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Benin

Executive Summary

Benin is a stable constitutional presidential republic. In 2016 voters elected Patrice Talon to a five-year term as president in a multiparty election, replacing former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who served two consecutive five-year terms. In 2015 authorities held legislative elections in which former president Yayi’s supporting coalition, Cowry Force for an Emerging Benin, won 33 of 83 seats in the National Assembly, and the coalition allied with four independent candidates held 37 seats (a decrease from 41 in the prior legislature). International observers viewed both the 2016 presidential and 2015 legislative elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included incidents of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; rape and violence against girls and women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; and child labor.

Impunity was a problem. Although the government made an effort to control corruption and abuses, including by prosecuting and punishing public officials, sometimes officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law and constitution prohibit such practices, but such incidents occurred. According to the December 2017 report of a journalist who conducted an investigation of the country’s prisons, established inmates subjected new detainees to physical abuse, torture, and other degrading treatment. The report indicated that prison staff were aware of this situation, but the prison service denied the allegation.

On February 19, five police officers in Parakou beat a man to death who fled after being stopped for using a cell phone while driving. The police officers were arrested the day of the incident and charged with assault and battery causing death. On April 17, they appeared before a judge of the Court of Parakou who ordered they be held pending further investigation of the case. The officers remained in prison at year’s end.

In 2017 the United Nations received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse concerning a Beninese police officer serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The investigation determined the allegation to be substantiated. The United Nations repatriated the individual, who was subsequently jailed in Benin.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate food, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding and lack of proper sanitation, potable water, and medical facilities posed risks to prisoners’ health. Authorities held juveniles at times with adults and pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although not with the most violent convicts.

According to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report on the country’s prisons, conditions in the country’s 10 civil prisons were inhuman, with overcrowding, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and disease common. The inmate populations of eight of these prisons significantly exceeded capacity. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Lighting was inadequate. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support. Prison authorities forced prisoners to pay “bed taxes” for spaces to sleep and made sick prisoners in the civil prison of Cotonou pay to visit the hospital.

The bar association report stated that the prison population as of November 2017 totaled 7,358 inmates (including pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners) and that pretrial detainees constituted 90 percent of the population. The numbers of detainees held in police stations and in military detention centers, however, were not included in these data.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed visitors, but, according to Watchdog on the Justice System in Benin, they charged visitors amounts ranging from 500 CFA francs to 1,000 CFA francs ($1 to $2).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. Organizations that visited prisons included the local chapter of Prison Fellowship, Caritas, Prisons Brotherhood, Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture, the French Development Agency, Rotaract (Rotary International), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Prisoners without Borders.

Improvements: The government made several improvements to detention conditions during the year. On August 29, Minister of Justice Severin Quenum oversaw the donation of medical equipment to prison health clinics. During the year the government established a pilot psychological assistance unit to provide mental health services to Cotonou Prison inmates; this was the first of several planned prison system units. Completion of construction of the Savalou Prison reduced overcrowding, increasing the total number of prisons in the country to 11.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if the arrest or detention was unlawful.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Beninese Armed Forces (FAB) are responsible for external security. The Republican Police, formed during the year through a merger of police and gendarmes, are under the Ministry of Interior and have primary responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order in urban and rural areas.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses. Impunity was a problem, however. Police leadership often did not punish and sometimes protected officers who committed abuses. Individuals may file complaints of police abuse with police leadership, the lower courts, the mediator of the republic (ombudsman), or the Constitutional Court. In 2016, in an attempt to increase police accountability, the minister of interior established two telephone “Green Lines” that individuals may call to report police wrongdoing. The inspector general of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious, sensitive, and complex cases involving police personnel. The mandate of the division is to conduct administrative and judicial investigations involving police and to advise the director of the Republican Police on disciplinary action.

On March 1, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Republican Police Anti-Crime Squad in the city of Parakou and its commander violated the constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s rights related to the inviolability of human life. The ruling was based on the fact that two individuals died and the Anti-Crime Squad seriously injured three others when it dispersed persons attending the induction ceremony of the king of Parakou, deemed illegal by the mayor of Parakou. The court also ruled that victims were entitled to reparations.

On May 2, the minister of interior and public security dismissed 27 heads of police and gendarme units following an audit that found they had mismanaged government funds. The audit stated the 27 police officers and gendarmes diverted the funds for purposes other than their intended purposes or used the funds without proper justification.

Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses committed by members of the military. The councils have no jurisdiction over civilians. The country has no military tribunal, so civilian courts deal with serious crimes involving the military.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official, and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours, but this requirement was not always observed. After examining a detainee, the judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs including narcotics, the judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail; however, the attorney general must agree to the request. They have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. The government provided counsel to indigents in criminal cases. Suspects were not detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or without access to an attorney.

There were credible reports gendarmes and police often exceeded the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests and detentions occurred. In January 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that police violated the 48-hour limit on holding a suspect in a commercial dispute without a hearing before a magistrate. The court ruled that suspects may only be held for more than 48 hours if accused of violating a criminal law and only after appearing before a judge who must authorize the extension. On October 18, the Constitutional Court ruled on the pretrial detention of a detainee held since 2011 violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights because it was arbitrary and disregarded the detainee’s right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases as no more than five years and for misdemeanors as no more than three years. Approximately 90 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees; 20 percent of pretrial detainees were held in excess of five years, according to a 2017 Benin Bar Association report. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Prosecuting officials at the Public Prosecutor’s Office are government appointed, making them susceptible to government influence. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

On May 18, the National Assembly passed two bills amending and supplementing the judicial system and the criminal procedure code to create a specialized antiterrorism, drugs, and financial crimes court (CRIET). CRIET verdicts may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but its mandate is limited to considering whether procedures were followed and relevant laws applied. Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bills establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances, the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. In 2016 the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.

There were a large number of public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press.

Press and Media Freedom: The press and media were closely regulated, and the government considered itself to have an essential role in preventing the press from behaving in an “irresponsible” or “destabilizing” way. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and a mandate to protect the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On May 24, HAAC suspended the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune (LNT) for publishing “abusive, outrageous, detrimental, and intrusive” language deemed offensive regarding the president’s private life. On June 3, LNT Editor-in-Chief Vincent Foly stated that the newspaper was specifically targeted for publishing opinion pieces criticizing Talon administration policy, not for criticism of the president personally. The local press, civil society, and press-watchdog organizations objected to LNT’s suspension. Editor Foly filed a civil suit alleging wrongdoing against HAAC President Adam Boni Tessi with the Court of Cotonou. On October 12, the court announced that the case was not within its jurisdiction.

In May 2017 the Court of Cotonou ordered HAAC to authorize the reopening of Sikka TV affiliate Ideal Production, which it had suspended in 2016. The court ordered HAAC to pay 50 million CFA francs ($90,252) in damages. The court decision did not allow Sikka TV to resume direct broadcasting; its broadcasts, however, were available via satellite or internet.

Independent media were generally active and expressed a variety of views without restriction; however, the press tended to criticize the government less freely and frequently than in previous years. An independent nongovernmental media ethics commission censured some journalists for unethical conduct, such as reporting falsehoods or inaccuracies or releasing information that was embargoed by the government.

The government owned and operated the most influential media organizations. HAAC controlled broadcast range and infrastructure. Private television and radio coverage was poorer due to inadequate equipment and limited broadcast ranges awarded to them by HAAC.

Most citizens were illiterate, lived in rural areas, and generally received news via radio. The state-owned National Broadcasting Company broadcast in French and in 18 local languages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC publicly warned media outlets against publishing information related to legal cases pending before criminal courts because this could be interpreted as an attempt to influence court rulings. It was possible to purchase and thus influence the content of press coverage. HAAC warned media against such practices. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may not be prosecuted for libel and slander but may face prosecution and fines for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. The digital code, however, criminalizes use of social media for “incitements to hatred and violence.” On October 2, the Court of Cotonou convicted Sabi Sira Korogone of incitement of hatred and violence, incitement of rebellion, and “racially motivated slander” for statements posted on a social media sites. The court sentenced him to imprisonment for one year and a fine of three million CFA francs ($5,415). There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 14.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government generally respected these rights. There were no instances of denial on political grounds.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

The government requires advance notification for use of public places for demonstrations. Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

On May 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the prefect of Littoral Modeste Toboula Department violated the constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights related to freedom of assembly and public liberties. The court ruled he did so by issuing a decree on March 13 that restricted antigovernment demonstrations by requiring prior registration and approval by the Ministry of Interior. The court stated that requiring registration with the Ministry of Interior violated the enjoyment of fundamental liberties.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were, however, instances where the government violated freedom of association.

