forces violated prior amnesty agreements by conducting raids and arrest campaigns against civilians and former members of armed opposition factions in areas with signed settlement agreements with the regime.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Regime civil remedies for human rights violations were functionally nonexistent. In areas under their control, opposition groups did not organize consistent civil judicial procedures. The HTS and other extremist groups had no known civil judicial mechanisms in the territories they controlled.

In the areas of northeastern Syria under the control of the SNES, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a court.

Property Restitution

Regime security forces routinely seized detainees’ property, personal items, and electronics. The law also provides for the confiscation of movable and immovable property of persons convicted of terrorism, a common charge for political opponents and other detainees since 2012. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law, and although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. According to media reports and activists, regime forces also seized property left by refugees and IDPs. The CTC could try cases in the absence of the defendant, thus providing legal cover for confiscation of such property left by refugees and IDPs. The situation was further complicated due to the destruction of court records and property registries in opposition-held areas in the years following the 2011 uprising.

The regime continued to use Decree 66 to “redesign unauthorized or illegal housing areas” and replace them with “modern” real estate projects. In May the Carnegie Middle East Center called the “Marota City” project in Damascus “the blueprint for future regime-led reconstruction process in Syria used to consolidate its authoritarian rule and crush dissent.” The regime gave residents of the area, known as Bastin al-Razi, 30 days to prove their property rights, an impossible timeframe for those detained, internally displaced, or outside the country due to the conflict.

The regime also continued to implement Law No. 10 to create “redevelopment zones” for reconstruction. Property owners were notified to provide documentary proof of property ownership or lose ownership to the state. In January 2019 the regime extended the window from 30 days to one year for citizens to prove they own land being seized for development under Law No. 10, but the NGO PAX reported it was nearly impossible for thousands of refugees and IDPs to claim their property. Refugees and IDPs reportedly feared regime retribution should they attempt to claim their property, and others were unable to assert their housing, land, and property rights due to land zoning, titling, and documentation requirements. Despite the existence of an appeals process, the SJAC expressed serious concern the law was being implemented in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.

In August the European Institute of Peace (EIP) reported the regime had prevented IDPs from returning to Wadi Barada, an area formerly held by the opposition where extensive demolitions subsequently took place. It was estimated more than 10,000 displaced residents were unable to return to their homes in Wadi Barada.

The EIP interviewed a former Ain al-Fijeh resident who had received a notice of the regime’s intent to seize his property on charges of supporting terrorism. The resident stated that even his settlement agreement would not be accepted until he surrendered, despite previous regime promises to IDPs that they could return to their homes during settlement negotiations.

Armed groups also reportedly seized residents’ properties. In September the COI reported it had “corroborated repeated patterns of systematic looting and property appropriation” by SNA members in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn and that “after civilian property was looted, SNA fighters and their families occupied houses after civilians had fled, or ultimately coerced residents, primarily of Kurdish origin, to flee their homes, through threats, extortion, murder, abduction, torture, and detention.” The COI also reported TSO looting and seizures of schools, businesses, and agricultural machinery.

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

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary searches, but the regime routinely failed to respect these prohibitions. Police and other security services frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Arbitrary home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the regime maintained a presence, usually following antigovernment protests, opposition attacks against regime targets, or resumption of regime control.

The regime continued to open mail addressed to both citizens and foreign residents and routinely monitored internet communications, including email (see section 2.a.).

As described in COI reports, the regime employed informer systems against political opponents and perceived national security threats.

The regime reportedly punished large numbers of family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. Numerous reports confirmed that the regime continued to punish entire families placed arbitrarily on a list of alleged terrorists by freezing their assets. The EIP interviewed a resident of Ain al-Fijeh who reported being arbitrarily detained for six months by regime security forces after several of his family members fled to Idlib.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The regime, proregime militias such as the National Defense Forces, opposition groups, the SDF, and violent extremist groups, such as the HTS and ISIS, as well as foreign terrorist groups such as Hizballah, continued to participate in armed combat throughout the year. The governments of Russia, Turkey, and Iran participated in armed combat and supported armed groups operating in the country.

The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the regime’s systemic disregard for the safety and well-being of its people. These abuses manifested themselves in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, law enforcement authorities refusing to protect the majority of individuals from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Numerous reports, such as the September COI report, indicated the regime continued to arbitrarily and unlawfully kill, torture, and detain persons, notably including refugees and IDPs who voluntarily returned to regime-controlled territories. Attacks impacting and destroying civilian infrastructure including schools, hospitals, places of worship, water and electrical stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, densely populated residential areas, and houses were common throughout the country.

As of September there were more than 5.5 million Syrian refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and 6.6 million IDPs. UNHCR also estimated that as of September there were 11.1 million persons in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.1 million in hard-to-reach, besieged areas.

Killings: The regime reportedly committed the majority of killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

Media sources and human rights groups varied in their estimates of how many persons had been killed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011; the United Nations stopped publishing estimates of the death toll in 2016. The SNHR estimated more than 220,000 civilians were killed within that time, and other groups attributed more than 550,000 killings to the conflict. This discrepancy was largely due to the large number of missing and disappeared Syrians, whose fates remained unknown. The SNHR attributed 91 percent of civilian deaths to regime and proregime forces.

Regime and proregime forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, and settlements for IDPs and Palestinian refugee camps throughout the year; these attacks included bombardment with barrel bombs. These forces used the massacre of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted sieges that occasionally forced local surrenders, as military tactics.

Reports from NGOs and a July COI report indicated that in Idlib, hostilities escalated from the beginning of the year until a ceasefire was brokered between Turkey and Russia in March. Before the ceasefire began, airstrikes by regime and proregime forces caused hundreds of civilian deaths in Idlib.

The SNHR reported the regime and Russian forces carried out at least 490 cluster munition attacks from 2011 to December, comprising the majority of cluster munition attacks during that period. The group also reported that attacks launched by these forces resulted in the deaths of at least 1,030 civilians, including 382 children and 217 women, as well as injuries to approximately 4,350 civilians. For example, the SNHR reported that six civilians, including a child and four women, were killed when a fixed-wing warplane believed to be Russian fired missiles on Jedraya on February 5.

Aerial and ground offensives throughout the demilitarized zone destroyed civilian infrastructure including “deconflicted” hospitals, schools, marketplaces, and farmlands. In April the BOI found it “highly probable” that the regime carried out attacks that impacted three health-care facilities, a school, and a refuge for children in northwest Syria, despite these locations coordinates being deconflicted between the United Nations and Russia.

In July the COI issued a report investigating incidents in northwest Syria, finding that the regime and proregime forces were responsible for 534 of the 582 confirmed civilian casualties since the beginning of the year. The COI reported that it had “reasonable grounds to believe that proregime forces committed the war crimes of deliberately attacking medical personnel and facilities by conducting airstrikes,” as well as “the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death or injury to civilians,” and “that members of progovernment forces, and in particular the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, committed the war crime of pillage.” The COI further stated that proregime forces likely committed “the war crime of spreading terror among the civilian population.” The report noted that “progovernment forces carried out attacks consistent with clear patterns previously documented by COI, affecting markets and medical facilities,” and that “attacks on schools have emerged as one of the most vicious patterns in the Syrian conflict.”

On January 5, as proregime forces intensified efforts to recapture the town of Ariha, six aircraft launched munitions that damaged a water distribution point where civilians had gathered to collect water, in addition to damaging residential homes, a kindergarten, and a mosque, killing at least 13 civilians. On March 5, far from the front lines of the contested area, proregime forces conducted airstrikes on a poultry farm in Marat Misrin where displaced civilians had been relocated, killing at least 16 civilians, including eight women and three children. The COI indicated in its July report there was reason to believe that Russian Aerospace Forces conducted two consecutive airstrikes in this incident.

Although no use of prohibited chemical weapons was reported during the year, in April the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe the regime was responsible for three chemical weapons attacks on Ltamenah in 2017. These attacks preceded the more deadly sarin attack in nearby Khan Shaykhun less than two weeks later and were part of the same concerted campaign of terror perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Additionally, the PHR, SNHR, and other NGOs concluded that Russia and the regime targeted humanitarian workers, such as the Syria Civil Defense (The White Helmets) as they attempted to save victims in affected communities. In February the Washington Post reported that airstrikes and shelling killed aid and medical workers attempting to help civilians in Idlib. Most of the 10,000 aid workers in the area were displaced by the regime’s offensive in the first few months of the year, including 15 percent of the International Rescue Committee staff.

There were numerous reports of deaths in regime custody, notably at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison, by execution without due process, torture, and deaths from other forms of abuse, such as malnutrition and lack of medical care (see section 1.a.). In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families.

Violent extremist groups were also responsible for killings during the year. The SNHR attributed 17 civilian deaths to the HTS in the first half of the year. The HTS arbitrarily detained 19-year-old Mohammed Tano in late 2019 and in April condemned him to death for blasphemy, although activists suspected the HTS executed him after discovering texts criticizing HTS leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani. In May the online news outlet Middle East Eye reported the HTS killed a civilian in Idlib while using force to disperse a protest. In June the SNHR reported the HTS executed a university student by firing squad at a detention center after detaining him during a raid on his home. There was no trial, and his family was never given his body for burial. In July the COI reported the HTS launched antiregime attacks that affected civilians in regime-controlled areas. On January 21, a nine-year-old boy was killed by a mortar attack reportedly originating from the HTS-controlled part of Aleppo. The COI’s July report found “there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the HTS committed the war crimes of murder and of passing sentences and carrying out executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court as well as the war crime of cruel treatment, ill-treatment and torture.”

The Wilson Center reported in September that ISIS was responsible for 640 attacks in Syria from October 2019 through June, often targeting civilians, persons suspected of collaborating with security forces and groups that ISIS deemed to be apostates.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey were involved in fighting in Syria during the year. The COI blamed Russia for aerial attacks in northwest Syria throughout the year. Eyewitnesses, a local human rights monitor, and local media reported that an attack carried out by Turkish forces or TSOs on October 16 struck a rural area killing a young boy and injuring others in Ain Issa; the circumstances of this event are in dispute. Official Turkish government sources reported responding to enemy fire on the date in question and in the area that corresponds with this event, with four to six People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters reportedly “neutralized,” a term Turkish authorities used to mean killed, captured, or otherwise removed from the battlefield. The Turkish government considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. According to media, YPG forces have also reportedly fired on Turkish and TSO forces following Turkey’s October 2019 incursion into northeast Syria and in November and December 2020 during fighting in the vicinity of Ayn Issa, including near civilian infrastructure.

During the year TSOs were allegedly engaged in extrajudicial killings. For example, in May the STJ reported TSO Sultan Murad detained and executed Ibrahim al-Youssef, after a failed extortion attempt. In August the Kurdish National Council and the Afrin Post reported that TSO Faylaq al-Sham militants killed a 63-year-old Kurdish Yezidi civilian, Nouri Jammou Omar Sharaf, following an unsuccessful extortion attempt. Human rights monitors also reported several instances of individuals dying under torture in Firqat al-Hamza and SNA Military Police detention. During the year the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), to whom the SNA nominally reports, announced the establishment of a commission within its Ministry of Defense to investigate serious allegations of abuses. The SIG sentenced one SNA fighter to a life sentence for the 2019 killing of the Kurdish politician and secretary general of the Future Syria political party, Hevrin Khalaf, and a range of other SNA abuses committed during Operation Peace Spring; however, the SIG did not publicly announce this sentencing and subsequently reduced the sentence to 10 years. Human rights and documentation groups expressed a lack of confidence in the credibility of the SIG’s accountability effort.

COI, the SNHR, and other human rights groups reported multiple car bombings, other attacks involving improvised explosive devices, and intra-TSO fighting in TSO-held areas in northern Syria, which resulted in dozens of civilian deaths, and noted the rise in such attacks during the year. While there was generally a lack of attribution for these attacks, Turkish government officials alleged most attacks were carried out by groups affiliated with PKK.

Abductions: Regime and proregime forces reportedly were responsible for the vast majority of disappearances during the year (see section 1.b.).

Armed groups not affiliated with the regime also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected regime affiliates, journalists, and activists.

The COI noted in its March and September reports that the HTS routinely detained and tortured civilians in territory in northwest Syria under HTS control. According to the COI and HRW, the HTS detained political opponents, perceived regime supporters and their families, journalists, activists, and humanitarian workers critical of the HTS or perceived as affiliated with other rebel groups at odds with the HTS in Idlib. The SNHR reported that approximately 2,115 persons remained in HTS detention as of August, among them political and media activists, 45 of whom reportedly died in detention. For example, the SNHR reported that in August the HTS abducted a pharmacist and director of the midwifery institute in Idlib, Mustafa al-Jazi. His fate remained unknown.

Although ISIS no longer controlled significant territory, the fate of 8,143 individuals forcibly disappeared by ISIS since 2014 remained unknown, according to the SNHR. Among those abducted in northern Iraq were an estimated 6,000 women and children, mainly Yezidis, who ISIS reportedly transferred to Syria and sold as sex slaves, forced into nominal marriage to ISIS fighters, or gave as “gifts” to ISIS commanders. The Yezidi organization Yazda reported more than 3,000 Yezidi women and children had since escaped, been liberated in SDF military operations, or been released from captivity, but almost 2,800 remained unaccounted for.

There were no updates in the kidnappings of the following persons believed to have been abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups during the conflict: activists Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil, and Nazim Hamadi; religious leaders Bolous Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim; and peace activist Paulo Dall’Oglio.

The COI reported the SDF continued to arrest civilians, including women and children, and hold them in detention without charge. In March the SNHR reported that since the start of the crisis in 2011, more than 3,000 Syrians, including 169 women and 602 children, were still missing after being detained or forcibly disappeared by the SDF. The SNHR and STJ reported instances of SDF fighters detaining civilians, including journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons affiliated with the SNA. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown. For example, the SNHR reported the SDF detained Muhammad Muhsen al-Ibrahim in March 2019 in a raid on his home in Deir Ez-Zour. The SDF did not provide information on al-Ibrahim’s status until September, when the family learned of his death in detention. The SDF continued to allow the ICRC into detention facilities to monitor and report on conditions. In September the SDF stated they had begun to investigate all charges against their forces outlined in the COI report.

The COI, HRW, Amnesty International, and Syrian human rights monitors reported multiple first-hand accounts of kidnapping and arbitrary detention by TSOs, including the groups Sultan Murad, Faylaq al-Sham, Firqat al-Hamza, and al-Jabha al-Shamiya, and the SNA’s Military Police. The SNHR attributed 185 arbitrary detentions and abductions in the first half of the year to TSO-aligned SNA fighters. The COI, STJ, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), and other monitors documented a trend of TSO kidnappings of women in Afrin, where some women remained missing for years.

According to the COI, areas where TSOs were active continued to face instability due to increased infighting between the groups during the year. Victims of abductions by TSOs were often of Kurdish or Yezidi origin or were activists openly critical of TSOs or persons perceived to be affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) or previous Kurdish administration of Afrin. The Afrin Human Rights Organization, the VDC, and Iraqi media outlet Rudaw reported the February 27 kidnapping of Areen Dali Hassan, a Yezidi woman, in Afrin City. Areen was believed to be in Firqat al-Hamza captivity in the “Castle Prison” in al-Basuta in Afrin District. In June, Families for Freedom and a coalition of 11 other human rights groups reported that fighting between Jaysh al-Islam and Firqat al-Hamza resulted in the deaths of three civilians and led to the discovery of at least eight women in degrading conditions in Firqat al-Hamza captivity.