In March 2017 the Constitutional Court overturned a Council of Ministers decree banning the activities of university student groups as a violation of the right to freedom of association. The decree claimed that student groups were engaged in military training and intended to disrupt public security and peace. The court ruled that the government’s public order concerns did not justify the suspension of citizens’ constitutional rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the country held the first and second rounds of the presidential election. The vote proceeded calmly and credibly despite minor technical irregularities. Local and international observers unanimously characterized the voting process as peaceful and orderly. Observers identified delays in the provision of voting materials at some polling stations and evidence of training gaps of polling agents but no anomalies that would cast the fundamental integrity of the election into doubt. In 2015 authorities conducted legislative elections for 83 National Assembly seats. Observers viewed the elections as generally free, fair, and transparent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. President Talon appointed only four female ministers to his 22-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. For example, on March 15, President of the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC) Jean-Baptiste Elias announced that the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development had awarded a contract for the purchase of 84 motorcycles to the highest bidder at a cost of more than five times their market value. The minister of economy and finance voided the contract and suspended the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development procurement officer who awarded the contract along with eight members of his office from engaging in public procurement activities for one year and six months respectively.

It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

The government took a number of actions during the year to combat corruption. For example, on July 24, the National Assembly lifted the immunity of three National Assembly deputies from the parliamentary opposition group. Deputies Idrissou Bako, Valentin Djenontin, and Atao Hinnouho faced charges of embezzlement, money laundering, and customs fraud.

Corruption: There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On August 21, the Court of Abomey Calavi convicted six local officials of illegal fundraising and embezzlement of public funds. The six received sentences ranging from three months’ to six months’ imprisonment, but the sentences were suspended.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected public officials. Declarations are not made available to the public. On August 27, President of the ANLC Jean-Baptiste Elias stated that the president and all cabinet members, and officials of the Supreme Court, HAAC, the Independent Electoral Commission, the ANLC, the High Court of Justice, and the Office of the Ombudsman submitted asset disclosure statements. Elias added, however, that only 58 of the 82 sitting National Assembly deputies, eight of the 30 members of the Economic and Social Council, four of the 12 members of the Authority for Public Procurement Regulation, and one of the eight members of the Authority for Electronic Communication and Post Regulation had submitted declarations. Elias threatened to refer delinquent cases to the Supreme Court for punitive action. The penalty for failure to submit an asset disclosure is a fine of six times the monthly wage of the official concerned. This penalty has never been applied.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s ombudsman was independent, adequately resourced, and effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims’ unwillingness to report cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Prison sentences for rape convictions range from one to five years. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Domestic violence against women was common, however. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.

Government officials and judges acknowledged that the number of rape cases increased during the year throughout the country. On March 29, Prosecutor General of the Cotonou Court of Appeals Emmanuel Opita stated that rape of minors was on the rise and noted that 13 cases of rape of a minor were referred to the court during the first criminal session of the year.

On April 10, the Criminal Court of Cotonou sentenced military member Martin Nouhoumon to 10 years of hard labor for the 2015 rape of a five-year-old girl at a school located near a military barracks in Cotonou.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to six million CFA francs ($10,830). Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C.

The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, made progress in raising public awareness of the dangers of the practice. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common, especially of female students by their male teachers. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years in prison and fines ranging from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($180 to $1,805). The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation, however, and prosecutors and police lacked the legal knowledge and skills to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to deal with sexual abuses involving minors. There were reports of increasing rates of schoolgirl pregnancies. In many reported cases, male teachers were responsible for these pregnancies. On June 7, Minister of Secondary Education, Technical and Vocational Training Mahougnon Kakpo warned male teachers against sexual harassment of girls at an event to launch a sexual health education program in Cotonou.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses.

The law on persons and the family bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country to a citizen father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

On June 11, the National Assembly passed a bill authorizing vital records offices to issue provisional birth certificates on an exceptional basis to persons lacking one who were enrolled in the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population program (see section 2, Stateless Persons).

Education: Primary education was compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education was tuition-free for primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was approximately 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.

Child Abuse: Children suffered multiple forms of abuse, including rape, sexual harassment, and abduction. The Child Code bans a wide range of harmful practices. The law provides for heavy fines and penalties with up to life imprisonment for convicted violators. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage under age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. Early and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice.

In June 2017 the government, in partnership with UNICEF, launched a nationwide “Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage” campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children and their communities. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring and facilitating prostitution; it increases penalties for cases involving children under age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and fines of one million to 10 million CFA francs ($1,805 to $18,050). The Child Code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines ranging from two to five million CFA francs ($3,610 to $9,025).

Violence against children was common. According to the Center for Social Promotion of Aplahoue, from January to October there were 38 reported cases of rape, abduction, forced marriage, and trafficking of girls in the Southwestern region of the country alone. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, or fear of police involvement.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. A survey conducted by the NGO Franciscans-Benin reported the practice continued in 11 communes in the north of the country during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

On April 13, the National Assembly approved the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. The act provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, mental, and communication disabilities, against all forms of exploitation and violence. It offers a wide range of social benefits to persons with disabilities, including improved access to health care, education, vocational training, transportation, and sports and leisure activities. It includes provisions regarding the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. It requires schools to enroll children with disabilities. On August 7, the government, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program, held a workshop in Cotonou to examine draft enforcement decrees. There were no reports of violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

The Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin reported that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, health care, access to education, and access to justice.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Support Fund for National Solidarity.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. A provision related to public indecency in the penal code, however, may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. The law prohibits all forms of discrimination without specific reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

There were no reports of criminal or civil cases involving consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Members of the LGBTI community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks, and incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. Unlike in prior years, the press reported only one case of mob justice during the year. On August 21, residents of the neighborhood of Sekandji Gbago in the Seme Kpodji Commune burned to death a man accused of stealing a motorcycle. No one was arrested by year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level.

In September 2017 the secretaries-general of six trade union confederations issued a joint statement condemning the arrest and 60-day confinement of Captain Patrice Trekpo, the acting general secretary of the Water, Forests, and Hunting Union of Benin. Trekpo was arrested after decrying poor management and bad working conditions for personnel in Pendjari National Park in a local television appearance. He also criticized a park management contract awarded to South African-based NGO African Parks Network, accusing the NGO of plundering the wildlife resources of Pendjari National Park. The six union leaders considered Trekpo’s arrest and confinement to be a violation of trade union law. The government argued that Trekpo’s status as a member of a paramilitary organization superseded his status as a union leader, the arrest was lawful under legal provisions pertaining to paramilitary organizations, and Trekpo’s statements were tantamount to “incitement to rebellion.” In September 2017 an appeal was filed with the Constitutional Court, asking the court to declare Trekpo’s arrest and confinement unconstitutional. In December 2017 the minister of environment and sustainable development dismissed Trekpo. On February 20, in response to the appeal, the Constitutional Court declared that the case was outside its jurisdiction.

The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor and civil service has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions. On May 11 and September 13 respectively, the commission held two ordinary sessions.

In 2016 the government, the National Employers’ Association, and six union confederations signed a “National Charter of Social Dialogue” including several measures to be undertaken by the parties to enhance dialogue while fostering democracy and good governance in a climate of social accord and national unity. In June 2017 the government approved two decrees to establish a National Social Dialogue Council and to appoint its members. The council is intended to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining.

The law provides for the right to strike, but prior notification must be provided. The merchant marine code grants seafarers the right to organize but not the right to strike. A trade union considering a strike should notify, in writing, the leadership of the concerned entity and the minister of labor and civil service at least three days before the start of the strike. The notification letter should mention the reasons for the strike; the location, date, and start time of the strike; and the expected duration of the strike. Authorities do not formally grant permission to strike, but strikes that fail to comply with these requirements are deemed illegal.

The law provides that civil servants, public- and private-entity workers, and parastatal employees who provide essential services to maintain minimum services during strikes. The law provides for a discretionary determination of “essential services” and defines them as services pertaining to health care, security, energy, water, air transport, and telecommunication. Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following a strike.

On September 4, the National Assembly passed Act No 2018-35 Amending and Supplementing Act No 2001-09 of 2002 related to the right to strike; in October the president implemented the law. The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all civil servants, local government personnel, public- and private-sector workers, and parastatal employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military and paramilitary personnel–including police, customs, and water, forest and hunting officers–are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers that carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication, with the exception of private radio and television broadcasters. Another provision provides that strikes motivated by the violation of fundamental rights and universally recognized union rights may not prompt salary deductions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.

Workers discussed labor-related issues with employers through the National Consultation and Collective Bargaining Commission. The commission held sessions and met with the government to discuss workers’ claims and propose solutions. Information regarding whether or not remedies and penalties had deterrent effects was not available.

The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. With the exception of merchant shipping employees, workers exercised their right to strike. Civil servants went on strike throughout the year. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and with regard to the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported.