The COI reported in September on the transfer of Syrians detained by SNA fighters to the custody of the government of Turkey, indicating collaboration and joint operations between the Turkish government and the SNA which could, if any members were shown to be acting under the effective command and control of Turkish forces, “entail criminal responsibility for commanders who knew or should have known about the crimes, or failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress their commission.” The Turkish government denied these reports and denied responsibility for Syrian opposition or TSO conduct but broadly acknowledged the need for investigations and accountability related to such reports and relayed that the Turkish-supported SNA had established mechanisms for investigation and discipline. The government of Turkey stated its own conduct in the operation was consistent with international law and that the military took care to avoid civilian casualties throughout.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the COI and reliable NGO reports, the regime and its affiliated militias consistently engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of opposition fighters and civilians (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.). Numerous organizations and former detainees reported that nearly all detainees in regime detention experienced physical abuse and torture at some point during their detention.

As of March the SNHR estimated parties of the conflict committed at least 11,523 incidents of sexual violence since March 2011. Regime forces and affiliated militias were responsible for the vast majority of these offenses–more than 8,000 incidents in total–including more than 800 incidents inside detention centers and more than 400 against girls younger than age 18 years. The SNHR also reported 3,487 incidents of sexual violence by ISIS and 12 incidents by the SDF. Numerous NGOs reported that persons in areas retaken by regime forces remained reluctant to discuss events occurring in these areas due to fear of reprisals. The Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence reported most sexual and gender-based abuses by regime forces during the year occurred at checkpoints or in detention (see section 1.d.). In August the SNHR and the All Survivors Project issued a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council on the prevalence of sexual abuse and rape as a tool of torture used by the regime against men and boys.

There were also reports of armed opposition groups engaging in physical abuse, punishment, and treatment equivalent to torture, primarily targeting suspected regime agents and collaborators, proregime militias, and rival armed groups. Between 2011 and June, the SNHR attributed more than 43 deaths due to torture to armed opposition groups, more than 26 to the HTS (including one child), and more than 33 to ISIS, including a child and 13 women. The SNHR attributed 52 deaths to torture by Kurdish forces.

The SDF was also implicated in several instances of torture, with the SNHR reporting the group used torture as a means of extracting confessions during interrogations. On January 29, the SNHR reported it had received notification that Fajr Ibrahim died in custody allegedly as the result of medical negligence, after being detained by the SDF in February. The SNHR also reported detainee Mua’th al-Muhammad al-Kal from Raqqa, reportedly detained in February for transferring money to ISIS-affiliated family members, asserted that while imprisoned, he was left in solitary confinement without food and was subjected to beating and torture for several days. The SNHR also reported video surveillance obtained in March showed severe overcrowding in Ghwayran Prison. In September the COI reported several instances of repeated torture of detainees in SDF prisons. The SDF continued to implement protocols to ensure torture was not used as an interrogation technique and initiated investigations into specific incidents of torture presented by the COI. In September the SDF also stated they had begun to investigate all charges against their forces outlined in the COI report.

According to the SNHR’s June report on the use of torture in Syria, the HTS continued to carryout detentions and kidnappings of local political opponents and journalists. In June the SNHR reported that members of HTS arrested human rights activist Omar al-Eis and kept him in solitary detention for 126 days. Al-Eis reported hearing sounds of torture every day at the Uqab Prison. In April, HTS fighters abducted Hassan Salh Abs from Sarmin. On April 20, his family received information he had been tortured to death at an HTS detention center. Human rights groups continued to report that the HTS officially denounces secularism and routinely detained and tortured journalists, activists, and other civilians in territory it controlled who were deemed to be have violated the group’s stringent interpretation of sharia. Employing sharia courts, the HTS reportedly denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, permitted confessions obtained through torture, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families. Media organizations also documented the forced conversion of Druze and Alawite civilians by the HTS, detaining or disappearing those refusing to comply.

The COI, OHCHR, and human rights groups reported that, since January 2018, TSO groups had allegedly participated in the torture and killings of civilians in Afrin and, since October 2019, in the areas taken during Turkish Operation Peace Spring. The COI reported in March, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of armed groups under the umbrella of the Syrian National Army committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, ill-treatment and torture” in Afrin and the Operation Peace Spring area. The COI in September reported the torture and rape of minors in TSO detention and “corroborated widespread arbitrary deprivation of liberty perpetrated by various Syrian National Army brigades in the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions.” The Violations Documentation Center and local media reported in July that SNA-affiliated Firqat al-Hamza had tortured Mahmoud Hassan Omri, a 27-year-old man with a disability, to death in Ras al-Ayn after forcibly disappearing him in November 2019 when he sought to return to his home, which had been seized by the group.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat. The UN special representative on children and armed conflict reported in its annual report that at least 820 children had been recruited as child soldiers during the reporting period. According to HRW and the COI, numerous groups and factions failed to prevent the enlistment of minors, while elements affiliated with the SDF, the SNA, as well as ISIS and the HTS, actively recruited children as fighters. The COI reported that armed groups “recruited, trained, and used children in active combat roles.”

The UN General Assembly’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report to the secretary-general reported the recruitment and use of 820 children (765 boys, and 55 girls) in the conflict between January and December of 2019. According to the report, 798 of the children served in combat roles and 147 were younger than age 15. The report attributed 283 verified cases to SDF-affiliated groups; 245 to the HTS; 191 to Free Syria Army-affiliated groups; 26 to Ahrar al-Sham; one to ISIS; 17 to Jaysh al-Islam; three to Nur al-Din al-Zanki; and 10 to regime forces.

In January the COI reported it continued receiving reports of young boys, some considered by persons who saw them to not be older than age 13, observed at checkpoints staffed by the regime and associated militia in Hama. One interviewee explained to the COI how one of the boys, age 16, joined the regime military forces after ISIS killed his brothers.

The COI continued to receive reports of children being recruited by HTS in Idlib governorate, as proregime forces intensified their offensive. In Aleppo boys between 13 to 17 years of age joined armed groups. One interviewee described the case of a 14-year-old boy who joined Ahrar al-Sham in 2018 along with his older brother to participate in operation “Olive Branch” and served at a checkpoint in Aleppo.

In 2019 the SDF signed an action plan with the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, as well as to identify and separate boys and girls within the group’s ranks and to put in place protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment and use. The SDF continued to implement an order banning the recruitment and use in combat of anyone younger than 18, ordering the military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted, requiring the release of any conscripted children to their families or to educational authorities in northeast Syria, and ending salary payments. The SDF order also prohibited using children for spying, to act as guards, or to deliver supplies to combatants. The order makes military commanders responsible for appointing ombudsmen to receive complaints of child recruitment and ordered punitive measures against commanders who failed to comply with the ban on child recruitment. During the year the SDF screened out more than 250 minors seeking to join its ranks and continued to develop and refine an age screening mechanism in coordination with the United Nations.

The United Nations confirmed the SDF had demobilized 86 minors (56 girls and 30 boys) during the year and, working with the SNES, returned these minors to their families for community-based reintegration, pursuant to UN requests. In 2019 also the SDF demobilized 86 children.

The SDF and SNES in August announced the establishment of the Complaints Mechanism, a key component of the child soldier demobilization initiative, which provides parents a single SNES and SDF point of contact to inquire about, identify, and demobilize minors from the SDF. The United Nations reported 10 children were recently returned to their parents through this mechanism.

In August the SDF publicly announced it would cease its use of schools for military purposes; the United Nations subsequently confirmed the SDF withdrew from 16 of 28 schools it identified as under SDF use for military purposes, as well as from two other schools.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In January the COI reported, “warring parties have looted and vandalized educational establishments and used schools for military purposes, including as depots, barracks, sniper posts, temporary bases or launching sites. Repeated attacks on educational facilities combined with the complete breakdown of the education system have minimized the opportunities for children to resume their studies and improve prospects for their future.” The COI further concluded it had documented “instances where Government forces deliberately attacked schools, and therefore committed the war crimes of deliberately targeting a civilian object and deliberately attacking civilians.”

In cities where sieges ended and the regime regained control, the SNHR reported the regime and its allies frequently imposed new collective measures to punish communities by restricting humanitarian access; looting and pillaging; expropriating property; extorting funds; engaging in arbitrary detentions and widespread forcible conscription; detaining, disappearing, or forcibly displacing individuals; engaging in repressive measures aimed at silencing media activists; and destroying evidence of war crimes.

The United Nations estimated that violence in Idlib displaced more than 900,000 persons–80 percent women and children–since December 2019.

According to Amnesty International and numerous other human rights and humanitarian groups, those trapped in the area were crammed into close quarters with IDPs and vulnerable to the regime’s and Russia’s campaign of aerial bombardments impacting civilian infrastructure. The White Helmets documented more than 2,200 airstrikes in January and February, including 32 cluster-bomb attacks and 605 barrel bombs in Idlib, along with Aleppo and Hama. UN officials throughout the year voiced grave concerns about the situation for civilians caught in the Idlib siege. Cross-border assistance remained the only means of reaching persons in and around Idlib.

HRW and various media organizations found that the regime implemented a policy and legal framework to manipulate humanitarian assistance and reconstruction funding to benefit itself, punish perceived opponents, and reward those loyal to it. The regime regularly restricted humanitarian organizations’ access to communities in need of aid, selectively approved humanitarian projects, and required organizations to partner with vetted local actors to ensure that the humanitarian response was siphoned centrally through and for the benefit of the state apparatus, at the cost of preventing aid from reaching the population unimpeded. Organizations continued to report that entities such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) faced difficulties accessing areas retaken by the regime.

The regime frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilian areas, particularly areas held by opposition groups. Foreign Policy and HRW reported that the regime had weaponized humanitarian assistance, only allowing the delivery of assistance to loyalist-held areas through regime organizations such as the Syria Trust for Development, which was led by Bashar Assad’s wife, or the SARC.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than half of all health facilities were closed or partially functioning, and hundreds of health-care workers had been killed during the conflict. NGOs and media outlets documented repeated and continuing attacks on health facilities and other civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria perpetrated by regime and Russian forces. From March 2011 through March 2020, the PHR reported 595 attacks on at least 350 separate health facilities and documented the killing of 923 medical personnel, with regime and Russian forces responsible for 91 percent of attacks (301 by regime forces and 229 by either Russian or regime forces). In Idlib medical professionals continued to be injured and killed throughout the year. The COI concluded this pattern of attack strongly suggested proregime forces systematically targeted medical facilities and that such acts constituted war crimes. The BOI further reported that Russian and regime forces launched attacks that devastated medical facilities and networks in Idlib. In June, Russia informed the United Nations it would no longer participate in the UN deconfliction mechanism.

The COI reported that the above incidents followed a well documented pattern of attacks with humanitarian and civilian impact conducted by the regime, with Russian and Iranian support.

The 2018 COI report further detailed a practice in which, after hostilities ceased and local truces were implemented, regime and proregime forces required certain individuals from the previously besieged areas to undergo a reconciliation process as a condition to remain in their homes. The option to reconcile reportedly often was not offered to health-care personnel, local council members, relief workers, activists, dissidents, and family members of fighters. In effect, the COI assessed, the “reconciliation process” induced displacement in the form of organized evacuations of those deemed insufficiently loyal to the regime and served as a regime strategy for punishing those individuals. Various sources continued to report cases during the year in which the regime targeted persons who agreed to reconciliation agreements (see sections 1.b., 1.d., and 1.e.).

Regime forces and armed groups also pillaged and destroyed property, including homes, farms, and businesses of their perceived opponents.

The COI and NGOs such as PAX indicated that, taken together with steps such as the enactment of Law No. 10 on the confiscation of unregistered properties, the forcible displacements may fit into a wider plan to strip those displaced of their property rights, transfer populations, and enrich the regime and its closest allies (see section 1.e.).

While the government pushed forward to recapture areas around the M5 highway at the beginning of the year, armed groups such as the HTS launched counterattacks against government positions in Idlib, Aleppo. These attacks, although much fewer and smaller in scale than those by the regime and proregime forces, caused some civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The COI reported that on February 5, armed groups fired three rockets impacting a densely populated area in the government-controlled Hamdaniya neighborhood of western Aleppo. This attack damaged a hospital and residential home and killed a family of five. The COI described this attack as “indiscriminate, indirect artillery fire of area weapons into densely populated civilian areas.” The COI also reported the HTS sought to intimidate the local population from expressing dissent by beating and detaining participants during protests throughout the year. In April, HTS forces killed a man while breaking up a demonstration. The COI stated the HTS detained journalists and NGO workers for weeks on the basis of their criticism of HTS activities and that HTS had shot and killed detainees trying to escape during airstrikes on the Qasimiah detention facility on January 17. The COI reported other HTS abuses as well, including looting in Atarib, attempts to control and interfere with the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and preventing large numbers of girls from attending school.

The COI and international and Syrian NGOs such as the STJ reported throughout the year that TSO groups had engaged in the systematic looting, seizure, appropriation, and destruction of civilian homes and religious sites, particularly those of Kurds and Yezidis, resulting in significant civilian displacement. TSOs also reportedly continued to bar returnees from their properties in northern Syria and informed them that their real or presumed support for the YPG precluded them from living in the area. Confiscated homes were marked with graffiti and then used by armed groups for military purposes or as housing for fighters and their families. According to numerous organizations, including STJ, VDC, and al-Monitor, TSOs, including Firqat al-Hamza and Sultan Murad, seized agricultural machinery, water tanks, and other private property in Ras al-Ayn and sold it back to owners. Firqat al-Hamza and Ahrar al-Sharqiya reportedly seized homes and clinics and then charged their owners rent. In August and September, the COI, media organization The Syria Report, and the STJ reported the Syrian Interim Government’s Ras al-Ayn Local Council seized two private properties owned by Kurdish residents in Ras al-Ayn and that the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a Turkish NGO, then converted the properties into religious centers without compensating the owners, despite petitions made to the Council. The governor of Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province delivered remarks in June for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of one of these converted sites.

TSOs continued to interfere with and disrupt water access to parts of northeast Syria despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The OHCHR reported in September that “Turkish-affiliated armed groups, which control the Alouk water pumping station in Ras al-Ain, have repeatedly disrupted water supplies, affecting access to water for up to one million individuals in the city of al-Hassakeh and surrounding areas, including extremely vulnerable displaced persons in various IDP camps.” According to NGO reporting, Alouk Station was offline for 55 percent of the time between October 2019 and August due to TSO denial of access to maintenance crews and deliberate shutdown of the station. Turkish authorities alleged the frequent shutdowns resulted from inadequate power being provided to the plant from a power generation facility in SDF-controlled area, a claim disputed by the United Nations and NGOs present in northeast Syria.

The COI reported in September that SNA members looted and destroyed religious and archaeological sites in the Afrin region, including Yezidi shrines and graveyards, as well as sites protected by UNESCO. In April the NGO Ezdina documented the destruction of Yezidi shrines in Afrin by TSOs, including the shrines of Sheikh Junaid, Sheikh Hussein, Gilkhan, and Sheikh Rikab. In July the NGO Bellingcat reported on the destruction of multiple Yezidi shrines and graves in Afrin, including Qibar cemetery. These organizations also reported cases where TSOs imposed restrictions on religious freedom and harassed Yezidis.

In August, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported continued abuses against the Christian community, including the detention of Radwan Mohammad by Faylaq al-Sham in Afrin on charges of apostasy after he refused to hand his school building over to the group for conversion into an Islamic school. In July, Faylaq al-Sham also prevented Mohammad from preparing his wife’s body for burial due to her faith.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the regime severely restricted this right, often terrorizing, abusing, arresting, or killing those who attempted to exercise this right.

Freedom of Speech: The law contains a number of speech offenses that limit the freedom of expression, including provisions criminalizing expression that, for example, “weakens the national sentiment” in times of war or defames the president, courts, military, or public authorities. For example, Article 376 imposes a one- to three-year sentence on anyone who criticizes or insults the president. The regime routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the regime publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The regime also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. The regime monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Although the law provides for the “right to access information about public affairs” and bans “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” press and media restrictions outweighed freedoms. The law contains many restrictions on freedom of expression for the press, including provisions criminalizing, for example, the dissemination of false or exaggerated news that “weakens the spirit of the Nation” or the broadcasting abroad of false or exaggerated news that “tarnishes” the country’s reputation. The law bars publication of content that affects “national unity and national security,” harms state symbols, defames religions, or incites sectarian strife or “hate crimes.” The law further forbids publication of any information about the armed forces. The law criminalizes the publication on social media of false news that causes fear and panic, with prison sentences up to 15 years with hard labor. Article 287 stipulates that the broadcasting of false or exaggerated news abroad that undermines the prestige of the state or its financial standing is subject to a minimum prison sentence of six months in addition to a fine. Article 309 similarly criminalizes the broadcasting of false news or claims that undermine confidence in the “state currency.”

The regime continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their sources in response to regime requests. The SJAC noted accounts of the regime pressuring doctors, journalists, and patients to suppress reporting on the spread of COVID-19, including one journalist at a state-owned media outlet who was barred from reporting on COVID-19 deaths.

The SNHR reported that only print publications whose reporting promoted and defended the regime remained in circulation. Books critical of the regime were illegal. The regime owned some radio stations and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news broadcasts and entertainment programs for adherence to regime policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the regime jammed some Arab networks.

Violence and Harassment: Regime forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state as well as journalists associated with networks favorable to the regime. Harassment included intimidation, banning individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. YouTubers and other citizen journalists were routinely detained, intimidated, and tortured, both by the regime and extremist groups. According to NGO reports, the regime routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the opposition and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country. Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that regime authorities in May arbitrarily detained Nada Mashraki, who worked as an editor for Latakkia News Network, after she published a story about judicial corruption. Mashraki was released a month later.

RSF reported that 28 journalists, citizen journalists, and media assistants remained imprisoned, although it did not specify by whom. The reason for arrests was often unclear. The SNHR reported that at least 350 citizen journalists remained missing as of May after being arbitrarily detained by the regime since the beginning of the conflict.

The regime and, to a lesser extent, the HTS and other armed groups routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI, Freedom House, and the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ estimated that at least 137 journalists were killed since 2011, while the SNHR estimated more than 707 citizen journalists were killed between March 2011 and May. The SNHR attributed 573 of citizen journalist deaths from 2011 and through 2020 to regime and proregime forces, including 47 individuals who died due to torture.

During the year the CPJ and RSF documented the deaths of two journalists by Russian forces. A Russian airstrike killed Abdul Nasser Haj Hamdan on February 20 while he was documenting the bombardment of Ma’arat al-Naasan in northern Idlib governorate; another Russian airstrike killed freelance photographer Amjad Anas Aktalati on February 4 in Ariha, south of Idlib.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: According to Freedom House, the regime enforced censorship of news sites and social media content more stringently in regime-controlled areas. The regime continued to block circumvention tools used to access censored content, internet security software that can prevent state surveillance, and other applications that enable anonymous communications. Censorship was implemented by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE) and private internet service provider (ISP) using various commercially available software programs. Decisions surrounding online censorship lacked transparency, and ISPs did not publicize the details of how blocking was implemented or which websites were banned. The STE was known to implement blocking decisions; it was unclear which state agency typically made the decisions, although security and intelligence bodies were believed to play an important role. Websites covering politics, minorities, human rights, foreign affairs, and other sensitive topics were censored or blocked outright.

The regime continued to control strictly the dissemination of information, including on developments regarding fighting between the regime and the armed opposition and the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and prohibited most criticism of the regime and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights and tensions. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation, including through the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The regime prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the regime. Censorship was usually more stringent for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, Alawite religious groups, and the spread of COVID-19.

According to National Public Radio, despite regime censorship and a campaign of intimidation to suppress information about the spread of COVID-19, medical workers reported the virus was spreading quickly across the country and that government hospitals were overwhelmed. In August the SJAC noted accounts of the regime pressuring doctors, journalists, and patients to suppress reporting on the spread of COVID-19. The media publication Syria in Context reported in August that recent satellite imagery showed significant burial activity in Najha cemetery in Damascus, indicating the regime was burying thousands of individuals who died due to COVID-19; Najha is the same cemetery where the regime allegedly buried hundreds of thousands of victims of its notorious detention centers. Doctors in regime hospitals reportedly listed “pneumonia” as the cause of death on death certificates for individuals suspected to have died from COVID-19.

RSF reported journalists fled the advance of regime troops, fearing imprisonment as soon as the regime controlled the province. RSF assessed the regime’s persecution of journalists for more than nine years justified their fears, especially as many of them covered the uprising since its outset, helped to document the regime’s human rights violations, and risked severe reprisals if identified with the opposition.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, slander, insult, defamation, and blasphemy, and the regime continued to use such provisions to restrict public discussion and to detain, arrest, and imprison journalists perceived to have opposed the regime.

National Security: The regime regularly cited laws protecting national security to restrict media criticism of regime policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Freedom House, media freedom varied in territory held by armed opposition groups, but local outlets were typically under heavy pressure to support the dominant militant faction. The CPJ and RSF reported that extremist opposition groups, such as the HTS, detained, tortured, and harassed journalists (see section 1.g.) and posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms. The COI described HTS targeting female media workers for harassment and threatening detention, causing them to resort to self-censoring and hiding their cameras. In August the SNHR reported that media activist Fayez al-Dgheim was forcibly disappeared by police affiliated with the HTS and that his family had not heard from him, nor were they officially notified of his arrest.

The SNHR also documented HTS members’ assault of 13 citizen journalists on June 10, while they were reporting on the passage of a Russian-Turkish joint patrol on the Latakia-Aleppo International Road. HTS members attacked them and smashed their equipment, accusing them of filming women during their media coverage.

Internet Freedom

In areas controlled by the regime, the STE served as both an ISP and a telecommunications regulator, providing the government with tight control over the internet infrastructure. Independent satellite-based connections were prohibited but heavily employed across the country, given the damage that information and communication technology infrastructure sustained as a result of the conflict. ISPs and cybercafes operating in regime-controlled areas required a permit from the STE and another security permit from the Interior Ministry, and cybercafe owners were required to monitor customers and record their activities. The regime controlled and restricted access to the internet and monitored email and social media accounts.

Freedom House continued to report that self-censorship was widespread online and had increased in recent years as users contended with threats and violent reprisals for critical content. Sensitive topics included President Assad, former president Hafez Assad, the military, the ruling Baath Party, or influential government officials. Other sensitive subjects including religious and ethnic tensions and corruption allegations related to the president’s family were also off-limits. Individuals and groups reportedly could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The regime applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecuted users. The anticybercrime law (also referred to as Law No. 9), which increased penalties for cybercrimes, including those affecting the freedom of expression, remained in place. It also mandates the creation of specialized courts and delegates specialized jurists for the prosecution of cybercrimes in every governorate. RSF asserted the law served as a tool for the regime to threaten online freedom. The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression reported the regime monitored citizens affiliated with the opposition and worked to undermine their activities online. Citizen journalists and other civilians were frequently targeted based on their digital activism. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The regime interfered with and blocked internet service, text messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The regime employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The regime did not prosecute or otherwise take action to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. According to Freedom House, the regime blocked websites for human rights groups as well as those criticizing the regime’s political, cultural, social, or economic policies; criticizing specific high-level government officials; or mobilizing persons to protest or resist the regime, including those linked to the network of activists known as the Local Coordination Committees.

The regime also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under attack. Regime officials obstructed connectivity through their control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near regime-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (2G and 3G) cellular telephone network coverage.

The regime expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread proregime propaganda and manipulate online content, including false content aiming to undermine the credibility of human rights and humanitarian groups. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of proregime computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post proregime material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the regime and groups it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted spyware and other malware in at least 71 android applications using COVID-19 lures to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed regime personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the regime’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on regime critics and diverting email traffic to regime servers for surveillance.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The regime restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit employees of academic institutions to express ideas contrary to regime policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the regime, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions. Freedom House reported that residents of Sweida used Facebook to call for protests in January against corruption and deteriorating economic conditions in regime-held areas under the campaign slogan “We Want to Live.” Further protests in Sweida prompted a regime crackdown in June, in which regime security forces and proregime militias assaulted and arbitrarily detained protesters.

According to allegations by human rights activists and press reporting, at times the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. Throughout the year inhabitants in Deir Ez-Zour protested against alleged corruption by SDF officials, lack of access to basic services, reports of forced conscription of youths into the SDF, and lack of information on the status of men and boys detained by the SDF due to suspected affiliations to ISIS. Protests generally occurred throughout northeast Syria on a variety of issues without interference from local authorities; however, the SNHR reported SDF members opened fire on a protest in Mheimida, killing Najm Hussein al-Atwan, and the SDF arbitrarily detained 28 civilians in al-Sh-heil and al-Hawayij following protests in those areas. The SDF reported arresting, trying, and convicting one member of its forces for opening fire and killing an unarmed demonstrator.

During the year the HTS repressed civil society activity and public protests. Media outlets and the SNHR reported HTS militants shot and killed Saleh al-Mrie in April when they opened fire on civilians protesting the opening of a commercial border to link territory controlled by the HTS with regime-held areas.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the regime latitude to restrict this freedom. The regime required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the regime.

None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, due to the regime’s practice of denying requests for registration or failing to act on them, reportedly on political grounds, but some functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The regime continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association, but journalists in exile continued working to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression through the Syrian Journalist Association, an independent democratic professional association established in 2012 by Syrians in exile.

The regime selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only proregime groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the regime would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the regime, security forces detained individuals linked to local human rights groups, prodemocracy student groups, and other organizations perceived to be supporting the opposition, including humanitarian groups.

The HTS and other armed groups also restricted freedom of association in areas they controlled. The SNHR reported al-Qa’ida-linked Hurras al-Din kidnapped Khaled Mdallala, a prominent activist and director of the Sham al-Khair Association, on February 24 as part of its effort to repress and restrict civil society organizations operating in Idlib. TSOs reportedly detained residents based on their affiliation with the SNES (see section 1.d.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the regime, the HTS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Regime attacks on Idlib governorate restricted freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while fear of death and regime retribution resulted in mass civilian displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

In-country Movement: In areas outside of regime control, regime forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The regime expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement, and the COI reported regime security officials detained, forcibly conscripted, and extorted residents at checkpoints, at times impeding civilians’ access to health care and education. Regime forces used violence to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The regime also barred foreign diplomats, including delegations from the United Nations and the OPCW IIT, from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups, such as the HTS, also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). The COI reported in July that HTS systematically interfered with women’s freedom of movement, harassing unaccompanied women and denying them access to public events under threat of detention. The HTS also attempted to control and interfere with the delivery of humanitarian assistance, according to COI reporting.

While the Syrian Democratic Council and the SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in June, HRW reported that the SNES was restricting the movement of more than 10,000 foreign women and children suspected to be affiliated with ISIS in a separate section of the al-Hol IDP camp. The COI reported in January that many of the children in al-Hol camp lacked birth registration papers, in some cases because parents were unable to register, jeopardizing their rights to a nationality, hindering family reunification processes, and increasing their vulnerability to abuse.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the regime denied passports and other vital documents, based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The regime also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Syrian passports cost approximately $800, which many Syrians found prohibitive. Additionally, the regime often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The regime reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The regime comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks and arbitrary detention at airports and border crossings.

The regime also often refused to allow some citizens to return, while millions more Syrians who fled to neighboring countries reportedly feared retribution by the regime should they return. In July the regime implemented a new policy of charging returning refugees a substantial fee to enter the country. The press-monitoring organization Middle East Monitor reported this fee presented a barrier to refugee returns. On September 5, Lebanese government officials announced that 17-year-old Zainab Mohammed Al-Ibrahim, a Syrian refugee, had died while she was trapped between the two countries because she could not afford the fee needed to enter into Syria. A regime immigration official stated the regime’s policy was to refuse entry to any Syrian unable to pay the fee and that the Lebanese government did not accept Syrians back once they crossed the border.

Women older than 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country. Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The regime allowed Syrians living outside of the country whose passports had expired to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the regime against which they may have protested or feared the regime could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Violence and instability continued to be the primary cause for displacement, much of it attributed to Syrians fleeing regime and Russian aerial attacks, including almost one million persons who were displaced in Idlib during the first three months of the year–the largest single displacement of the conflict. Years of fighting and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, with each displacement further depleting family assets. The UN estimated more than 6.6 million IDPs were in the country and 2.6 million children and 4.7 million individuals were in need of acute assistance. It also included 1.3 million new IDPs and 184,921 IDP return movements since the start of the year. In July the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 32,170 spontaneous IDP returnees in several areas across the country. Approximately 25,000 of these returns were recorded within and between Aleppo and Idlib governorates. Spontaneous IDP return movements in areas other than northwest Syria remained very low.

The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level three response–the classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. UN humanitarian officials reported most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps.

The regime generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, offer IDPs assistance, facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, or provide consistent protection. The regime forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The regime did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in some cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home. According to PAX and Impunity Watch, the regime systematically dispossessed Syrians perceived to threaten the regime’s authority of their property, presenting an increasingly grave impediment to the return of refugees and IDPs (see section 1.e., Property Restitution). The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity reported in July that regime repression had led the vast majority of Syrian refugees, as well as IDPs displaced from regime-held areas, to fear returning to their homes.

Syrians with a backlog of service bills or back taxes who were unable to pay their debt to the regime were given a brief window to leave their property, while intelligence forces summarily seized homes and businesses of some former opposition members.

The regime routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.). NGOs operating from Damascus faced regime bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to regime offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the regime increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. In January the Russian government, by threatening to veto resolution drafts maintaining existing crossings for UN cross-border humanitarian assistance measures, forced through a UN Security Council resolution that reduced UN cross-border humanitarian assistance from four crossings to two, cutting off northeast Syria from crucial health-related humanitarian assistance. The provision of cross-border assistance by the United Nations and its humanitarian partners was further restricted to one border crossing with Turkey in July after the Russian and Chinese governments vetoed a resolution that would have extended authorization for cross-border assistance through both Turkey crossings into northwest Syria and reinstated the Iraq crossing into northeast Syria. Turkey placed restrictions on the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey. Jordan’s borders remained closed since mid-March due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the regime continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the regime secured control over many of these areas during the year. Humanitarian actors noted that access remained a pressing concern for service delivery in areas controlled by the regime and nongovernmental actors.