On January 4, the National Assembly passed legislation abolishing the right to strike for workers in the health, security, and justice sectors. The move triggered a general strike by the National Union of Magistrates, paralyzing the administration of justice. On January 18, the Constitutional Court struck down these provisions stating that the right to strike is a constitutional right that should be protected. The court in its decision urged the National Assembly to regulate the right to strike instead of banning it. On June 28, the Constitutional Court reversed the previous court ruling on the right to strike for government workers in the defense, justice, security, and health sectors, giving as justification the greater societal good of providing that essential state functions are performed without interruption.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions. The law allows for imprisonment with compulsory labor. By law authorities may exact work from military conscripts that is not of a purely military character. Laws regulating various acts or activities relating to the exercise of freedom of expression allow imposition of prison sentences involving obligation to perform social rehabilitation work. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred, including domestic servitude and bonded labor by children. Forced labor was mainly found in the agricultural (e.g., cotton and palm oil), artisanal mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial, and construction sectors. Many traffickers were relatives or acquaintances of their victims, exploiting the traditional system of vidomegon, in which parents allow their children to live with and work for richer relatives, usually in urban areas (see section 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government has established laws and regulations related to child labor, including its worst forms. The List of Hazardous Occupations sets the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at age 18. The list identifies 21 trades prohibited for children and defines 74 related hazardous activities. Specific trades noted on the list include mining and quarrying, domestic service, and agriculture. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The labor code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children under age 14 in any enterprise; children between ages 12 and 14, however, may perform domestic work and temporary or light seasonal work if it does not interfere with their compulsory schooling. The code bans night work for workers under age 18 unless a special dispensation is granted by the government in consultation with the National Labor Council. Workers under age 18 are entitled to a minimum 12-hour uninterrupted break including the nighttime period.

The Labor Office, under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, enforced the labor code only in the formal sector due to a lack of inspectors. The total number of inspections conducted during the year was unavailable. Penalties for those convicted of violating laws were sufficiently strict to serve as a deterrent and ranged from 140,000 CFA francs ($253) to 350,000 CFA francs ($632), sentences of two months to one year in prison, or both.

Labor laws were not effectively enforced. Despite the government’s limited capacity to enforce child labor laws, the government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and prevent compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems. These initiatives were part of the Labor Office’s traditional sensitization program. The government also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population regarding child labor and child trafficking. The ministries of Justice and Labor and Civil Service, supported capacity building for officials and agencies responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

During the year authorities prosecuted perpetrators of child labor violations in connection with child trafficking. In April 2017 security forces intercepted two Togolese sisters, ages 17 and 16, at the Benin-Nigeria border; the sisters were on their way to Badagry in Nigeria for domestic servitude. The man accompanying the two girls claimed he was taking them from Togo to Badagry to live with their older sister, who was his wife. The police station of Krake sent the two girls and the suspected trafficker to the Central Office for Minors’ Protection, which investigated the case and referred it to the Court of Cotonou for legal action. The suspect was in detention pending trial at year’s end.

To help support their families, children of both sexes, including those as young as age seven, worked on family farms, in small businesses, on construction sites in urban areas, in public markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of vidomegon. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an education.

Host families did not always honor their part of the vidomegon arrangement, and abuse and forced labor of child domestic servants was a problem. Children often faced long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation; factors indicative of forced labor and exploitation of children in domestic servitude. Sometimes the child’s parents and the urban family that raised the child divided the income generated by the child’s activities. Up to 95 percent of children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.

A majority of children working as apprentices were under the legal age of 14 for apprenticeship, including children working in construction, car and motorbike repair, hairdressing, and dressmaking. Children worked as laborers with adults in quarries, including crushing granite, in many areas. Children were at times forced to hawk goods and beg, and street children engaged in prostitution (see section 6). Children under age 14 worked in either the formal or informal sectors in the following activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works, trade and vending, food and beverages, transportation, and other services, including employment as household staff.

Children are required to attend only six years of primary school, through age 11. Children ages 12 to 13 are particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they may have completed primary school but are under the minimum legal working age of 14.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or domestic workers, often on the understanding that the children’s wages would be sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring countries, including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana, for labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and labor code prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, and disability. The laws, however, do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or other communicable disease status. The government, in general, effectively enforced these laws and regulations in most sectors. Women experienced extensive discrimination because of societal attitudes and resistance to behavioral change (see section 6). Women’s wages consistently lagged behind those of men. Employment discrimination occurred in the private and public sectors. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Analysis, the employment rate was 73 percent for men and 69 percent for women in 2011. The prohibitions on discrimination did not apply to the large informal sector.

The labor code includes provisions to protect the employment rights of workers with disabilities, but many experienced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksite.

The Office of Labor is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set minimum wage scales for a number of occupations. In 2014 the government increased the minimum wage to 40,000 CFA francs ($72) per month from 30,000 CFA francs ($54) per month. According to the United Nations Development Program, 60 percent of the population lives on an income of $1.90 a day or less, a poverty level income that is less than the minimum wage.

The labor code establishes a workweek of between 40 to 60 hours, depending on the type of work, and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Domestic and agricultural workers frequently worked 70 hours or more per week, above the maximum of 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week provided for by the labor code. The labor code also mandates premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards (OSH). The government has the authority to require employers to remedy dangerous work conditions but did not effectively do so. Provisions of the law related to acceptable conditions of work apply to all workers. Penalties for violating the labor code were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microfinance were responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage, workweek, and OSH standards. The ministry did not effectively enforce these standards, especially in the large informal sector. Significant parts of the workforce and foreign migrant workers did not benefit from minimum wage scales. Authorities generally enforced legal limits on workweeks in the formal sector but did not effectively monitor or control foreign or migrant workers’ work conditions. Government efforts were impeded by the insufficient number of labor inspectors and lack of resources to implement inspections. There were 75 labor officers; 56 labor inspectors, 15 administrators, and four labor controllers. Random inspections were conducted in some sectors, but no information was available on the number of violations or convictions.

Many workers supplemented their wages by subsistence farming or informal sector trade. Most workers in the formal sector earned more than the minimum wage; many domestic and other laborers in the informal sector earned less. Violations of OSH standards mostly occurred in informal-sector trades, including hairdressing, dressmaking, baking, mechanics, and carpentry, where workers faced biological, chemical, physical, and psychological risks. Children involved in these trades as apprentices worked long hours and were more vulnerable to hazardous working conditions. In some mechanical and carpentry shops, children worked in close proximity to dangerous tools and equipment, and some adults and children lacked adequate protective gear. According to various sources, informal workers accounted for more than 90 percent of workers in the country. Informal workers faced numerous challenges and vulnerabilities, including long working hours and no social security coverage. They often endured substandard working conditions and exposed to occupational risks. No data on workplace fatalities and accidents were available.

The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

Botswana

Executive Summary

Botswana is a constitutional, multiparty, republican democracy.  Its constitution provides for the indirect election of a president and the popular election of a National Assembly.  In 2014 the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the majority of parliamentary seats in an election deemed generally free and fair.  President Ian Khama retained his position until April 1, when at the conclusion of his maximum 10-year term, he stepped down from office and former vice president Mogkweetsi Masisi was sworn in as the country’s fifth president.  The BDP has held the presidency and a majority of National Assembly seats since independence in 1966.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included excessive use of force and abuse by security personnel; criminal libel; corruption; sexual and gender-based violence against women and children; and economic and political marginalization of the Basarwa (San) people.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.  Impunity was generally not a problem.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of police using such tactics.  For example, in October a family reportedly accused the police of torturing their 28-year-old son to death while in police custody.  The police confirmed an individual had died, and investigations were ongoing.  Some laws prescribe corporal punishment for offenders.  Some human rights groups viewed these provisions as cruel and degrading; the Court of Appeals ruled these provisions do not violate the constitution’s provisions on torture or inhuman treatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions:  Authorities occasionally held juveniles with adults, although only for a few days while the juveniles awaited transport.

The Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) is a dedicated facility for processing asylum and other immigration claims by individuals who entered the country illegally.  In December 2017 the INK Center for Investigative Journalism detailed allegations of authorities abusing asylum seekers in the FCII.  International observers noted women and children were housed in tents that provided insufficient protection from heat, cold, and wind.  There was no school at the center, and international observers expressed concern some children were separated from parents at a young age.

Administration:  Authorities investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions brought by inmates against prison officials and took disciplinary or judicial action against persons responsible for abuses.  The law requires the minister of defense, justice, and security to appoint a committee to visit prisons on a quarterly basis, and allows religious authorities to visit with prisoners.  Prisoners in general may also attend religious services.