Humanitarian conditions in Rukban remained dire due to severely constrained access to the area. The regime and Russian government routinely refused to approve UN requests for assistance delivery. The most recent UN convoy to Rukban took place in October 2019. A UN mission, including a regime-requested health assessment, planned for April 21, was rejected by the Russian government. The convoy was expected to deliver a combination of food, nutritional supplements, and nonfood items to 2,300 households in Rukban. Conditions in the camp remained poor with few deliveries of food and basic provisions permitted by the regime. Rukban residents continued to depart the settlement in small groups, and several hundred returned to regime-held areas since late March, according to UN sources, including at least several dozen who departed for urgent health services not available in the camp. The regime did not permit those who departed to return to the camp.

Armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as the HTS also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. The COI and humanitarian actors reported HTS attempted to control and interfere with the delivery of aid and services in areas of the northwest, including by demanding a share of food packages, cash payments, and housing developments intended for others. For example the HTS reportedly detained and harassed SARC personnel on March 14, occupying offices in Idlib and Ariha and removing and destroying SARC-owned materials. NGOs continued to report bureaucratic challenges in working with the HTS Salvation Government, which impeded delivery of services in the camps.

The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Deir Ez-Zour and Raqqa.

f. Protection of Refugees

The regime inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The regime provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to the country in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to the country during the year. Throughout the year, however, the regime and Russian government maintained a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. The Russian government reportedly sought to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, and in November the regime and Russia held a conference on refugee returns in Damascus. The conference did not address any of the root causes that caused persons to flee the regime or offer actionable steps to secure the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of refugees, and was organized without input or support from an internationally recognized authority on humanitarian or refugee issues.

The COI described in January interviews with Syrian parents who relocated their children, particularly boys, outside of Syria to protect them from violence. In one such case, an estimated 500 unaccompanied children, almost all boys older than 14, were registered in 2013 in a refugee camp near the Syrian border.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both regime and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths. The Damascus governorate council announced in June a plan to confiscate the property of households in the Palestinian Yarmouk Camp as part of a reconstruction project, displacing Palestinian residents unable to prove ownership of their property. Muammar Dakak, director of technical studies in the Damascus governorate council, announced in July that Yarmouk residents would not receive alternative housing.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the regime has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the regime rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The regime also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 23,600 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement.

g. Stateless Persons

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork lost their Syrian citizenship from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in Hasakah who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an estimated increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries hosting refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens were not able to exercise that ability. Outcomes reflected underlying circumstances of elections that impeded and coerced the will of the electorate.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections, which introduced primaries and a two-round election system, were held in July with 1,656 candidates vying for 250 seats. The regime claimed there were no reported violations or infringements, but the Washington Post reported that the elections resulted in reports of alleged corruption, even within the regime loyalist community, including fraud, ballot-stuffing, and political interference. Media outlets described low voter turnout, despite compulsory voting requirements enacted under Law No. 8 for military and law enforcement officials, reportedly intended to bolster support for regime-affiliated candidates. Syrians residing outside the country were not permitted to vote, and those in areas outside regime control often had no or limited access to voting locations. Reports of citizens being pressured to vote were common, and voter privacy was not guaranteed. Polling staff reportedly handed out ballots already filled in with Baath Party candidates. According to observers, the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party, and losing candidates leveled allegations of fraud, ballot-stuffing, and political interference. Most candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

In 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. The regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (a rival to the PYD) called for a boycott, terming the elections “a flagrant violation of the will of the Kurdish people.” Media outlets reported the election was monitored by a small group of foreign experts, including a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 183 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2020 election. The law allows for the establishment of additional political parties but forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful regime official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or regime connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The regime reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The regime showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The regime harassed parties, such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union. Police arrested members of banned Islamist parties, including Hizb ut-Tahrir (HTS) and the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. Reliable data on illegal political parties was unavailable.

The PYD generally controlled the political and governance landscape in northeast Syria while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. The PYD, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. PYD-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Although there were no formal restrictions, cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions. The government formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Rima al-Qadiri. Women accounted for 13 percent of the members of parliament elected in July. There were Christian, Druze, and Armenian members of parliament but no Kurdish representatives. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities as well as more authority than the majority Sunni sect did.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the regime did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of regime corruption during the year. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the regime.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was almost no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Freedom House reported that to secure its support base, the regime regularly distributed patronage in the form of public resources and implemented policies to benefit favored industries and companies. Authorities reportedly awarded government contracts and trade deals to allies such as Iran and Russia, possibly as compensation for political and military aid. Basic state services and humanitarian aid reportedly were extended or withheld based on a community’s demonstrated political loyalty to the regime, providing additional leverage for bribe-seeking officials. PAX and Impunity Watch reported in March that the regime had developed “an intricate legal framework that allows it to expropriate anyone it considers a threat or an inconvenience,” assessing the regime’s intent was to dispossess and permanently displace its opponents, rewarding individuals loyal to the regime in the process.

President Bashar Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, reportedly was known as “Mr. 5 Percent.” As late as 2011, Makhlouf reportedly controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. The Panama Papers, Swissleaks, and most recently the Paradise Papers chronicled his money-laundering and sanctions-busting activities. In May, Makhlouf issued several statements criticizing corruption within the regime and outlining allegations of extortion and arbitrary detention targeting his companies. His actions did not create any moves to address systemic corruption in the regime.

Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that regime officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services.

Despite a bread crisis, the regime often refused to allow private bakers in areas previously under opposition control to operate. For example in Homs a private baker Muhammad Nour reported he was unable to obtain approval to operate from the National Security Office in Damascus even after offering a bribe of approximately $11,150 to one of the heads of the security branches in Homs.

Financial Disclosure: There are no public financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The regime restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The regime did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The regime was highly suspicious of human rights NGOs and did not allow international human rights groups into the country. The regime normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. The regime denied organizations access to locations where regime agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds.

The regime continued to harass domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). In September the SJAC issued a report analyzing regime documentation that detailed coordination between regime intelligence officials and Syrian embassy staff in Saudi Arabia and Spain, corroborating long-standing NGO reporting that the regime maintained a global surveillance apparatus to track dissidents’ activities both inside and outside of the country systematically.

Terrorist groups, including the HTS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocating for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists, in some cases subjecting them to arbitrary arrest.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime continued to deny access for the COI, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. The regime did not cooperate fully with numerous UN and other multilateral bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas. In addition the regime did not allow the OPCW IIT to access the sites under investigation in Ltamenah, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2118.

The UNWGEID continued to request information from the regime on reported cases of enforced disappearances, but it failed to respond. The regime also ignored UNWGEID’s requests for an invitation to visit the country, dating back to 2011. The regime similarly ignored UN and international community calls for unhindered access for independent, impartial international humanitarian and medical organizations to the regime’s detention centers.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor for at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim. Male rape is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media outlets characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.). The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) reported fear of rape was one of the most prominent reasons Syrians fled the country. The COI reported rape and sexual violence continued to play a prominent role in the conflict and was used to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition. Regime officials in the intelligence and security services perpetrated sexual and gender-based violence with impunity, according to a February report by the Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. Victims often feared reporting rape and sexual abuse, according to TIMEP, due to the stigma associated with their victimization. HRW reported in July that gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and nonbinary individuals were targeted for sexual violence.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a February report by the Syrian Initiative to Combat Sexual and Gender-based Violence, violence against women and children was pervasive and increased due to the conflict. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. In August UNFPA reported an increase in domestic violence cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hassia industrial camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Majar farms, and Shamsin. UNFPA and local human rights groups reported women and children were at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as early marriage, child labor, and other forms of exploitation largely due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

The COI reported in September that armed groups under the SNA detained women and girls, particularly those of Kurdish descent, and subjected them to rape and sexual violence–causing severe physical and psychological harm at the individual level, as well as at the community level, owing to stigma and cultural norms related to “female honor.” On two occasions, in an apparent effort to humiliate, extract confessions and instill fear within male detainees, SNA Military Police officers reportedly forced male detainees to witness the rape of a minor. On the first day, the minor was threatened with being raped in front of the men, but the rape did not proceed. The following day, the same minor was gang-raped, as the male detainees were beaten and forced to watch.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programs specifically for protection of women. These programs were not available throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The regime kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. Reporting from previous years indicated that honor killings increased following the onset of the crisis in 2011. According to a July HRW report, members of the LGBTI community faced death threats from family members when they learned about their sexual orientation and feared being subjected to honor crimes. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by regime forces, for reasons of honor.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The regime did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive and uncontrolled. TIMEP reported that women who were widowed, divorced, or separated from their husbands frequently faced sexual harassment from their employers and landlords.

Reproductive Rights: UNOCHA reported that more than a quarter of surveyed health workers in the country stated that organized family planning services were not available in their communities.

Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care and reproductive services both costly and dangerous, and the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) reported that the government and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. Physicians for Human Rights documented that attacks on humanitarian actors by the Syrian and Russian governments and, to a lesser degree, armed groups caused medical providers to operate in secret or, in some cases, to leave the country.

UNOCHA reported in 2019 that the majority of Syrian women in regime-held areas were delivering in hospitals, with the exception of women in Quneitra governorate, who reported delivering from home with the aid of a skilled birth assistant. Activists also reported that regime detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth. Attacks on hospitals affected pregnant women, who were frequently unable to access care, and during the year observers reported to the UN Human Rights Council that hostilities forced an increasing number of women to give birth through caesarean sections to control the timing of their delivery and avoid traveling in insecure environments.

Many pregnant women living in IDP camps in Idlib governorate and camps such as al-Hol and Rukban lacked access to hospitals or to doctors or skilled birth assistants. Humanitarian health partners supported approximately one-third of the nearly 1,600 daily deliveries in the country; of these supported deliveries, approximately one-half involved a caesarean section.

Women and girls subjected to sexual violence lacked access to immediate health care, particularly in regime detention facilities where reports of sexual violence continued to be prevalent, and authorities often denied medical care to prisoners. Health providers and community representatives emphasized that female survivors of rape faced limited availability of clinical management throughout the country.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of involuntary sterilization, but OCHA reported in July an increase in coerced abortions in northwest Syria in response to increasing psychosocial stress, poverty, and lack of employment opportunities, compounded by the effects of COVID-19. Former detainees also reported cases of the regime forcing women in regime detention to have abortions.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women. For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. Personal status laws applied to Muslims are derived from sharia and are discriminatory toward women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The regime’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they refuse to provide this support, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor share responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported the conflict, and more recently COVID-19, reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories it controlled. For example, the International Center for the Study of Radicalism reported in September 2019 that the HTS forced women and girls into marriage, imposed a dress code on women and girls, banned women and girls from wearing makeup, required that women and girls be accompanied by a mahram or male member of their immediate family, forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband, forbade widows from living alone, and instructed that classrooms be segregated. The HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah (religious police force) in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment, such as lashing, to execution.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities often did not register births. The regime did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.g.). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The regime provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

Combatants on all sides of the conflict attacked or commandeered schools. The COI reported that repeated attacks on schools, the repurposing of education facilities for military purposes, and the killing and displacement of qualified teachers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on girls, as well as children displaced from their homes and those with disabilities. Approximately 2.1 million children were out of school (among more than 2.6 million internally displaced Syrian children, including refugees and others in the diaspora); another 1.3 million were at risk for leaving school. In October, UNICEF reported 4.7 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.

The COI reported the regime allegedly refused to acknowledge school certificates provided by students in grades nine and above, forcing thousands of students to retake exams to enroll in public schools.

The HTS reportedly imposed its interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories it controlled (see section 1.g.). The group imposed dress codes on female teachers and pupils, according to the COI, and the STJ reported in April the HTS threatened any woman who failed to abide by the dress code with dismissal. The COI also reported the HTS prevented large numbers of girls from attending school. The COI reported access to education in al-Hol IDP camp remained insufficient.

The SDF ended the use of 12 schools previously converted for military purposes, handing them over to local councils to increase children’s access to education. In areas previously liberated by the SDF from ISIS, more than 526,250 students returned to classes in 741 refurbished buildings and schools previously used or destroyed by ISIS. Many school buildings required extensive repairs, sometimes including clearance of explosive remnants of the war, and administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning. The SDF reportedly imposed penalties on SDF and school administration staff members who enrolled their children in schools that did not use their curriculum.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. In January the COI reported children, especially girls, were acutely vulnerable to violence and were victims of a broad array of abuses.

NGOs reported extensively on reports of regime and proregime forces, as well as the HTS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). The HTS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories it controlled. The regime did not take steps to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties’ consent. STJ reported early and forced marriages were increasingly prevalent, particularly in Idlib. According to World Vision International reporting in July, children were increasingly vulnerable to early and forced marriage due to the extreme financial hardships placed upon families by the conflict, challenges exacerbated by COVID-19 and societal pressures. In August UNFPA reported an increase in early marriage cases, especially in Hassia camp, Hassia industrial camp, Hussainiya camp, Wadi Majar farms, and Shamsin.

Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than typically occurred prior to the start of the conflict, believing it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of regime, proregime, and armed opposition forces.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g.). The Free Yezidi Foundation reported that Yezidi women and children remained with ISIS-affiliated families in detention camps due to the intense trauma from their treatment under ISIS and fear. In July, Amnesty International reported the stance of the Yezidi Supreme Spiritual Council and the legal framework of Iraq, which mandates that any child of a Muslim or “unknown” father be registered as Muslim, effectively denied Yezidi children born under ISIS a place within the Yezidi community and presented another barrier to Yezidi women’s return to their home communities.

From 2014 onwards ISIS began forcibly to marry women and girls living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between the ages of 12 and 16 were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. The STJ reported that early and forced marriages were prevalent in areas under HTS control, and Syrians often failed to register their marriages officially due to fear of detention or conscription at regime checkpoints. In September the COI reported cases of SNA members in the Sultan Murad Brigade forcibly marrying Kurdish women in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced “prostitution,” both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” There were no known prosecutions for child pornography.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child younger than 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of regime prosecution of child rape cases.

A July report by OCHA on northwest Syria described significant increases in reports of families marrying off their daughters repeatedly for short periods of time in exchange for money, which constitutes sex trafficking.

Displaced Children: The population of IDP children increased for the ninth consecutive year due to the conflict, and a limited number of refugee children continued to live in the country. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., 2.e., and 2.f.).

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

Anti-Semitism

In June the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported there were no known Jews still living in Syria. The Foundation for Jewish Heritage and the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives reported in May the condition of 62 percent of Jewish built heritage sites in Syria was poor, very bad, or beyond repair. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews. Government-controlled radio and television programming continued to disseminate anti-Semitic news articles and cartoons. The regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency frequently reported on the “Zionist enemy” and accused the Syrian opposition of serving “the Zionist project.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While the law provides some protections for persons with disabilities, the regime did not make serious attempts to enforce applicable laws effectively during the year. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, working through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by regime and proregime forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. HRW reported COVID-19 made it increasingly difficult for persons with disabilities to receive medical care. The regime did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November 2019 report, UNFPA detailed how both public and private spaces–including educational institutions, health-care services, and religious or cultural buildings–were inaccessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities, leading to further ostracism and deprivation. The European Asylum Support Office reported in February that access to facilities and support for persons with disabilities remained limited in Damascus and often nonexistent in other areas of the country. UNFPA further stated that persons with disabilities were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person. The COI’s July report noted the challenges facing persons with disabilities when attempting to flee conflict.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The regime actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as regime-sponsored violence. In July the COI reported instances of the regime torturing, beating, and denying food and water to Kurdish civilians, at times interrogating them about their faith and ethnicity. Regime and proregime forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed SNA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals as well as members of the SDF during the year (see section 1.g.). The COI reported a consistent, discernible pattern of abuses by SNA forces against Kurdish residents in Afrin and Ras al-Ayn, including “[c]ases of detentions, killings, beatings, and abductions, in addition to widespread looting and appropriation of civilian homes.”

The regime continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals. The Alawite community, to which President Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the regime and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the regime reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived proregime stance.

The September COI report stated that women belonging to the Yezidi religious minority were detained and urged to convert to Islam during interrogation. The HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories it controlled, and ISIS members continued to target ethnic and religious minorities in attacks (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years. In previous years police used this charge to prosecute LGBTI individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but the ARC Foundation and the Dutch Council for Refugees reported in June that LGBTI individuals believed they were not able to seek protection from the regime. NGO reports indicated the regime had arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. In July, HRW reported LGBTI persons were subject to “increased and intensified violence based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The sexual violence described included rape, sexual harassment, genital violence, threat of rape of themselves or female family members, and forced nudity by state and nonstate armed groups. This violence took place in various settings, including regime detention centers, checkpoints, central prisons, and within the ranks of the national army.”

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

The HTS reportedly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). HRW reported instances of blackmail and harassment targeting the LGBTI community, many involving men who were perceived as gay.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported, and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The UNDP assessed COVID-19 presented barriers access to HIV testing and treatment. HRW reported in April that, due to restrictions on aid delivery to northeast Syria, Kurdish authorities repurposed test kits designed for HIV and polio to respond to the lack of available COVID-19 testing kits.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Yezidis, Druze, Christians, Shia, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS, the HTS, the SNA, and other groups (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the regime-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The regime did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the regime, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past regime repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The penal code does not define forced labor. The code states, “Those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The penal code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and the HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and Western women, to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have been victims of sex trafficking and subjected to domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of the child labor law. The regime did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding regime enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children younger than 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators; however, there was no information that clarified which penalties were appropriate to assess whether such penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, including begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.

Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and regime-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Labor and nationality laws discriminate against women. The labor law prohibits women from working during certain hours and does not allow women to work in jobs deemed hazardous, arduous, or morally inappropriate. Additional regulations prohibit women from working in several industries, including in mining, factories, agriculture, energy, and construction. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered. Women participated in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

The law prohibits most forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the regime did not enforce these provisions effectively, and Article 130 (b) of the labor law allows an employer to decrease the wages of a person with disabilities whenever his productivity is substantially reduced as attested by a medical certificate. Discrimination occurred in hiring and access to worksites. The law seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for them. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the regime and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work. There was little information available on regime efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or whether penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as fraud.

The regime set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

There was little information on regime enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities, such as hotels and major restaurants, no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the conflict, and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. During the year the unemployment rate for both men and women remained above 50 percent, with millions unable to participate in the workforce due to continued violence and insecurity. During the year UNFPA reported that local female employment participation increased in areas such as Damascus, Raqqa, and Daraa, as men were detained or killed.

Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor oversees employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.

Ukraine

Read A Section: Ukraine

Crimea

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. In April 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. In July 2019 the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The Security Service of Ukraine is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Security Service reports directly to the president. The Ministry of Defense and Ukrainian armed forces are responsible for defending the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by deterring armed aggression. The Ministry of Defense ensures sovereignty and the integrity of national borders and exercises control over the activities of the armed forces in compliance with the law. The president is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces. The Ministry of Defense reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Tax Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Border Guard Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, while the State Migration Service, also under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, implements state policy regarding migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; abuses in the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas, including physical abuse of civilians and members of armed groups held in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and blocking of websites; refoulement of refugees; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minority groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces.

In the Russia-instigated and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region, Russia-led forces reportedly engaged in unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances and abductions; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Other significant human rights issues included: 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, the press, and the internet; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Significant human rights issues in Russia-occupied Crimea included: forced disappearances and abductions; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; 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, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons. Russian occupation authorities in Crimea reportedly continued to engage in widespread violence against and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea subreport).

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau for Investigations is responsible for investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.

Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers. For example, in February police charged five staff members of the Vinnytsya Prison with torture and an additional staff member with “violence against a prisoner in places of imprisonment” for their alleged involvement in beating a 59-year-old prisoner who had been charged with rape of a minor. In July 2019 the staff members took the prisoner from his cell to a separate room, where they allegedly struck him 85 times. Investigators said the staff members then returned the prisoner to his cell, where a cellmate delivered additional blows that resulted in his death.

There were few reports that state actors ordered or took part in targeted attacks on civil society activists and journalists in connection with their work during the year, but impunity for past attacks remained a significant problem. In June 2019 a court in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast convicted five persons for carrying out the fatal 2018 acid attack against public activist Kateryna Handziuk on charges of deliberately causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death. They were sentenced to terms of three to six-and-a-half years in prison. Each suspect agreed to testify against those who ordered the killing. On April 27, the Security Service announced it had completed its pretrial investigation. As a result of the investigation, the head of the Kherson regional legislature, Vladyslav Manger, and a suspected accomplice, Oleksiy Levin, were charged with inflicting intentional grievous bodily harm in a manner bearing signs of torment and resulting in death. The suspects’ first court hearing took place on August 28. As of late November, both suspects were to remain in custody until December 13.

Former parliamentary aide Ihor Pavlovsky was charged in 2019 with concealing Handziuk’s murder. On September 16, Pavlovsky asked an Odesa court to authorize a plea bargain. Human rights defenders and Handziuk supporters alleged additional organizers of the crime likely remained at large and that law enforcement bodies had not investigated the crime fully.

In December 2019 police arrested three suspects in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet. All suspects had previous military experience as volunteers in the conflict with Russia-led forces. In August the case was transferred to a Kyiv court, where trial proceedings were underway as of November.

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite the existence of considerable evidence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted little progress had been made in investigating the killings, and the cases that have reached the courts continued to be delayed. As of November the State Bureau for Investigations had identified 61 alleged perpetrators of Euromaidan killings; most of whom absconded and were wanted. As of November the only three perpetrators who had been convicted were charged with lesser offenses, not murder, and received prison sentences ranging from three to five years.

On January 11, the State Bureau for Investigations announced it had established a special unit for investigating Euromaidan cases, in accordance with the Prosecutor General’s Office’s 2019 decision to transfer responsibility for such cases to the State Bureau for Investigations. Euromaidan activists accused State Bureau for Investigations deputy director Oleksandr Babikov of having a conflict of interest, citing his former role as a lawyer for then president Yanukovych. During the year the State Bureau for Investigations served notices of suspicion to 37 individuals, filed 19 indictments against 25 persons (six judges, 13 law enforcement officers, and six civilians), and made two arrests for Euromaidan-related crimes. On March 10 and 12, for example, the State Bureau for Investigations arrested two men suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and torture of two activists and the murder of one of them (see section 1.b.).

On March 20 and 25, the State Bureau for Investigations served a notice of suspicion to the former head and deputy head of the public security unit at the main police department in Kyiv and investigated reports they “organized and provided illegal obstruction of the meeting of citizens on November 30, 2013, in order to carry out the criminal order.”

On June 18, the State Bureau for Investigations charged in absentia a former officer from the Berkut riot police unit in connection with the killing of 48 protesters and the attempted killing of an additional 80 protesters in 2014. On June 22, a court in Kyiv ordered the pretrial detention of the suspect in absentia.

On May 12, the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of former president Yanukovych, his former defense minister, and two former heads of law enforcement agencies on charges of criminal involvement in the killings of protesters in Kyiv in 2014.

On October 20, the Svyatoshynsky District Court in Kyiv designated as fugitives three former Berkut officers accused of killing 48 protesters, indicating the suspects would be tried in absentia. The three suspects were part of a group of five former Berkut officers implicated in Euromaidan killings who were released into the custody of Russia-led forces in the Donbas region in December 2019 as part of a negotiated prisoner and detainee exchange between Ukraine and Russia. Two other suspects voluntarily returned and were standing trial as of December.

The HRMMU did not note any progress in the investigation and legal proceedings in connection with the 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died. Pandemic-related restrictions exacerbated trial delays.

There were reports of civilian casualties in connection with Russian aggression in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were allegations that state agents abducted and deported foreign citizens on behalf of their governments without due process. For example, family members and advocates for three Uzbekistani men alleged the Security Service collaborated with the Uzbekistani State Security Service to extradite the men without complying with relevant laws and international agreements (see section 2.f.).

In connection with abuses committed during the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests in Kyiv, Sergei Myslyvyi was arrested on March 10 for his suspected involvement in the abduction and torture of Euromaidan activists Ihor Lutsenko and Yuriy Verbitsky and the premeditated murder of Verbitsky. Ivan Novotny was detained on March 12 on suspicion of involvement in the case and charged with “creation of a criminal organization” and “unlawful imprisonment or abductions of a person.” The State Bureau for Investigations finished its pretrial investigation of both cases in August. As of November, Novotny and Myslyvyi remained in pretrial detention; 12 other suspects in the case remained at large.

A law on missing persons came into force in 2018 to assist in locating those who disappeared in connection to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The law calls for the creation of a commission that would establish a register of missing persons. The commission was established in July. On November 11, President Zelenskyy signed a decree calling on the Cabinet of Ministers to ensure the commission operates effectively. As of late November, it had not convened.

There were reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with Russia’s aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody as evidence in court proceedings, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

Abuse of detainees by police remained a widespread problem. For example, on January 3, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group interviewed 30 prisoners from the Kharkiv Oblast’s Oleksyyivska correctional colony No. 25 after the group received information regarding severe abuse of inmates, including torture and rape. The group collected reports of rape, beatings, forced labor, and extortion of money, and sent them to the State Bureau for Investigations to open an investigation. The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights (Ombudsperson’s Office) visited the institution twice that month and reported during its first visit instances of officers handcuffing 22 inmates and beating them with rubber batons, which resulted in abrasions and bruising.

On January 11, the Ombudsperson’s Office interviewed 12 inmates in the medical unit. The 12 individuals claimed that at around three or four in the morning, they were handcuffed and dragged down the street in their underwear to the institution’s headquarters, where they remained until around seven in the evening. Inmates remained in handcuffs for almost 15 hours and did not receive any food. Inmates also reported being dragged on the floor from the first to second floor. Their bodies were reportedly covered in abrasions and hematomas, particularly on their heads from the abuse they suffered. One inmate reported suffering from burns in the area of the buttocks and anus. These injuries were only recorded in the institution’s medical records after the visit by the Ombudsperson’s Office. On January 13, the Prosecutor General’s Office filed criminal proceedings for torture and abuse of power with the use of violence.

Reports of law enforcement using torture and mistreatment to extract confessions were reported throughout the year. For example, on March 27, the State Bureau for Investigations charged two Uzhhorod police officers with violent abuse of authority. According to investigators, in September 2019 the officers detained Ihor Harmatiy and Ivan Bukov on suspicion of theft and took the men to the Uzhgorod police department where, according to Bukov, they severely beat Bukov with a bat, knocked his teeth out, and handcuffed him to a radiator. Bukov reported he was able to get out of his handcuffs the next morning and jumped from the fourth floor of the police department to flee further abuse. He survived the fall but tore his spleen, injured his pelvis, and broke both arms. Harmatiy similarly reported being tortured and indicated that he signed a confession in order to stop the abuse. Human rights groups criticized the State Bureau for Investigations for not filing charges of “torture” against the officers.

Impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement was a significant problem. The HRMMU reported that a majority of the torture allegations made against security forces from February to July were “disregarded.” The State Bureau for Investigations and a specialized department within the Office of the Prosecutor General were responsible for investigating such allegations. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, individuals who experienced torture during pretrial detention often did not file complaints due to intimidation and lack of access to a lawyer.

In the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported after interviewing 56 released detainees that torture and mistreatment of detainees were systematic during the initial stage of detention, which could last up to a year. The individuals interviewed were initially detained under “administrative arrest” in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”), or “preventive arrest” in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), and held incommunicado without access to a lawyer. The vast majority reported being subjected to some form of mistreatment, including beatings; electric shocks; sexual violence; asphyxiation; removal of teeth and nails; mock execution; deprivation of water, food, sleep or sanitation facilities; and threats of violence against family members.

Victims of abuses committed by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and “LPR” had no legal recourse to attain justice.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported that overcrowding at such centers decreased as a result of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects. Monitors from the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights (Ombudsperson) reported that cells in one of the Kharkiv detention facility’s buildings measured less than 11 square feet, which allowed prisoners only enough room to stand. According to monitors, even short-term detention there could be regarded as mistreatment.

While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were often not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, according to media reports, five staff members of the Vinnytsya Prison were charged with torture and one staff member with “violence against a prisoner in places of imprisonment” in February for severely beating an inmate. The inmate ultimately died after receiving additional blows by another inmate (see section 1.a.). In another instance, two prisoners from the Kropyvnytskyi pretrial detention center sustained bodily injuries after allegedly being beaten by the facility’s staff. In May the Kirovohrad Oblast Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings investigating “abuse of power” of the detention center’s staff.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, media outlets reported in February that Odesa pretrial detention facility staff illegally allowed two detainees into another detainee’s cell. The two transferred detainees allegedly attacked the other detainee, inflicting grave bodily injuries. The facility staff then transferred the attack victim to a solitary confinement cell, where he died from his injuries. An investigation was underway as of October.

Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to the country’s seventh periodic report for the UN Convention against Torture, some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. In Zhovti Vody, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group reported remand prison cell walls were covered with mold and the damp air made breathing difficult. Cells were infested with fleas and cockroaches, and inmates often only had access to unboiled tap water that contained worms. Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the January 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), in some pretrial detention centers, detainees did not have consistent access to food and water. According to the UN special rapporteur, most hygienic products including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products were not provided, and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.

UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications with an overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering and delayed diagnoses and treatment.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas continued to deteriorate. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the “LPR” and “DPR” located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU was denied access to detainees held by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The lack of access to detainees raised concerns about the conditions of detention and treatment.

The Eastern Human Rights Group continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsperson, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the national preventive mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits to places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.

While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they were entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and the HRMMU.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.

The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions.

In August the Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in Law Enforcement reported a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular, the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “voluntary talks” with police, and noted several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks. The association also reported that detainees were not always allowed prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU and other human rights monitors reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities.

On March 12, the HRMMU released findings based on interviews with 75 individuals who had been detained. More than 70 percent of those interviewed reported arbitrary detention or procedural violations at the initial stages of detention, primarily by Security Service officials. More than one-third of interviewees reported being kept incommunicado in unofficial places of detention for several days before being transferred to official detention facilities. In at least 32 cases, access to legal counsel was provided only after the first interrogation. In 11 of these cases, the detainees offered confessions before seeing a lawyer.

Human rights experts reported arbitrary detention in the context of conscription into the armed forces. For example, in late May representatives of the Kharkiv military registration office systematically stopped and forcibly detained young men near public transport stops, taking them to military registration and enlistment offices. The detainees were deprived of their cell phones, kept indoors, fed once a day, and sent to undergo medical examinations, after which they were conscripted.