Independent Monitoring:  The government generally allowed international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to meet with prisoners and permitted independent human rights observers to visits prisons.  The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons.  In August diplomatic missions and UNICEF visited the FCII.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The Botswana Police Service (BPS), under the Ministry of Defense, Justice, and

Security, has primary responsibility for internal security.  The Botswana Defense Force (BDF), which reports to the president through the minister of defense, justice, and security, is responsible for external security and has some domestic security responsibilities.  The Directorate for Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), under the Office of the President, collects and evaluates external and internal intelligence, provides personal protection to high-level government officials, and advises the presidency and government on matters of national security.  Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the BPS, BDF, and DISS, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  There were no reports of impunity involving security forces.

BPS officers received human rights training at the country’s International Law Enforcement Academy.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police must produce an arrest warrant issued by a duly authorized magistrate upon the presentation of compelling evidence, except in certain cases, such as when an officer witnesses a crime being committed or discovers a suspect is in possession of a controlled substance.  DISS personnel have the power to enter premises and make arrests without warrants if the agency suspects a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.  While some civil society representatives criticized DISS under the Khama administration, claiming it did not receive sufficient independent oversight and posed a potential threat to civil liberties, observers generally welcomed the replacement of the DISS director and increased media engagement under President Masisi.

The law requires authorities to inform suspects of their rights upon arrest, including the right to remain silent, and to file charges before a magistrate within 48 hours.  Authorities generally respected these rights.  There were no reports of denial of a suspect’s right to an attorney during the first 48 hours after arrest and arraignment before a magistrate.  A magistrate may order a suspect held for 14 days through a writ of detention, which may be renewed every 14 days.  The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of a person’s detention.

Heavy court caseloads occasionally delayed this determination.  Authorities generally informed detainees of the reason for their detention, although there were some complaints this did not always occur.  There is a functioning bail system, and detention without bail was unusual except in murder cases, where it is mandatory.  Detainees have the right to contact a family member and hire attorneys of their choice, but most could not afford legal counsel.  There were no reports authorities held suspects incommunicado or under house arrest.

Pretrial Detention:  A writ of pretrial detention is valid for 14 days and is renewable every 14 days.  Some detainees, however, waited several weeks or months between the filing of charges and the start of their trials.  Pretrial detention in murder, rape, livestock theft, and robbery cases sometimes exceeded a year, but there were no reports of instances in which the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentences actually imposed.  Delays were largely due to judicial staffing shortages and a backlog of pending cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.  Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and authorities generally informed them promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals if he or she cannot understand the language of the court.  Trials in the civil courts are public, although trials under the National Security Act may be secret.  Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner.  In capital cases the government provides legal counsel, or private attorneys work pro bono for indigent clients.  Courts tried those charged with noncapital crimes without legal representation if they could not afford an attorney.  As a result, many defendants were not aware of their procedural rights in pretrial or trial proceedings.  Defendants may question witnesses against them.  Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and to appeal.  Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt.  The constitution states these rights extend to all citizens.  Some NGOs provided limited, free legal assistance.

In addition to the civil court system, a customary or traditional court system also exists.  According to traditional practice, a tribal chief presides over most small villages.  While customary (traditional) courts enjoyed widespread citizen support and respect, they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal court system.  Although defendants may confront, question, and present witnesses in customary court proceedings, they do not have legal counsel, and there are no standardized rules of evidence.  Customary trials are open to the public, and defendants may present evidence on their own behalf.  Tribal judges, appointed by the tribal leader or elected by the community, determine sentences.  Many tribal judges were poorly trained.  The quality of decisions reached in the customary courts varied considerably, and defendants often lacked a presumption of innocence.  Tribal judges applied corporal punishment, such as lashings on the buttocks, more often than did civil courts.  Those convicted in customary courts may file appeals through the civil court system.

A separate military court system does not try civilians.  Military courts have separate procedures from civil courts.  Defendants in military courts are able to retain private attorneys at their own expense and view evidence to be used against them.  Defendants in military court can have their cases transferred to the civilian judicial system.  Additionally, military personnel can take other military personnel to civilian civil court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

In the formal judicial system, there is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including for human rights cases, which includes a separate industrial court for most labor-related cases.  Administrative remedies were not widely available.  By mutual agreement of the parties involved, customary courts, which handle land, marital, and property disputes, tried most civil cases; they often did not afford the same due process protections as the formal judicial system.  The country has not ratified the protocol that established the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, although individuals and organizations may file complaints regarding domestic decisions with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections:  In 2014 the ruling BDP won a majority of National Assembly seats in a general election deemed by international and domestic observers to be generally free and fair.  President Ian Khama retained the presidency, which he had held since 2008, until April 1, when Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi assumed the office at the end of Khama’s constitutionally limited 10 years in office.

Participation of Women and Minorities:  No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate.  Nevertheless, observers suggested cultural constraints limited the number of women in government.  There were six women in the 65-seat National Assembly, one of whom was the speaker and five of whom served in the 30-member cabinet.  There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.

While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs.  The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights.  In August, however, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted many tribes are unrecognized or unrepresented, and women are underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively.  Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however.  Media reports of government corruption increased during the year.

Corruption:  There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many involving reported mismanagement of the National Petroleum Fund and including allegations directly implicating senior officials in the Khama administration.

The press continued to publish information leaked from a Directorate on

Corruption and Economic Crime investigation of the former director of the DISS, a story first reported in 2014.  The documents allegedly demonstrated substantive links to corruption and money laundering.  On May 2, President Masisi replaced the DISS director.

Financial Disclosure:  There are no formal financial disclosure laws; however, a 2009 presidential directive requires all cabinet ministers to declare their interests, assets, and liabilities to the president.  Critics contended this policy did not go far enough to promote transparency and asserted financial declarations by senior government officials should be available to the public.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime.  Authorities effectively enforced laws against rape when victims pressed charges; however, police noted victims often declined to press charges against perpetrators.  By law the minimum sentence for rape is 10 years in prison, increasing to 15 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIVpositive and unaware, and 20 years with corporal punishment if the offender is HIV-positive and aware.  By law formal courts try all rape cases.  A person convicted of rape is required to undergo an HIV test before sentencing.

The law prohibits domestic and other violence, whether against women or men, but it remained a serious problem.  Although statistics were unavailable, media widely reported on cases of violence against women, including several high-profile murders.  For example, in July police arrested a man suspected to have murdered and decapitated his girlfriend.  The United Nations publicly condemned the murder and “increasing incidences” of violence against women and children.  A local NGO said it appeared more victims were reporting incidents of violence to the police.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment in both the private and public sectors.  Sexual harassment committed by a public officer is considered misconduct and punishable by termination, potentially with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, suspension with loss of pay and benefits for up to three months, reduction in rank or pay, deferment or stoppage of a pay raise, or reprimand.  Nonetheless, sexual harassment, particularly by men in positions of authority, including teachers, continued to be a widespread problem.  For example, two staff members of the Law Society of Botswana filed complaints senior colleagues reportedly had sexually harassed them.

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

Discrimination:  Under the constitution, women and men have the same civil rights and legal status, but under customary law based on tribal practice, a number of traditional laws restricted women’s property rights and economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas.  Women increasingly exercised the right to marriage “out of common property,” in which they retained their full legal rights as adults.  Although labor law prohibits discrimination based on gender and in general the government enforced the law effectively, there is no legal requirement for women to receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration:  In general citizenship is derived from one’s parents, although there are limited circumstances in which citizenship may be derived from birth within the country’s territory.  The government generally registered births promptly; however, unregistered children may be denied some government services.  For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education:  Primary education was tuition free for the first 10 years of school but not compulsory.  Parents must cover school fees as well as the cost of uniforms and books.  These costs could be waived for children whose family income fell below a certain level.

Child Abuse:  The law penalizes neglect and mistreatment of children.  There was reported widespread abuse of children.  For example, according to staff at Tsabong hospital, sexually abused children represented the third highest reason for patient intake, although only a fraction of victims sought treatment.  Staff said in many cases, sexual predators, rather than family members, assault children left unaccompanied during the day.  Child abuse was reported to police in cases of physical harm to a child.  Police referred the children and, depending on the level of abuse, their alleged abuser(s) to counseling in the Department of Social Services within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, as well as to local NGOs.  Police referred some cases to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

Early and Forced Marriage:  Child marriage occurred infrequently and was largely limited to certain tribes.  The government does not recognize marriages that occur when either party is under the minimum legal age of 18.  For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the prostitution and sexual abuse of children.  Sex with a child younger than 16, including a prostituted child, constitutes defilement and is punishable by a minimum of 10 years’ incarceration.  In April parliament amended the penal code raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 years of age.

Child pornography is a criminal offense punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

Displaced Children:  There were small communities of “squatters’ camps” where homeless families lived in makeshift shelters without regular access to water or sanitation.  One such community outside the mining town of Jwaneng had an estimated 200 residents, although numbers fluctuated.  In some cases children were unregistered and did not attend school.  According to an international organization, 61,649 orphans and vulnerable children received government support between April and September 2018.  Once registered as an orphan, a child receives school uniforms, shelter, a monthly food basket, and counseling as needed.