Arbitrary arrest was reportedly widespread in both the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The HRMMU raised particular concern over the concept of “preventive arrest” or “administrative arrest” introduced in 2018 by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and “LPR.” Under a preventive arrest, individuals may be detained for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending detention to 60 days, based on allegations that a person was involved in crimes against the security of the “DPR” or “LPR.” During preventive arrests detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and relatives.

From November 2019 to February 2020, the OHCHR interviewed 56 detainees released by “DPR” and “LPR” and reported a consistent pattern of arbitrary detention, which often amounted to forced disappearance, torture, and mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors noted that pretrial detention usually lasts two months, but can be extended. When cases are delayed, precautionary measures are usually eased, such as permitting house arrest or temporary release. The HRMMU, however, continued to report the security services’ persistent use of extended pretrial detention of defendants in conflict-related criminal cases as a means to pressure them to plead guilty. Since the beginning of the armed conflict in 2014, the OHCHR has documented 16 cases in which, following a court-ordered release, prosecutors pressed additional conflict-related criminal charges, enabling police to rearrest the defendant. In one case, prosecutors charged a soldier with treason after he had been charged with desertion and granted release by a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding and staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

The International Commission of Jurists emphasized in an April report that attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. The commission concluded such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and protect the rights of their clients. In one such case, on March 27, police officers used force and inflicted bodily injuries on lawyer Mykola Ponomariov in Brovary in Kyiv Oblast. Police beat and handcuffed Ponomariov when he refused a request to provide false testimony as a witness in a case involving one of his father’s employees. As of November, the State Bureau for Investigations was investigating the case.

The HRMMU expressed concern about intimidation of judges, defendants, and defense lawyers by members of violent radical groups. For example, on October 16, a car belonging to legal aid lawyer Oleksandr Kovrak was set on fire in Odesa. Kovrak claims that the culprits opened the gate to the private area where the car was parked, broke the cars’ windows, and threw a fire accelerant into the car. He suspects the attack might be retaliation for the legal aid work that he provides voluntarily in support of rural residents seeking advice on property rights. Police opened an investigation.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. Human rights groups noted that ineffective investigations and misuse of trial extensions by judges and defense lawyers sometimes caused undue trial delays. A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings, often justifying measures as necessary to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. An OHCHR survey of 121 lawyers concluded COVID-19 restrictions made it more difficult to access court registries and conduct confidential meetings with clients held in detention, increasing trial delays. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

The HRMMU documented violations of the right to a fair trial in criminal cases related to the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas region, notably the right to a trial without undue delay and the right to legal counsel. The government’s lack of access to Russia-controlled areas complicated investigations into human rights violations there. As a result, perpetrators of such violations were rarely prosecuted. As of April the OHCHR was aware of only four convictions in conflict-related cases involving human rights violations.

Authorities also failed to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators for interfering in investigations and manipulating court proceedings. The OHCHR reported that in one case an appellate court failed to publish its judgement after the defendant complained of fair trial violations.

Undue delays continued to slow criminal proceedings in conflict-related cases.

Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military tribunals were held. The “courts” widely relied on confessions obtained through torture and coercion. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. Observers noted that subsequent “investigations” and “trials” seemed to serve to create a veneer of legality to the “prosecution” of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces. The HRMMU reported that Russia-led forces generally impeded private lawyers from accessing clients and that “court”-appointed defense lawyers generally made no efforts to provide an effective defense and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There was one individual whom some human rights groups considered to be subjected to politically motivated detention, but during the year the detainee, Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytskyy, was released on his own recognizance while his case continued. Muravytskyy was charged in 2017 with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian for which he could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

According to the State Bureau for Investigations, as of mid-August, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 235 hostages in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsperson at any time and to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

Property Restitution

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter has been dealt with partly through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution have taken place as a result of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of Jewish groups.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law the Security Service of Ukraine may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The Security Service and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency, authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the Security Service that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information about journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns” (see section 2.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Speech: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal.

The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. On March 29, police issued an administrative offense citation in Odesa to a local resident for publicly displaying a portrait of Stalin. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, police fined individuals in Odesa, Zaporizhzhya, and Kyiv for carrying banned Soviet symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws (see “Censorship” and “National Security”).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, particularly television channels, the most successful of which were owned by influential oligarchs, often provided readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners and providing favorable coverage of their allies and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. Editorial independence was particularly limited in media controlled by individuals and oligarchs supportive of or linked to the Russian government and intelligence agencies. The Ministry of Defense on November 25 stated the Russian Federation “has intensified measures to discredit the top state and military leadership of Ukraine. To this end, pro-Russian media, journalists and agents of influence, including in Ukraine, are being used more actively.”

There were reports of continuing financial and political pressure on the National Public Broadcasting Company, created to provide an independent publicly funded alternative to oligarch-controlled television channels. The 2020 budget provided only 89 percent of the previous budget’s funding for the broadcaster, which was already reportedly 45 percent lower than what it should have received by law. Parliament consistently failed to comply with legal requirements allocating at least 0.2 percent of the state’s annual budget to the broadcaster. In late February the State Executive Service blocked the broadcaster’s bank accounts pursuant to a Supreme Economic Court order to repay the debt of its predecessor, the National Television Company of Ukraine. On March 6, the Independent Media Council noted the action left the broadcaster unable to continue operations. On June 2, the bank accounts were unblocked.

Jeansa–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. Only 11 out of the 50 most-visited information sites did not contain jeansa, according to an IMI study conducted from June to August. The study found that 70 percent of the jeansa materials identified were of a political nature. The IMI attributed the widespread use of political jeansa during this period to an attempt to influence voters ahead of the October 25 local elections.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists blamed what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes for the emergence of a culture of impunity. Government authorities sometimes participated in and condoned attacks on journalists.

According to the IMI, as of September 1, there had been 20 reports of attacks on journalists, which is equal to the number of attacks on journalists during the first eight months of 2019. As in 2019, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 20 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 33 during the same period in 2019. The IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists by government officials. For example, on August 26, members of the Zaporizhzhya city council physically removed Gvozdi (Nails) newspaper editor Bohdan Vasylenko from the city administrative building. Vasylenko had planned to attend the city council meeting to inquire about local COVID-19 prevention measures. The journalist filed a police report. No charges had been brought as of mid-September.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the Security Service, the military, police, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues. For example, on April 29, a police officer beat Hromadske journalist Bohdan Kutyepov, pushed him to the ground, and broke his media equipment while he was live-streaming antiquarantine protests taking place in front of a government building. As of November the State Bureau for Investigations was looking into the incident.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors, including numerous attacks against investigative journalists from the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) program Schemes that occurred throughout the year. On August 7, RFE/RL investigative journalist Mykhailo Tkach found alleged evidence of wiretapping in his apartment and posted images on Facebook of holes drilled into the ceiling of his apartment as evidence of the suspected wiretapping attempt. Shortly thereafter, on the evening of August 16, the car of an RFE/RL Schemes driver and film crew member was set on fire. Tkach claimed he had received anonymous messages indicating that his “journalistic activities are annoying high-level officials.” Schemes journalists believe the attacks were in response to its critiques of President Zelenskyy and its investigative reporting on high-level corruption. Police initiated an investigation, and the case gained a high degree of media attention. The head of the Kyiv Regional Police, Andriy Nebytov, wrote on Facebook, “It is obvious that the arsonist and their ‘curators’ had a goal not only to destroy the vehicle, they wanted more to cause outrage among the journalistic community and the public, to create a perception of insecurity and permissiveness.” As of October, no arrests had been made in the case.

In January, RFE/RL journalist Halyna Tereshchuk’s car was set on fire in Lviv in an arson attack. In February the Security Service detained a 19-year-old believed to be responsible for the attack, and in August a police officer was arrested on charges indicating his complicity in the crime.

There were allegations the government prosecuted journalists in retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the law enforcement system, often to reveal their sources in investigations. For example, the State Bureau for Investigations summoned television anchor Yanina Sokolova and editor in chief of the online news platform Censor.Net, Yuriy Butusov, for questioning. On August 18, Butusov, citing law enforcement sources, reported the detention of Russian mercenaries in Belarus had been part of a special operation by Ukrainian security services that failed due to a leak from the Office of the President. Sokolova announced she was summoned on the grounds that she had potentially disclosed information pertaining to a state secret.

Journalists received threats in connection with their reporting. For example, on July 13, Kateryna Serhatskova, a journalist and cofounder of the online platform Zaborona (Prohibition), left the country, claiming threats to her life and her family believed to be in connection with her reporting. On July 3, Zaborona published an article detailing alleged links between leaders of violent radical groups and the directors of Stop-Fake.org, a project of the nonprofit Media Reforms Center, aimed at stopping the dissemination of false information about the country (see Internet Freedom). According to Serhatskova, police refused to open an investigation into the threats against her, prompting her lawyer to appeal to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, which opened an investigation in July. As of November, the investigation continued.

In December 2019 police arrested three suspects and two persons of interest in the 2016 killing of well known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet (see section 1.a.). In early September the Shevchenkivskyy District Court in Kyiv began hearing the case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, websites, and other content (see subsections on National Security and Internet Freedom).

On September 3, the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) revoked the broadcasting license of the Pryamy FM radio station for not broadcasting within a year of the date its license was issued. Derzhkomteleradio is an eight-member executive body charged with overseeing television and radio broadcasters’ compliance with Ukrainian laws. The parliament and the president appoint four members each to the council.

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose their media owners or political allies to criticism or might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.

National Security: In the context of the continuing Russia-led conflict in the Donbas region as well as continuing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns, authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September approximately 808 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize the country, the government maintained a ban on the operations of almost 839 companies and 1,605 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were two widely used social networks based in Russia and major Russian television channels as well as smaller Russian channels that operated independently of state control.

Derzhkomteleradio maintained a list of banned books seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence; promoting violence; inciting interethnic, racial, or religious hostility; promoting terrorist attacks; or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of November the list contained 227 titles.

There were reports the government used formal pretexts to silence outlets for being “pro-Russian” and for being critical of its national security policy. On October 15, Derzhkomteleradio announced an unscheduled inspection of pro-Russian television channels Newsone, 112 Ukraine, and ZIK, claiming their favorable coverage of an October 6 meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk might have violated national security laws.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that radical groups committed attacks on journalists. For example, on June 15, members of radical groups attacked ZIK television journalist Alla Zhyznevska at the Shevchenkivskyy district courthouse in Kyiv where Serhiy Sternenko was being held and protests were organized by activists of the Youth Wing and members of the Opposition Platform for Life. Clashes broke out, and police detained five individuals. A few days prior, on June 12, Zhyznevska reported another incident in which she was conducting a story on a local market in Odesa when six unknown men emerged, demanded the journalist’s crew not take pictures, and forcibly removed them from the market. Police were called, but the six men dispersed before they arrived.

The ability to exercise freedom of expression reportedly remained extremely limited in territory controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. Based on HRMMU media monitoring, critical independent media on the territory controlled by Russia-led forces was nonexistent. According to Digital Security Lab Ukraine, an independent digital analysis organization, authorities in the “LPR” blocked approximately 158 Ukrainian news outlets as of late January.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

Internet Freedom

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns.”

On May 14, President Zelenskyy renewed sanctions on several Russian websites that were introduced in 2017 in retaliation for Russian cyberattacks. The sanctions included a ban on popular Russian social networks VKontakte and OdnoKlassniki, although the sites could easily be reached with use of a virtual private network connection. Ukrainian internet providers continued to block websites at government behest based on national security concerns. As of September, 475 sites were blocked in the country on such grounds. According to monitoring by Digital Security Lab Ukraine, internet service provider compliance with the government’s orders to block sites varied widely.

Free speech advocates expressed concern that courts continued to block access to websites on grounds other than national security. Freedom House reported thousands of websites, including some self-described news sites, were blocked for alleged involvement in cybercrime, fraud, and other illegal activities. For example, on January 27, a Kyiv court ruled to block access to 59 websites, including the media platforms smi.today, capital.ua, and ukr.fm, at the request of the Kyiv Oblast prosecutor’s office on grounds related to violations of intellectual property rights.

There were reports of the disclosure of personally identifiable information of persons to penalize expression of opinions. On July 11, a Ukrainian journalist with more than 130,000 followers on his social media account posted a picture of journalist Kateryna Serhatskova with her son as well as details about her personal life, suggesting she worked for Russian intelligence services. In the comments responding to the post, users posted her address, photos of her home, and death threats against her. The threats and disclosures came in response to Serhatskova’s July 3 publication of an article about the alleged influence of violent radical groups on a fact-checking organization, StopFake.org. Human Rights Watch called on authorities to provide for her safety. On July 14, Serhatskova left the country out of concern for her safety and that of her family.

The Myrotvorets (peacemaker) database, which reportedly maintained close ties to the country’s security services, published the personal data of journalists and public figures who had been critical of the country’s security services or had made other statements the site considered unpatriotic. For instance, in early August the website published personally identifiable information of the editor and host of the television program Nashi Hroshi (Our Money), Denys Bihus. Myrotvorets published the information in retaliation for Bihus’s investigative reporting on Ihor Hladkovsky, the son of a former National Security and Defense Council official. Myrotvorets justified its actions by citing a July court ruling that dismissed the claims of Bihus and other journalists regarding Hladkovsky’s alleged involvement in embezzlement.

There were reports of cyberattacks on journalists who reported on corruption. For example, after publishing an investigative report in July on the pro-Russian influence of certain Telegram channels closely followed by members of parliament, journalist Lyubov Velychko reported repeated attempts to hack her social network and messenger accounts as well as numerous online death threats against her.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russia’s aggressive actions in the Donbas region and its occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of trolling and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that the country has made cautious improvements in regards to internet freedom. Improvements included the removal of telecommunications licensing requirements that were previously tied to corruption and a reduction in the practice of administratively blocking websites, with the exception of President Zelenskyy’s extension of sanctions to several Russian-owned technology companies in May.

There were reports the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. For example, according to press reports, in early August, the Security Service in Sumy searched a house and detained a man who allegedly posted calls on social networks to break the ceasefire in Donbas.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some instances in which the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but police sometimes restricted, or failed to protect freedom of assembly. No laws, however, regulate the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of demonstrations.

There were reports of police restricting and failing to protect freedom of assembly. For example, in July police officers in Lviv restricted activists’ ability to assemble peacefully near the Taras Shevchenko monument in the city’s center by dispersing the group and writing up a police report for “petty hooliganism.” The activists held a performance in which one member wore a Zelenskyy mask and handed out one million hryvnia notes to all who passed by, while others smashed a printer that was printing the fake money.

Human rights defenders noted that police at times arbitrarily enforced COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, including through selective dispersal of civic assemblies. For example, on June 25, organizers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community support month in Kyiv scheduled two events at the same location. Organizers informed police about both events in advance to abide by legal processes and COVID-related restrictions. The events were reportedly both approved in advance, and police allowed the first event–a panel discussion–to proceed as planned but dispersed participants of the second event and wrote a misdemeanor report against the venue’s owner, citing alleged quarantine restrictions. The owner reported that in addition to the events being previously approved, authorities also previously checked the venue to ensure it met quarantine requirements and had not reported any concerns.

Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of violent radical groups. Police at times did not adequately protect participants from attack before or after the events, nor did they provide sufficient security for smaller demonstrations or events, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. For example, two men who participated in the March 8 Women’s Rights March in Kyiv were beaten and sprayed with tear gas in an underground tunnel after the event. Police detained four suspects, including Vita Zaverukha and three other activists from the violent radical group Unknown Patriot. As of July 6, only one indictment against one suspect for “hooliganism” had been sent to court.

On August 30, members of the radical group Tradition and Order attacked participants of the Odesa pride rally. Tradition and Order members punched, kicked, and threw projectiles at both participants and police. Two officers were injured. International monitors noted that poor communication between event organizers and police contributed to police failure to provide adequate protection. Police arrested 16 persons involved in the attack and investigated the incident. Similarly, on September 20, representatives of violent radical groups gathered in the downtown area of Zaporizhzhya for a counterprotest in response to the March of Equality (pride march). During the event, police detained an armed man after he aimed a gun at the pride march participants. No shots were fired, and the perpetrator was taken to the Dnipro police department.

On December 14, a group of young men attacked two teenage boys in Kyiv’s Kontrakova Square, shouting homophobic slurs, beating, and kicking them in what appears to have been an unprovoked attack. A witness who posted a video of the attack claimed that while police arrested one of the victims for arguing with them, the attackers remained in the square even after police left, shouting racist slogans.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU observed the absence of free and peaceful assembly and noted, “Such a restrictive environment, where dissenting opinions may trigger retaliation, has a long-lasting chilling effect on the population.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces with forced public participation.

Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to implement “laws” requiring all religious organizations except the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the HRMMU, a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under “laws” in the “DPR” and “LPR” that mirrored Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).

Freedom of Association

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

Human rights organizations reported an increase in attacks on activists following a decrease in attacks in 2019 (48 attacks in the first six months of the year, up from 39 in the same period of 2019). International and domestic human rights NGOs remained concerned about the lack of accountability for attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed had created a climate of impunity.

For example, on July 23, the head of the NGO Anticorruption Center, Vitalii Shabunin, reported suspected arson after his home was set on fire. Shabunin’s parents and children were in the house at the time but managed to escape unharmed. After an investigation, police concluded the fire resulted from an arson attack that started on the activist’s porch with the assistance of a flammable liquid to ignite a stable flame. As of September the perpetrators had not been identified. Shabunin believed the arson was an assassination attempt carried out at the request of politically influential oligarchs to prevent his organization’s investigative reporting on corruption. On December 30, police removed suspicious items resembling bombs from the doorsteps of apartments belonging to Shabunin’s relatives. In recent years several major human rights groups have expressed concern about the government’s singling out of Shabunin for unfair treatment.

There were reports the government targeted activists for raids, arrests, or prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, on September 30, Shabunin was fined 850 hryvnias ($30) for the late submission of an asset declaration by half a day. The Anticorruption Center believed the fine was issued to include Shabunin on a register of corrupt individuals and used against the organization in a smear campaign.

On March 30, police arrested Yuriy Fedorenko, the head of the Tverdynia NGO that works to expose illegal construction projects, as he was attempting to film construction in Kyiv he believed to be illegal. Fedorenko himself called police to report the construction violation, but they instead arrested and searched him and transported him to a nearby police station where he was charged with a violation of quarantine, despite his wearing a mask while in public. Police, citing privacy concerns, did not provide a reason for the arrest, and Fedorenko was later completely acquitted in court.

There were reports that unknown actors initiated violent attacks against activists because of their involvement in civil society organizations. For example, on June 20, Valentyna Buchok was wounded when a grenade exploded near a gate outside her home in Ivanopillya in the government-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. Buchok, who was reportedly tortured while imprisoned by Russia-led forces in the Izolatsiya detention facility on falsified charges from 2016-17, was a member of SEMA Ukraine, a group that advocated for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Human rights groups claimed the explosion marked the third attempt on her life since her release in a prisoner exchange in 2017.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted some civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the line of contact remained arduous.

On March 16, the government introduced COVID-related restrictive measures on transit through the five entry and exit checkpoints, barring all crossings except those involving humanitarian grounds. On March 21, Russia-led forces in the “LPR” and “DPR” established similar restrictions. On June 10, the government reopened its side of the Stanytsia Luhanska and Marinka checkpoints, but it began requiring individuals to download an app on their cell phones monitoring their compliance with quarantine orders, effectively preventing anyone who did not own a cell phone from crossing into government-controlled territory. Russia-led forces in Donetsk likewise turned many away who attempted to cross into government-controlled territory; those allowed to cross were required to sign a document indicating they would not return until the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided. On June 19, the “LPR” reopened its side of the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint but required individuals seeking entry to provide proof of residency. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited; private transportation was available at high prices and was generally unaffordable for the majority of persons crossing.

According to the HRMMU, from late March to mid-June, the number of monthly line-of-contact crossings decreased from 1.3 million to a few hundred, most of which occurred in Luhansk Oblast. As a result, thousands were separated from their families and lost access to quality health care, pensions, social protection, and employment. Women and elderly persons, who comprised the majority of those crossing before the COVID-19 lockdown, were particularly affected. The government required those seeking to cross into government-controlled territory to obtain a pass. The pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those seeking to receive pensions and government benefits not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces.

According to the HRMMU, since late June, civilians seeking entry to territory controlled by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” had to have permission from the “Operational Headquarters to Combat COVID-19” and have a residence registered in the “DPR.” To enter government-controlled territory from the “DPR,” civilians had to be registered in the government-controlled territory.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers reported that the government made efforts to ease requirements for entering Crimea, improving previously lengthy processes to obtain required permissions that hindered their ability to document and address abuses taking place there. On April 3, Russian occupation authorities imposed a measure in Crimea banning Russian citizens from leaving the territory of the Russian Federation. The measure affected Ukrainian residents of Crimea due to authorities requiring all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens, and Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea (see Crimea subreport).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.4 million persons were registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts and Kyiv. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to persons who had registered as IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits to IDPs pending verification of their physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.

According to the HRMMU, as part of its COVID-19 prevention measures, the government suspended the burdensome requirement that IDPs undergo identification checks every second month in order to receive social benefits.

Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

IDPs were able to vote in local elections and for single-mandate district seats in parliamentary elections. In May the Central Election Commission passed a resolution allowing IDPs, working migrants, and citizens without registration to apply in-person or online to the State Registry of Voters to identify or change their voting address and vote where they actually live. As a result, approximately 5.5 million additional Ukrainians were eligible to participate in local elections in October.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water.

Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

Refoulement: There were reports the government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of some asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For example, on May 14, the Supreme Court rejected the asylum appeal of prominent Kazakhstani journalist and opposition activist Zhanara Akhmetova. Human rights groups warned that the decision put Akhmetova at risk of deportation to Kazakhstan, where she would likely face mistreatment or torture for her political views.

The Open Dialogue Foundation claimed the decision was rushed and failed to address defense arguments. Akhmetova fled Kazakhstan in 2017 with her minor son without serving her suspended sentence for a 2009 fraud case, fearing that moves by Kazakhstani authorities to shut down her newspaper and fine her for social media posts put her in danger of political harassment and abuse.

There were also allegations that officials deported three individuals to Uzbekistan, where they were at risk of imprisonment. At a news conference on October 23, relatives and advocates for three Uzbekistani men who disappeared in October alleged that the Uzbekistani State Secret Service had kidnapped the men with the help of the Security Service of Ukraine and taken them to Uzbekistan, where they were allegedly imprisoned. The disappearances occurred in Poltava, Kharkiv, and Odesa. The families’ lawyers alleged that in two of the cases, witnesses claimed the men were detained by plainclothes Security Service officials. The men’s lawyers called on police to initiate investigations and claimed the extraditions were linked to Uzbekistan’s religious persecution of Muslims, including members of the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine. Two of the families submitted claims to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on behalf of their missing relative.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system for providing protection to refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient, however, due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. According to the State Migration Service, the number of refugees and asylum seekers has decreased. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.

Many Belarusian nationals were either forcibly exiled by Belarusian authorities or voluntarily fled Belarus, crossing into Ukraine to seek refuge during a violent crackdown and political crisis in Belarus stemming from election-related mass protests following the fraudulent presidential election there on August 9. On October 4, President Zelenskyy signed a decree that relaxed requirements for certain categories of Belarusian citizens seeking residence. The decree directed the Cabinet of Ministers to extend the time allotted for temporary stays for Belarusian citizen entrepreneurs and information technology specialists from 90 to 180 days as well as to simplify procedures for obtaining a residence permit. While a few hundred Belarusians utilized the relaxed requirements for temporary stays and residence, relatively few applied for asylum. As of October, only 11 Belarusians had applied for asylum in the country.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Employment: Refugees frequently had a hard time finding employment due to lack of qualifications and language proficiency. Some worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421 persons. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly imposed a substantial fine because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of August 31, authorities had provided complementary protection to 56 persons.

g. Stateless Persons

UNHCR estimated there were more than 35,000 stateless persons in the country. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons older than 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

In June parliament amended the laws on recognition of stateless persons to define clearly the terms “stateless person,” “child separated from the family,” and “legal representatives” of such individuals. The law allows stateless persons to stay in the country and obtain a residence permit and stateless identity card, which facilitates foreign travel.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Nationwide local elections took place on October 25, with runoff mayoral elections taking place through November and December. The local elections were the first to take place after decentralization reforms devolved power concentrated at the national level to local leaders. Due to COVID-19 related restrictions, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) only sent a limited election observation mission to monitor the conduct of these elections, while other observers cancelled their missions. As of early December, the ODIHR had not released its preliminary findings on the elections.

The country held early parliamentary elections in July 2019. A joint international election observation mission by the ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament assessed that “Fundamental rights and freedoms were overall respected and the campaign was competitive, despite numerous malpractices, particularly in the majoritarian races.” The administration of the election was generally competent and effective, despite the short time available to prepare the elections. In sharp contrast, the campaign was marked by widespread vote buying, misuse of incumbency, and the practice of exploiting all possible legislative loopholes, skewing equality of opportunity for contestants. Intertwined business and political interests dictate media coverage of elections and allow for the misuse of political finance, including at the local level.

The country held a presidential election in two rounds in March and April 2019. The joint international election observation mission assessed the election, “was competitive, voters had a broad choice and turned out in high numbers. In the pre-electoral period, the law was often not implemented in good faith by many stakeholders, which negatively impacted trust in the election administration, enforcement of campaign finance rules, and the effectiveness of election dispute resolution. Fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Candidates could campaign freely; yet, numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote buying undermined the credibility of the process. The media landscape is diverse, but campaign coverage in the monitored media lacked in-depth analysis and was often biased. Election day was assessed positively overall and paves the way to the second round. Still, some procedural problems were noted during the count, and conditions for tabulation were at times inadequate.”

Russian occupation authorities and Russia-led forces did not allow voting in either the parliamentary or the presidential elections to take place in Crimea or in the parts of the Donbas region under the control of Russia-led forces.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned. Voters in 18 communities in government-controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts were denied the right to participate in local elections in October due to a decision by the Central Election Commission that elections could not be held there, based on security concerns identified by local civil-military authorities. Rights groups criticized the lack of transparency and justification, as well as the inability to appeal the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. To increase women’s representation in elected office, parliament amended the electoral code in July to require at least two of every five candidates on political party lists to be of a different gender than the other three. In the July 2019 parliamentary elections, women accounted for 23 percent of the candidates and won 21 percent of the seats. In the October local elections, women accounted for 43 percent of candidates on party lists and won approximately 30 percent of seats on local councils. No woman was elected mayor of a major city.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

The High Anticorruption Court started its work in September 2019. The court’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption, complementing two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. During the first year of its operations, the High Anticorruption Court issued 20 sentences, including 19 convictions (nine of which resulted in imprisonment) and one acquittal. Prior to the court’s establishment, general jurisdiction courts considering cases brought by the National Anticorruption Bureau and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office issued 34 sentences, only two of which resulted in imprisonment. Although the hearing continued, on April 3, the High Anticorruption Court issued its first decision on the measure of “restraint for officials charged with top corruption,” setting bail at 80 million hryvnias ($2.8 million) for former member of parliament Maksym Mikitas. As new cases were opened, the court also set bails in the amount of 100 million hryvnias ($3.5 million) for Member of Parliament Yaroslav Dubnevych, and 120 million hryvnias ($4.3 million) for former member of parliament Olena Mazurova. It enforced penalties for violating bail terms, charging Mikitas 30 million hryvnias ($1.1 million) and former member of parliament Vadim Alperin 35 million hryvnias ($1.3 million). As of September the court’s account had 756 million hryvnias ($27 million) in bail money, more than twice its annual budget.

Despite their successes, the new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure from antireform elites and oligarchs that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions. Since the inception of the anticorruption infrastructure, various political actors attempted to embed loyal agents in the institutions through legislative changes and political leverage over selection procedures or to dissolve them altogether. In this regard, human rights groups called for more transparency and impartiality respecting procedures for appointing the heads of the bodies. Current selection procedures of the new head of the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office continued at year’s end.

Human rights groups claimed another threat to the anticorruption infrastructure came from the Constitutional Court, where antireform interests exercised undue influence on judges. From August to October, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional certain provisions of the National Anticorruption Bureau law, a presidential decree to appoint the bureau’s director, and certain provisions of the anticorruption legislation that established the country’s asset declaration system for public officials. The court was also reviewing the constitutionality of the High Anticorruption Court law and several other reform laws.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

In July the former acting head of Ukravtodor, the state agency for road maintenance, Slawomir Novak, was detained in his native Poland on suspicion of corruption based on a joint investigation by the National Anticorruption Bureau and Polish authorities. According to the bureau, Novak’s activities while heading Ukravtodor during 2016-19 “were aimed at embezzling funds from international organizations that allocated money for road repairs.”

As of November the National Anticorruption Bureau had investigated 986 criminal cases with 261 billion hryvnias ($9.6 billion) of losses and 390 suspects since its inception in 2015.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials and allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. By law the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the agency had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function. On October 27, the Constitutional Court ruled certain provisions of the financial disclosure law unconstitutional and deprived the agency of most of its powers. The controversial ruling reversed a key anticorruption reform and led the president and parliament to call for the dissolution of the Constitutional Court, describing it as a threat to the country’s sovereignty and national security. In response to the ruling, the National Anticorruption Bureau closed 110 proceedings on false declarations and the High Anticorruption Court stopped 17 court cases in process. In December parliament passed legislation reinstating the asset declaration system, and President Zelenskyy later endorsed it.

On July 7, President Zelenskyy informed the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption that he had not submitted notifications of significant changes in property status, prompting the agency to initiate administrative proceedings against him. In July 2019 President Zelenskyy bought and sold government bonds with a total value that exceeded the reporting threshold. According to the law, public officials must submit notifications of significant changes in property status to the Register of Declarations within 10 days from the time of the transaction. No such notification was received by the Register. On July 24, a court in Kyiv closed the administrative case against President Zelenskyy, noting that under the constitution, the president enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office.

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, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

Authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. Human rights groups attempting to work in those areas faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsperson, officially designated as parliamentary commissioner on human rights.

In 2018 parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner on human rights. The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights cooperated with NGOs on various projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia as well as Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.