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/InternationalParentalChildAbduction/forproviders/legalreportsanddata.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of antiSemitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but it does not prohibit discrimination by private persons or entities.  The government’s policy provides for integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into all aspects of policymaking.  It mandates access to public buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities, but access for persons with disabilities was limited.  Although new government buildings were being constructed in such a way as to provide access for persons with disabilities, older government office buildings remained largely inaccessible.  Most new privately owned commercial and apartment buildings provided access for persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended school, although in 2017 a human rights NGO raised concern the Children’s Act does not guarantee accessible education to children with disabilities.  In August the UN special rapporteur on minority issues observed most teachers were not trained in sign language or in teaching methods adapted to the educational needs of deaf persons.  The special rapporteur also noted the absence of sign language interpreters in the health care sector inhibited the dissemination of information.  The government made some accommodations during elections to allow for persons with disabilities to vote.

There is a Department of Disability Coordination in the Office of the President to assist persons with disabilities.  The Department of Labor in the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the labor force and investigating claims of discrimination.  Individuals may also bring cases directly to the Industrial Court.  The government funded NGOs that provided rehabilitation services and supported small-scale projects for workers with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The government does not recognize any particular group or tribe as indigenous.

The eight tribes of the Tswana group, which speak mutually intelligible dialects of Setswana, have been politically dominant since independence, are officially recognized by law, and were granted permanent membership in the House of Chiefs.  Constitutional amendments subsequently enabled the recognition of tribes from other groups.

English and Setswana are the only officially recognized languages, a policy human rights organizations and minority tribes criticized, particularly with regard to education, as forcing some children to learn in a nonnative language.  In August the UN special rapporteur on minority issues noted the lack of mother tongue education or incorporation of minority languages into the school curriculum may constitute discrimination, and encouraged the government to review its language policy with regard to education.  In September the minister of basic education stated the government was considering introducing interpreters in primary schools to assist students who spoke languages other than Setswana.

An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 persons belong to one of the many scattered, diverse tribal groups known collectively as Basarwa or San.  The Basarwa constituted approximately 3 percent of the population and are culturally and linguistically distinct from most other residents.  The law prohibits discrimination against the Basarwa in employment, housing, health services, or because of cultural practices; however, the Basarwa remained marginalized economically and politically and generally did not have access to their traditional land.  The Basarwa continued to be geographically isolated, had limited access to education, lacked adequate political representation, and some members were not fully aware of their civil rights.

The government interpreted a 2006 High Court ruling against the exclusion of Basarwa from traditional lands in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to apply only to the 189 plaintiffs, their spouses, and their minor children.  Many of the Basarwa and their supporters continued to object to the government’s interpretation of the court’s ruling.  Negotiations between Basarwa representatives and the government regarding residency and hunting rights in the CKGR stalled after a separate court ruling provided the right to access water through boreholes.

Government officials maintained the resettlement program was voluntary and necessary to facilitate the delivery of public services, provide socioeconomic development opportunities to the Basarwa, and minimize human impact on wildlife.  In 2012 the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues approved a set of nine draft recommendations addressing the impact of land seizures and disenfranchisement of indigenous people.  In 2013 attorneys for the Basarwa filed a High Court case in which the original complainants from the 2006 CKGR case appealed to the government for unrestricted access (i.e., without permits) to the CKGR for their children and relatives.

No government programs directly address discrimination against the Basarwa.  With the exception of CKGR lands designated in the 2006 court ruling, there were no demarcated cultural lands.

In previous years the government charged Basarwa with unlawful possession of hunted carcasses.  In 2014 five Basarwa filed a lawsuit against the minister of environment, natural resource conservation, and tourism over the hunting ban in the CKGR; the case was pending at year’s end.  Meanwhile, President Masisi stated in his November 5 State of the Nation Address the government would act immediately after his administration’s review of the ban had concluded.

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

The law does not explicitly criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct, but it includes language that has been interpreted as criminalizing some aspects of same-sex sexual activity among consenting adults.  The law criminalizes “unnatural acts,” with a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment.  There was widespread belief this was directed against LGBTI persons.  A case challenging the relevant penal code sections remained pending before the court.

There were no reports police targeted persons suspected of same-sex sexual activity.  There were incidents of violence, societal harassment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  The victims of such incidents seldom filed police reports, primarily due to stigma but occasionally as a result of overt official intimidation.  In November Lesbian, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo), a group that advocates for LGBTI rights, condemned an attack on a transgender person near Gaborone recorded on video and shared on social media.

In September 2017 the High Court ruled in favor of a transgender man who sued the Registrar of National Registration to change from female to male the gender indicated on his government-issued identity document.  In a separate case, in December 2017 the Gaborone High Court ordered the registrar of births and deaths to amend the gender marker on a transgender applicant’s birth certificate from male to female within seven days, and to reissue the applicant’s national identity document within 21 days.

A major international LGBTI conference and public meetings of LGBTI advocacy groups and debates on LGBTI issues occurred without disruption or interference.  In 2016 the Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 High Court ruling ordering the government to register LeGaBiBo formally.  LeGaBiBo has since participated in government-sponsored events.  In October the minister of health and wellness posted on social media seeking input on policy direction with the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to UNAIDS data for 2017, the HIV prevalence rate for adults ages 15 to 49 was approximately 23 percent.  According to the UN Population Fund, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly services, as well as gender-based violence, contributed to high HIV rates.  The government funded community organizations that ran antidiscrimination and public awareness programs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers–except police, military, and prison personnel–to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively.  Some workers are provided the right to strike.  The law allows registered unions to conduct their activities without interference and with protection from antiunion discrimination.

The law limits the right to organize.  Police, military, and prison personnel belong to employee associations to communicate collective needs and concerns to their government employer.  Union representatives reported employee associations were generally not as effective as unions in resolving labor disputes.

Trade unions failing to meet the formal registration requirements are automatically dissolved and banned from carrying out union activities.  The law does not protect members of unregistered trade unions and does not fully protect union members from antiunion discrimination.  This means that those trying to establish, join, or register a trade union are not protected from antiunion discrimination.  The law imposes a number of substantive requirements on the constitutions and rules of trade unions and federations of trade unions.  The law also authorizes the registrar to inspect accounts, books, and documents of a trade union at “any reasonable time” and provides the minister of defense, justice, and security with the authority to inspect a trade union “whenever he considers it necessary in the public interest.”  It also allows the registrar or attorney general to apply for an order to restrain any unauthorized or unlawful expenditure of funds or use of any trade union property.  Employers and employer associations have the legal right to ask the registrar to withdraw recognition of a union, and the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development has the right to suspend a union if it is “in the public interest,” although the former practice is uncommon and the latter has never been employed.  Any person acting or purporting to act as an officer of a trade union or federation that fails to apply for registration within 28 days of its formation is subject to sanctions.

The law provides for collective bargaining only for unions that have enrolled onethird of a sector workforce.  The law does not allow employers or employers’ organizations to interfere in the establishment, functioning, or administration of trade unions.  The law provides a framework for either employers or unions to nullify collective bargaining agreements, and provides a mechanism for the other party to dispute the nullification.  The law also permits an employer or employers’ organization to apply to the government to withdraw the recognition granted to a trade union if it establishes that the trade union refuses to negotiate in good faith with the employer.

Employees in “essential services”–including the Bank of Botswana, railway services, health care, firefighting, military, transport services, telecommunications infrastructure, electricity, water, and sewage workers–are not legally permitted to strike.  In 2016 the law was amended, codifying the list of essential services and expanding it to include teachers, veterinarians, and diamond cutters.  Many of the occupations included in the law fall outside the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) definition of essential services.  Department of Labor officials stated they were working with the ILO, trade unions, and an employer’s association to amend the legislation required for compliance with ILO standards.  At the ILO’s June meeting of the Committee of Application Standards, Minister of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development Tshenolo Mabeo said the government was engaging with social partners to review employment laws and policies to ensure compliance with international obligations.

The law empowers two officials within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development (the minister and the commissioner of labor) to refer a dispute in essential services to arbitration or to the Industrial Court for determination.

Civil service disputes are referred to an ombudsman for resolution, and in general, the ombudsman’s decisions are made without government interference.  Labor commissioners mediate private labor disputes, and if not resolved within 30 days, disputes of right may be referred to the Industrial Court.

Workers who are members of registered unions may not be terminated for legal union-related activities.  Dismissals may be appealed to civil courts or labor officers, which have rarely ordered more than two months’ severance pay.  The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers, but a judge may order reinstatement if the termination is deemed to be related to union activities.  The law does not provide protection to public employees’ organizations from acts of interference by public authorities in their establishment or administration.