On September 21, the president signed a decree that introduced new measures for preventing and counteracting domestic and gender-based violence. The measures included increased funding and staffing of support service programs for domestic violence victims.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. In the first six months of the year, police received 101,000 domestic violence complaints, which is a 40 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019. Spousal abuse was common. The HRMMU reported the spread of COVID-19 and the implementation of quarantine measures exacerbated the situation. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, approximately 2,900 cases of domestic violence were investigated during the first nine months of the year. Police issued approximately 81,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited.

According to the NGO La Strada, quarantine restrictions made it difficult for victims of domestic violence to receive help. From mid-March to early May–the period during which the most severe quarantine restrictions were in place–human rights groups noted a decrease in the responsiveness of police officers to cases of domestic violence. Victims faced increased difficulty in accessing domestic violence shelters due to the requirement to obtain a hospital certificate declaring they were not infected with COVID-19 before the shelters would provide social services.

According to press reports, on June 29, a 50-year-old man beat his 46-year-old wife in their home in Drohobych, Lviv Oblast. The woman sustained grave bodily injuries and later died in the local hospital. The man was arrested on murder charges and faces seven to 10 years in prison. As of mid-September, police were conducting a pretrial investigation.

According to La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region has led to a surge in violence against women across the country in recent years. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to post-traumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many said they fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

As of late September, the government operated 28 shelters for survivors of domestic violence and 21 centers for social and psychological aid across the country for survivors of domestic violence and child abuse.

Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a person to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Romani women sometimes faced barriers in managing their reproductive health, including segregation in maternity wards and other forms of discrimination. Some groups opposed contraception on religious grounds.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence–including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence–but human rights groups said these services were sometimes unreliable and often did not reach Romani communities.

Women in Crimea accessed reproductive health care through services funded by the Russian occupation authorities, private insurance, and NGO programs; however, no Ukrainian or international monitors had access to Crimea, making it difficult to assess the state of reproductive health care there. A 2020 UN Population Fund report found that 81 percent of surveyed married or in-union women ages 15 to 49 reported they made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights, including deciding on their own health care, deciding on the use of contraception, and consenting to sex. According to a 2020 WHO World Health Statistics report, 100 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel (based on primary data from 2010-2019); the adolescent birth rate was 19.1 percent (ages 15-19 years; based on primary data from 2010-2018); and 68 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods (based on primary data from 2010-2019).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: While the law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the government commissioner on gender policy, women on average received 30 percent lower salaries than men. The Ministry of Health maintained a list of 50 occupations that remain prohibited for women. Women experienced discrimination in pay and in access to retirement and pension benefits (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in the Donbas region remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russian occupation authorities or Russia-led forces routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of the Donbas had to present documents obtained in Russian-controlled territory to Ukrainian courts in order to receive Ukrainian government-issued documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions under Russian control faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life, depending on severity. The law criminalizes sexual relations between adults and persons younger than 16; violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. The criminal code qualifies sexual relations with a person younger than 14 as rape.

Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

Authorities did not take effective measures to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsperson for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, particularly violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.

According to press reports, on June 25, Kyiv police officers responded to a report that a six-year-old boy had fallen out the window of an apartment. When police arrived at the boy’s home, they observed the boy’s mother and godfather were intoxicated. A search of the home and interview with witnesses led police to conclude the boy had been beaten unconscious by his godfather. The boy was taken to a hospital, where he died from his injuries one week later. Police detained the boy’s godfather and investigated the case as suspected premeditated murder.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry if it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest. Romani rights groups reported early marriages involving girls younger than 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for rape of a minor is eight years. Molesting a child younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child younger than 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.

Sexual exploitation of children remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem. In late May a 44-year-old man was arrested in Vinnytsya Oblast for allegedly having filmed himself molesting his minor child and distributing the pornographic content on the internet. An investigation was still open as of mid-September.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example, in February cyber police in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast arrested a 59-year-old man who was suspected of the rape of a minor and the production and distribution of pornographic items. An investigation was underway as of October.

Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. A government strategy for 2017-26 calls for the transformation of the institutionalized child-care system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children. As of early 2020, the government’s progress towards this strategy was slow, with the number of children in orphanages dropping from 106,000 to 100,000 over three years. During the year, as a COVID-19 preventative measure, the government transferred 42,000 children back to families without conducting prior checks to verify family conditions. UNICEF raised concerns this action could put the children at risk of abuse.

Human rights groups and media outlets reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

In early September the head physician of the Izmayil boarding school in Odesa Oblast was charged with molesting children under his care. Local police opened an investigation.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, the Jewish population was approximately 103,600, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the total population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities, there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Estimates of the Jewish population in Crimea and the Donbas region were not available, although before the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the Jewish association, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish persons lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, three cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of October 1. The group recorded approximately six cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of October 1, compared with 10 incidents during the same period in 2019.

On July 28, a man attacked a guard in a synagogue in Mariupol, striking him several times with an ax. The guard managed to disarm the perpetrator, who threw plastic bags filled with sand and feces before fleeing. The attacker escaped to Russia, where he was detained. As of late September, he was in a pretrial detention facility in Rostov-on-Don.

On January 10, at least four Jewish pilgrims were reportedly hospitalized after they were attacked with knives and sticks by approximately 30 persons in Uman. According to eyewitnesses, local law enforcement arrived on the scene but took little action as the mob moved through the town seeking Jewish victims. Also in Uman, on October 24, three men attacked two Jewish teenagers, one of whom suffered a facial wound from a knife, according to media reports.

Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Rivne, Kherson, Mariupol, Vinnytsya, Uman, Bogdanovka, Kirovgrad, and other cities. According to press reports, on January 20, a man vandalized a monument to victims of the Holocaust in Kryvy Rih in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Police investigated the case, and in May a local court gave the man a three-year suspended sentence for desecration of a memorial. On April 21, an individual firebombed a Jewish community center in Kherson, burning the front door. The governor of Kherson quickly denounced the attack. Police arrested two suspects on May 9, and on August 4, the Kherson Prosecutor’s Office announced it would charge the suspects with “arson” and “damage to a religious building.” Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued operation of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv.

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments. Some were renamed in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).

Patients in mental-health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and treatments. In a report published in January about its April 2019 visit, the Council of Europe’s CPT expressed concerns about incidents of inter-resident violence in psychoneurological institutions. The report also noted that understaffing limited the provision of psychosocial therapy services.

On August 1, the Poltava Oblast Prosecutor’s Office announced the opening of a criminal case in response to violations identified during its inspection of the Poltava psychiatric facility. The violations included overcrowding and inadequate protection of privacy rights. As of November, the criminal case continued.

On June 30, the public television channel UA:Pershyi released a documentary film that alleged medical staff at the Ostroh Regional Psychiatric Hospital mistreated residents. In the film, a patient and his family members accused medical staff of beating him. The hospital took disciplinary actions against four of the staff members allegedly involved in the abuse, and on July 2, the Rivne Prosecutor’s Office announced it had opened a pretrial investigation into the allegations.

Law enforcement generally took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies.

The law provides every child with a disability the right to study at mainstream secondary schools (which usually include primary, middle, and high school-level education) as well as for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the president’s commissioner for the rights of children, 12,000 children with disabilities went to regular schools within the program of inclusive education.

Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine suffered from a lack of appropriate care and education.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problematic. According to the most recent data from the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, 61 xenophobic incidents (attacks, vandalism, and “public expressions of xenophobia”) occurred in 2019. Human rights organizations stated the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

On July 19, three students from the Democratic Republic of Congo were attacked by five men as they hailed a taxi on a street in Kyiv. One of the attackers fired a gun into the air during the attack. The students alleged the men taunted them for their skin color. Police launched a criminal investigation on the charge of “violation of equality of citizens based on their race, nationality, religious beliefs, disability, and on other grounds combined with violence.”

The most frequent reports of societal violence against national/racial/ethnic minorities were against Roma. In one example, human rights groups reported that on August 29, approximately 500 residents of the village of Andriyivka in Kharkiv Oblast gathered to demand the eviction of Romani families living in the district. Following the rally, participants gathered outside a house belonging to Romani families and threw eggs and stones at its windows. Police evacuated the families and helped them relocate with anonymity. Police opened an investigation of the incident. Similarly, on April 29, two young men attacked a Romani family of four at their settlement camp in Kyiv. The attackers forced the family from their tent in the early morning hours, verbally harassed the mother, and kicked the father. They then set the tent and its contents on fire, forcing the family to flee the camp. Police said they did not investigate the incident because the family had not insisted on an investigation.

Human rights activists remained concerned about the lack of accountability in cases of attacks on Roma and the government’s failure to address societal violence and harassment against Roma.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to Council of Europe experts, 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, 40 percent had no documents, and only 1 percent had a university degree. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms. Officials also expressed anti-Romani sentiments and encouraged discrimination.

On May 22, at a weekly city council meeting, the mayor of Ivano-Frankivsk called for the expulsion of all Roma from the city, alleging that Roma were violating COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Police subsequently forcibly relocated 10 Romani individuals from the city. At the direction of the minister of internal affairs, police initiated criminal proceedings against the mayor on charges of discrimination.

The enforcement of pandemic-related measures exacerbated governmental and societal discrimination against Roma. According to the HRMMU, many Romani individuals with informal and seasonal employment lost their livelihoods during the quarantine period. Many of these individuals lacked personal identification documents, and therefore had difficulty accessing medical care, social services, pensions, and formal employment.

Many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

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

There was societal violence against LGBTI persons often perpetrated by members of violent radical groups, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. The LGBTI rights organization Nash Mir noted that criminal proceedings for attacks against members of the LGBTI community were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carried heavier penalties. For example, on April 30, a group of men robbed, beat, and sexually assaulted a 19-year-old transgender man in Zhytomyr while shouting homophobic slurs. Media outlets reported the attackers stripped the man naked, broke his nose, and threatened him with rape before robbing him. Police filed the case as a “robbery” and refused to investigate it as a possible hate crime. An investigative judge subsequently added a hate crime charge.

On February 1, four men disrupted a closed training on sexual orientation and gender identity for journalists in Vinnytsya. Three masked attackers broke into the premises, doused one of the organizers with oil and threw feathers at her, and shouted “No LGBT garbage in Vinnytsya.” The organizers had requested protection in an official letter to police prior to the event, but police did not arrive at the scene until they received a call after the attack. Police launched an investigation of the incident.

According to Nash Mir, violent radical groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTI events with violence or threats of violence (see examples in section 2.b.).

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.

A UN report noted that Russia-led forces’ regular use of identify checks in the “DPR” and “LPR” and at the line of contact put transgender persons at constant risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and connected abuses, given the lack of identity documents matching their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law, however, establishes low penalties for noncompliance with collective bargaining agreements by employers. The low penalties are insufficient to ensure employers comply with collective bargaining agreements, making it easier to pay a penalty than to launch negotiations.

There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers described court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. For example, two laws establish the status of trade unions as legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws creates obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including atypical and irregular requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and significantly hinders strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires initial consultation, conciliation and mediation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Workers may vote to strike only after completion of this process, a decision that the courts may still block. The requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called further restricts the right to strike. The government can also deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public-service sector.

Legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code make it difficult for independent unions that are not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. Such hurdles hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively. Penalties for labor law violations were raised in 2019 to make them commensurate with those for other similar laws but were not consistently applied.

In September workers in the Zhovtneva Mine began an underground protest to address low wages and unsafe work conditions. The strikes spread to three other mines, encompassing 400 miners. Workers and employers initially agreed to terms; however, the employer ultimately filed a lawsuit against the protests and union officials. On October 16, after 43 days of underground striking, the workers ended the protest. Miners and mine management reportedly signed a memorandum in which the parties agreed on 10 percent increase of miners’ salaries starting on October 1, a waiver of prosecution of those miners who took part in the protests, and the payment of salaries for those days miners spent underground.

Worker rights advocates continued to express concerns about the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the Federation of Trade Unions enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the federation a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the federation from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than two decades.

Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to enforce the law sufficiently.

During the year the IOM responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation.

Nearly all trafficking victims identified in the first half of the year were subjected to forced labor and labor exploitation. The most prevalent sectors for forced labor exploitation were construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. The vast majority of victims identified in the first half of the year had a university degree or vocational education. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government has not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of forced labor. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

According to the results of a 2019 IOM survey, 30 percent of Ukrainian migrants working abroad had no regular employment status, rendering them vulnerable to forced labor. The estimated number of Ukrainians working abroad at the time of the survey was 1,051,000, up from previous estimates. According to the IOM study, Human Trafficking in the Context of Armed Conflict in Ukraine (2019), persons who were extremely vulnerable to forced labor included: internally displaced persons and persons living within 12 miles of the conflict line, especially women with children; persons living in areas that were not under government control; persons with disabilities or physical injuries, chronic conditions, and serious health issues (including mental health issues); elderly persons; persons facing socioeconomic difficulties; children; and national minorities.

The government continued to rely on international organizations and NGOs with international donor funding to identify victims and provide the vast majority of victim protection and assistance.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but were inconsistently applied. While the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections.

From January to August, the State Service on Labor conducted 1,539 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The decrease in the number of inspections from the previous year was due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. The inspections identified 28 employers engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 11 were in the service sector, five in the industrial sector, two in the agricultural sector, and 10 in other areas. The inspections uncovered 29 cases of undeclared labor and three of minors receiving undeclared wages. Child labor in amber mining remained a growing problem, according to media sources.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The limited collection of penalties imposed for child labor violations, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but they were not sufficient to deter violations, and the burden of proof in discrimination cases is still on an employee.

Under the law women were not allowed to work the same hours as men; women were prohibited from occupying jobs deemed dangerous, which men were permitted to hold; and women were prohibited from working in all of the same industries as men.

Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the State Statistics Office, men earned on average 20 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market; women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage, which is above the poverty level. Some employees working in the informal economy received wages below the established minimum.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.

The law requires employers to provide appropriate workplace safety standards. Employers sometimes ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. Employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country increased during the year through August to 3.4 billion hryvnias ($129 million) from 2.8 billion hryvnias ($118 million) in September 2019. The majority of wage arrears occurred in the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector had reached almost 888 million hryvnias ($32 million). Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

In September 2019 the government changed the labor-related authorities of the Ministry of Social Policy and transferred responsibility for employment, labor, and labor migration to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Agriculture. Moreover, the State Labor Service (Labor Inspectorate) has also been transferred to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Agriculture.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health laws. Penalties ranged from the administrative to the criminal and were not consistently applied. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance and the inspectorate lacked sufficient funding, technical capacity, and professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies also inhibited enforcement.

Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources. This includes information the service learns concerning potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce, its production volumes, and industry norms, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.

While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees about labor rights and best practices.

In August 2019 the government implemented labor legislation that expands the list of possible grounds for labor inspections conducted by the State Labor Service, its territorial bodies, and municipalities. It also allows the labor inspector not to report on the inspection visit if there is a suspicion of undeclared work. When inspectors find cases of labor violations, they are authorized to hold the perpetrator liable if there is clear evidence of labor inspection violations.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job.

In the context of the pandemic, a COVID-19 infection in a medical worker was deemed a workplace accident.

During the first eight months of the year, authorities reported 3,231 individual injuries, including 296 fatalities.

Despite active fighting close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.

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