The government generally respected freedom of association, although there were some restrictions on the right to collective bargaining.  Workers exercised the right to form and join unions, and in general, employers did not use hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

The law severely restricts the right to strike, and strikes were rare.  When unions followed legal requirements and exhausted arbitration and notified the government in advance of a planned strike, the government permitted strikes and did not use force on strikers.  Due to strike requirements, however, many strikes were ruled illegal, and striking workers often risked dismissal.  The law prohibits sympathy strikes.  Compulsory arbitration was rare and only applied in cases involving a group dispute of workers in essential services.  The government’s list of essential services that are restricted from conducting strikes are well outside of international standards, restricting most sectors in the country from being able to conduct a legal strike.  The law prohibits an employer from hiring workers to replace striking or locked-out workers and prohibits workers from picketing only if the parties have concluded an agreement on the provision of minimum services or, if no such agreement has been made, within 14 days of the commencement of the strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit and criminalize all forms of forced and compulsory labor, including by children.  Civil society representatives reported in previous years the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws, particularly in remote areas, mainly due to a lack of staff and funding.  Labor inspectors refer cases to the BPS for prosecution.  There were anecdotal reports of forced child labor in cattle herding and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.).  There were also anecdotal reports that members of the Basarwa community were subjected to forced labor conditions on cattle farms in the Ghanzi district.  There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law punishes with compulsory prison labor any willful breach of a contract of employment by an employee who is acting either alone or in combination with others, if such breach affects the operation of essential services.  Sentences of imprisonment involving compulsory prison labor may be imposed on any person who prints, makes, imports, publishes, sells, distributes or reproduces any publication prohibited by the president “in his absolute discretion” as being “contrary to the public interest.”  Similar sentences may be imposed concerning seditious publications and on any person who manages, or is a member of, or in any way takes part in the activity of an unlawful society, particularly of a society declared unlawful as being “dangerous to peace and order.”  The provisions are worded in terms broad enough to allow punishment for the expression of views and, insofar as they are enforceable with sanctions involving compulsory labor, they are incompatible with international standards.  A prisoner may be employed outside a prison under the immediate order and for the benefit of a person other than a public authority.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor.

The minimum age for work is 15, but children as young as age 14 may be employed in light work that is “not harmful to [their] health and development” and is approved by a parent or guardian.  The law provides that work shall not exceed six hours per day when a child is not in school and five hours when a child is in school but only on vacation days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Although the law prohibits night work and hazardous underground work for children, it does not cover hazardous activities such as the use of dangerous machinery, tools, and equipment.  In addition the law establishes the right of children to be protected from sexual exploitation including prostitution and pornography.  The penalty for not reporting incidents of child sexual exploitation ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 pula ($944 to $2,830), or imprisonment for no less than two years but no greater than three years, or both.  Perpetrators who engage in sexual exploitation of children are punished if convicted with a fine of no less than 30,000 pula ($2,830) but no greater than 50,000 pula ($4,720), or imprisonment of no less than five years but no greater than 15 years, or both.  The law further requires that the government develop programs to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in all sectors; however, resources were too limited for effective oversight in remote areas.  District and municipal councils have child welfare divisions, which are also responsible for enforcing child labor laws.  Other involved government entities included offices within the Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.  Government officials continued to address public gatherings, cautioning against the worst forms of child labor.  Penalties for violations of child labor laws range from a fine to up to 12 months’ imprisonment in most cases, with stricter penalties for cases involving the worst forms of child labor.  There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Despite laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, there were anecdotal reports of child labor, mostly on subsistence-level cattle posts or farms, where employees lived with their children in family units, particularly in the Ghanzi region.  Civil society representatives noted in such cases where it was likely to exist, child labor resulted from a lack of awareness of the law among parents and their employers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, tribe, place of origin, social origin, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV status, marital status, creed, or social status.  The government generally enforced these regulations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development, the minimum hourly wage for full-time labor in the private sector was determined by sector.  The minimum wage for domestic workers was raised 6 percent in October to more than three pula (28 cents) per hour, or approximately 26 pula ($2.45) per day.  The minimum wage for workers in the agricultural sector was also raised to 700 pula ($66) per month.  According to a 2011 survey of formal-sector employment by Statistics Botswana, monthly average earnings were 4,339 pula ($410) for citizens, 13,055 pula ($1,230) for noncitizens, and 4,731 pula ($446) for all employees.  Formal-sector jobs generally paid well above minimum wage.  The Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, and each of the country’s districts had at least one labor inspector.  There was no information available indicating to what extent these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law permits a maximum 48-hour workweek, exclusive of overtime, which is payable at time-and-a-half.  The law does not specifically outline rest periods or prohibit excessive compulsory overtime.  The labor law also applies to farm and migrant workers.

There are limited occupational safety and health (OSH) requirements.  The government’s ability to enforce OSH legislation remained limited due to inadequate staffing and lack of clear ministerial jurisdictions.  The law provides protection against termination for workers who verbally complain about hazardous conditions; however, no specific provisions in the law allow workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The Department of Labor within the Ministry of Employment, Labor Productivity, and Skills Development employed approximately 53 inspectors to oversee and enforce labor regulations.  The government generally enforced wage and hour requirements, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to inspect all workplaces.

The primary forms of compensation for labor in the informal sector were housing and food, particularly in the agricultural and domestic service areas.  Wages in the informal sector was frequently below the minimum wage.  Informal-sector workers generally were covered by the same legal protections available to formal-sector workers.

Foreign migrant workers were reportedly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, mainly in domestic labor.

Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The Republic of Cabo Verde is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, largely modeled on the Portuguese system. Constitutional powers are shared between the head of state, President Jorge Carlos Fonseca, and head of government, Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva. The Supreme Court, the National Electoral Commission, and international observers declared the 2016 nationwide legislative, presidential, and municipal elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; and failure to protect children from violence and work in precarious conditions.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity occurred in a few cases.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Media, however, reported instances of physical violence. The most common types of abuses were excessive force and aggression against persons arrested and detained by police and against prisoners by prison agents. In most cases the National Police Council took action against abusers. The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship (CNDHC) followed up with the National Police when it received information about abuses perpetrated by police agents. In the first quarter of 2017, 23 cases of abuse were registered, a significant increase over the first eight months of 2016.

Prisoners complained of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In all prisons authorities isolated newcomers in small, cramped cells for up to 30 days. This isolation was intended to allow new inmates time to adjust and to determine if they had communicable diseases. Inmates in isolation had limited access to visitors and prison activities. The isolation cells were small, dark, not well ventilated, unfurnished, and crowded. Similar cells were used for punishment. Additionally, prisoners complained of dehumanizing conditions resulting from poor infrastructure, in particular lack of sanitation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, inadequate housing, and health and sanitation conditions.

Physical Conditions: There were five prisons in the country; three of the five had populations that substantially exceeded capacity (indicated in parentheses). The Central Prison of Praia (CCP) had 1,054 inmates (880), the Central Prison of Sao Vicente 263 (180), and the regional prisons of Santo Antao 26 (50), Sal 143 (250), and Fogo 63 (50). The Orlando Pantera Center housed juvenile detainees who were under age 16 at time of sentencing. The regional prison on Fogo did not have external walls, although the Directorate General for Prison Systems began a large-scale infrastructure project on the Fogo prison to include external walls. External walls were added to the prison on Sal during the year. Several of the prisons did not have reliable electricity. The regional prison on Sal had no access to an electric grid or piped water; it ran a generator at night, and water was brought in trucks. The kitchen at the prison was completed during the year, but the armed forces continued to prepare and deliver food for prisoners. Isolation cells in the older prisons, specifically those on Fogo and Santo Antao, were cramped, crowded, unfurnished, lacked sanitary facilities (toilets, sinks, and showers, and adequate drainage) and had no natural light because their windows were blocked with bricks. In September the minister of justice and labor suspended the practice of putting all new arrivals at the prisons into solitary cells for a 30-day adjustment period because the practice was not consistent with the law’s assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

From January through August 2017, there were three deaths reported in prison.

Prisoners also complained of inadequate sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and heating. Not all prisoners had mattresses and beds; some slept on thin blankets on concrete floors. Shower and toilet facilities were inadequate and unsanitary; however, prison directors provided personal hygiene kits and prioritized improvements to the showers and toilets. There was standing water in the toilet and shower areas. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. There were too few corrections officers to deal with the growing number of such prisoners. Conditions were markedly better for female prisoners, who generally had significantly more space and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners.

At the CCP and the central prison on Sao Vicente, inmates were separated by trial status, sex, and age, but in regional prisons lack of facilities prevented authorities from separating inmates. In the Fogo regional prison, all 11 cells and the isolation cells housed youths and adults together. In the Santo Antao regional prison, inmates were separated according to status and crime.

Most prisoners received adequate food and clean water three times per day, although prisoners in the CCP complained that the new director restricted food from outside that had been brought in to supplement prison food.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints, but prisoners’ complaints did reach the CNDHC via regular visits by the CNDHC to the prisons, written communication from the prisoners, social media, and phone calls from prisoners to the CNDHC. Prisoners’ relatives also reported complaints to the CNDHC, and corrections officials stated all had been investigated and either disproven or corrected. To date, the CNDHC has received three complaints. Prison agents were insufficient in number and did not receive appropriate support to do their jobs. Some complained of a need for psychological support because of the emotional and physical stress of their jobs.

Prison directors at Fogo and CCP stated religious activities were permitted for all religious groups. The CCP director stated that during the year regular religious visits for Muslims were scheduled. In the regional prison on Sao Vicente, the director stated Muslim religious services sometimes fall outside of regular prison working hours for much of the staff, complicating the prison’s ability to accommodate them.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations and members of the press made frequent visits to prisons to record conditions.

Improvements: Access to education within the prison system improved, resulting in a 100 percent graduation rate from elementary school (equivalent) in the prison of Praia and strong results in other prisons. Prison services promoted this social integration policy in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement. The Judiciary Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for major investigations. The armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for protecting the national territory and sovereignty of the country. Logistical constraints, including a shortage of vehicles and communications equipment, and poor forensic capacity limited police effectiveness.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police (including the Coast Guard, National Guard, National Police, and Judiciary Police), and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Authorities investigated abuses by police, and most investigations resulted in legal action against those responsible or in the case being dismissed. In the first quarter of 2017, the National Police Council received 23 reports of police violence; most cases concerned physical abuse. The National Police Disciplinary Board reviewed the cases.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant issued by the Attorney General’s Office, unless police apprehend the person in the act of committing a felony. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. Even if there is incriminating evidence, suspected criminals are not arrested until a decision is made by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. In most cases, however, detainees waited longer. The CNDHC reported that detainees remanded to preventive detention on islands without prisons waited in police holding cells until they could be transferred to islands with prisons. In at least one case, a detainee in preventive detention waited four months in a holding cell on Boa Vista for transportation (ticket and escort availability). The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to family members and to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice if the detainee could afford it. For a detainee or family unable to pay, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints a lawyer.

The judicial system was overburdened and understaffed, and criminal cases frequently ended when charges were dropped before a determination of guilt or innocence was made.

Pretrial Detention: The director of the CCP noted that if detainees remained six months in prison without any judicial progress, they would be released according to the law. As of September 30, there were 491 persons in preventive detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was slow because it was overwhelmed by the number of cases, lacked sufficient staffing, and was inefficient.

There is a military court, which by law may not try civilians. The military court provides the same protections as civil criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continued for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ). The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts are impartial and independent and handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or an injunction ordering the cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human right bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available, although administrative remedies are rare.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Censorship or Content Restriction: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, apparently largely due to their desire to eventually work for public sector media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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.

Any foreigners residing in the country for more than three years may vote in municipal elections. Any residents from a member country of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP)–which includes Angola, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and Timor-Leste–may vote in municipal elections regardless of how long they have resided in Cabo Verde. Only citizens, including those living outside the country, may vote in legislative and presidential elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won 40 seats in the National Assembly with approximately 53 percent of the vote, returning the party to power for the first time in 15 years. The former governing party, African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 29 seats with 37 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining three seats with 6 percent of the vote. International observers characterized these elections as generally free and fair.

The most recent presidential election took place in 2016. Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the MpD candidate, who had the support of the PAICV, won the election with approximately 74 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized these elections as free, transparent, and credible. Observers noted some irregularities, however, including voters being pressured near polling stations to vote for certain candidates and allegations of vote buying.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities, and they did participate. Women’s participation fell in positions within the central government but remained somewhat high on the SCJ, and especially in prosecutorial positions. At the local level, in community associations and on city councils, women had less representation than men. Women held 17 of the 72 National Assembly seats and occupied three of the 11 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled three of the eight seats on the SCJ, including the presidency.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, especially at the municipal level, although there were no new reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Polling released by Transparency International in 2015, with data from Afrobarometer, indicated less than 25 percent of respondents believed most or all officials were corrupt. On the other hand, 61 percent responded the government was doing badly in the fight against corruption. Only 2 percent of public services users responded they paid a bribe in the 12 months preceding the survey, and none responded that they bribed a member of the National Police.

Financial Disclosure: The law sets parameters for public officials to submit declarations of interest, income, and family wealth, and regulates public discussion of this information. These declarations should include any asset worth more than 500,000 escudos ($5,380). By law failure to submit a declaration is punishable by removal from office. The SCJ must approve public disclosure of the declarations. When involved in criminal cases of alleged corruption, public officials must declare or prove the source of their income or wealth. The SCJ is in charge of monitoring the law and enforcing compliance, but enforcement was poor.

News sources reported at the beginning of the year that a large number of public figures constitutionally obliged to file disclosure information had not done so. While the laws on submission of this information are clear, implementation and consequences for failure to file may not be sufficient.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDHC worked to protect, promote, and reinforce human rights, citizenship, and international humanitarian law in the country. It worked on all nine inhabited islands with a network of varied organizations. The CNDHC, although independent, was inadequately staffed and funded.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is a crime punishable by eight to 16 years’ imprisonment, and domestic violence is punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is implicitly covered by the gender-based violence law; penalties for conviction range from one to five years’ imprisonment. The law focuses on increasing protection of victims, strengthening penalties for convicted offenders, and raising awareness regarding gender-based violence. The law calls for establishing several care centers, with financial and management autonomy, but implementation lagged due to inadequate staffing and financial resources. Violence and discrimination against women remained significant problems.

During the year several reports of femicide rocked the country, including an August case in Santo Antao in which a 34-year-old man killed his 19-year-old girlfriend. The couple had a four-year-old child, indicating the relationship began before she attained the age of consent of 16.

The National Police accompanied victims of sexual and gender-based violence to the hospital and escorted them to their homes to collect their belongings. Police officers helped victims go to a location where they believed they would be safe (often a family member’s home; there were only two official shelters, in Praia and Tarrafal de Santiago). Victims’ rights organizations stated police officers were sometimes not fully supportive or sensitive to the problems victims faced. Very often victims returned to their abusers due to economic and social pressures. In February a 31-year-old man killed his 21-year-old girlfriend and then himself on Fogo; there were at least three reports of similar homicide-suicides on Fogo during the year.

The government enforced the law against rape and domestic violence somewhat effectively. Nongovernmental sources lamented the lack of social and psychological care for perpetrators and survivors alike. The Cabo Verdean Institute for Equality and Equity of Gender (ICIEG) coordinated with the Attorney General’s Office in an effort to provide for all cases of sexual and domestic violence to be heard within 180 days of the filing of charges and reduce the number of perpetrators remaining with their victims while awaiting trial.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment. Penalties for conviction include up to one year in prison and a fine equal to up to two years of the perpetrator’s salary. Although authorities generally enforced the law, sexual harassment was common and widely accepted in the culture.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and the government somewhat enforced the law. Cultural norms and traditions, however, imposed gender roles that hindered the eradication of gender-based discrimination.

Women suffered discrimination in equal pay for equal work. Women often worked in informal jobs and lacked access to social security. The ICIEG launched a campaign with domestic workers to push for inclusion in the country’s social security system. Women, especially the working poor, struggled to maintain their professional independence when they had children. Fathers were often not present in the nuclear family. Additionally, when girls got pregnant while still in school, they nearly always dropped out and did not finish their education.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or grandparents or by birth within the country if the parents have been legal residents for five years. When those conditions are not met, and if the child does not receive citizenship from the country of at least one of its parents, the parents would need to get a lawyer to petition for an exception. Birth registration was not denied or provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The government provided tuition-free and universal education for all children through the eighth grade. Education is compulsory until age 15. Secondary education was tuition-free only to children whose families’ annual income was below 147,000 escudos ($1,580). School is tuition-free from preschool through higher education for children with disabilities in both public and private schools. The government subsidizes kindergarten fees through municipal governments.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit physical, psychological, and moral violence against children, including sexual violence, but these remained problems. Penalties for child abuse include two to eight years in prison for sexual abuse of a child under age 14, increasing from five to 12 years if the abuse included penetration. Those found guilty of engaging in transactional sex with a minor under age 18 faced two to eight years in prison, four to 12 years if the sex involved penetration. The government tried to combat it through a national network that included the Cabo Verdean Institute of Childhood and Adolescence (ICCA), various police forces, the Attorney General’s Office, hospitals, local civil society organizations, and health centers. The government attempted to reduce sexual abuse and violence against children through several programs such as Dial a Complaint, the Children’s Emergency Program, Project Our House, Welcome Centers for Street Children, Project Safe Space, and the Project Substitute Family. ICCA services, however, were not permanently present on every island, and ICCA employees struggled to meet the needs of the local populations.

Legislation passed in 2015 enabling anyone who became aware of sexual violence against a child under age 14 to report the crime began to take root, and complaints increased during the year, most notably on the tourist island of Sal, although the majority of cases did not involve tourists. A string of highly public cases in which alleged perpetrators were released on bail provoked increasingly sharp criticism from the public. The ICCA provided care for the child victims, but perpetrators and alleged perpetrators received no interventions or care while awaiting trial or while in prison. Child abuse cases can linger for years in the judicial process, often leaving child victims in the same homes as their abusers.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law punishes those that foment, promote, or facilitate “prostitution” or sexual exploitation of children age 16 and under with a penalty if convicted of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty is two to six years’ imprisonment, which is inconsistent with international law on trafficking in persons. The law punishes those who induce, transport, or provide housing or create the conditions for sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children age 16 and under in a foreign country with a penalty if convicted of five to 12 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty for conviction is two to eight years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the use of children under age 18 in pornography, with penalties for conviction of up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Sexual relations with a child under age 14 are considered a public crime and invoke mandatory reporting from anyone who becomes aware of the crime. Between ages 14 and 16, sexual relations are a semipublic crime and may be reported by any involved party (the minor or the minor’s parents or guardians). Sexual abuse was widely reported around the country. Alleged perpetrators often were released from detention pending trial. There were numerous unconfirmed reports of tourists engaging in transactional sex with minors and of minors engaging in prostitution for money or drugs.

The government also continued efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through a national coordinating committee and the development of a code of ethics for the tourism industry. In July the Ministry of Justice and Labor swore in members of its Observatory for Monitoring and Rapid Identification of Trafficking in Persons, which includes numerous government agencies and had a key role in coordinating responses to child sex exploitation.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions, with problems remaining in a number of areas. For example, physical accessibility, communication means, and public transport appropriate for persons with disabilities often were lacking. The government worked with civil society organizations to implement programs to provide access for wheelchair users, including building ramps to enhance access to transportation and buildings.

According to the Ministry of Family and Social Inclusion, the ministry enrolled and subsidized children and youths with special educational needs in primary, secondary, and higher education. Persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, as determined by the Ministry of Health, are not allowed to vote, according to the National Commission for Elections, if they are deemed not to have the mental capacity to exercise that right. Crimes against persons with disabilities were investigated and processed when they were reported.

Many child victims of sexual abuse were persons with mental disabilities. Police investigated their cases with the same care they used on other cases.

The government has a quota system for granting scholarships and tax benefits to companies that employ individuals with disabilities. Nongovernmental organizations recognized these measures as partially effective in better integrating these citizens into society but also noted nonenforcement and inadequate regulations were obstacles.

Public television station Cabo Verde Television, through a partnership with the CNDHC, Handicap International, and the Cabo Verdean Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities, included in its nightly news program a sign language interpreter for deaf persons able to sign.

The law stipulates a quota of 5 percent of educational scholarships be allocated to persons with disabilities, but this quota was not reached.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist, and state employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation, family situation, habits and dress, health status, or membership or nonmembership in any organization. Laws prohibit discrimination in the provision of a good or service, exercising normal economic activities, and employment. The government generally enforced these laws; penalties for discriminating were up to two years in prison or a fine equal to 100-300 days’ salary. Laws do not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults. Persistent discrimination existed as the norm for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community and generally took the form of public mockery and appearance-based discrimination.

During the year the country joined the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC). The ICIEG director attended the ERC ministerial meeting in Vancouver and agreed the country might be able to use its platform within the CPLP to advance LGBTI human rights.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers. Although government enforcement generally was effective, cases can continue for years, with further delay for appeals. The Directorate General for Labor (DGT) has a conciliation mechanism to promote dialogue between workers and employers on conditions of work.

The labor code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in those industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states that the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.

During the year the National Police threatened a six-day strike in midsummer regarding allegations of unfair penalties against officers who protested working conditions in late 2017. The National Police falls into a sector with limited rights to strike, but it prepared a defense of its decision to do so in advance, garnering support from several other unions. The government negotiated an agreement with the union before the strike began.

The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Penalties were adequate to deter violations of freedom of association.

Labor unions complained the government sporadically restricted the right to strike for certain critical job categories. Other observers stated the government cooperated with the unions and did not discriminate against certain job categories. According to the local press, few companies adopted collective bargaining, but the International Labor Organization (ILO) worked with local unions and government bodies to provide guidance on conducting a dialogue between parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. According to the Inspectorate General of Labor (IGT) 2017 report, the IGT carried out 770 inspections in response to 920 requests for intervention and did not identify any forced labor violations. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, both of which prescribe penalties for conviction of six to 12 years’ imprisonment, which was usually sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Nevertheless, there were reports such practices occurred during the year. Migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive low wages and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector. There were incidents of child labor in domestic service and in family agricultural efforts, with children often working long hours in dangerous conditions, and at times experiencing physical and sexual abuse, indicators of forced labor (see also section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The 2016 National List of Dangerous Work for Children expanded, codified, and prohibited types of work in which children may not engage. The law defines the worst forms of child labor as work engaged in by children under age 15, dangerous work performed by children between ages 15 and 17, or both. The National Assembly ratified ILO Convention 138 in 2011, and the legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day. The constitution provides that underage children may work only on small household tasks, in apprenticeship or training programs, or to help support the family. Children ages 16 to 18 are allowed to work overtime in an emergency but may not work more than two overtime hours a day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The law permits children to perform agricultural work for the family provided that work does not compromise the child’s mental and physical development. Children under age 15 are banned absolutely from performing any street work.

Several laws prohibit child labor, and the penalties they impose were adequate, but enforcement was neither consistent nor effective. Barriers, many cultural, remained to the effective implementation of these laws. For example, not all citizens considered children working to help support their families, especially in small remote communities, as negative, even when the work by law was deemed dangerous. The government had minimal ability to monitor and enforce laws in the informal sector, estimated to represent 12 percent of the economy.

The ICCA, DGT, and IGT work on matters pertaining to child labor. The ICCA works on the promotion and defense of the rights of children and adolescents. The DGT creates labor market policy and drafts labor legislation that provides for promotion of social dialogue and reconciliation among social partners. The IGT has responsibility to monitor and enforce labor laws and enforces rules relating to labor relations. The agencies stated they had insufficient resources. During the year the government (through the three agencies) carried out training activities for local staff and awareness campaigns to combat child labor, particularly in its worst forms, and consulted with local businesses.

The first survey conducted by the National Statistics Institute on child labor in the country, conducted in 2012 and published in 2013, revealed that 7 percent of children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The worst forms of child labor were more common in rural areas (91 percent) than urban areas (84 percent). Child labor prevalence was also higher for boys (9 percent) than girls (5 percent).

Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging, and were vulnerable to trafficking. The risk to children depended largely on where they were located; there was considerably more child labor on some islands than others. The worst forms of child labor included street work, domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and at times passing drugs for adults.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. There have been no known challenges to the law.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation, however, occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and less access to management positions in public- and private-sector organizations. Women experienced inequality in political and economic participation. For instance, being a homemaker is not officially recognized as employment, and national statistics report homemakers as inactive members of the labor force. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work.

The ICIEG launched a campaign to recognize housework as work and register domestic workers–overwhelmingly women–with the National Institute for Social Protection (INPS). Many domestic workers resisted formalizing because they preferred payment in cash rather than the ability to eventually access deferred benefits.

According to the 2010 census conducted by the National Statistics Institute, more than eight in 10 immigrants were active in the local economy, with a rate of 91 percent among Africans. African immigrants worked mainly in retail, services, and construction. Immigrants generally had low education and professional qualifications and little work experience; consequently, their wages tended to be lower. Most of these immigrants did not have a legal contract with their employers, and thus they did not enjoy many legal protections and often worked in unacceptable conditions. The ECOWAS charter permits labor mobility for citizens of member states. The country was criticized by its neighbors for failing to implement its charter responsibilities fully by not protecting legal ECOWAS migrants.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage of 13,000 escudos ($140). The government defines the poverty income level as 105 escudos ($1.12) a day, making the minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week. The law requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector.

On May 1, a Senegalese man protested on Sal, claiming he and many other West African migrant workers were employed in the large resorts but did not receive regular days off. He protested alone in front of the offices of a major tourist operator.

The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline to work if working conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. In general it is the employer’s responsibility to provide for a secure, healthy, and hygienic workplace. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The CNDHC noted companies generally chose to follow these rules and that the government has insufficient resources through the IGT to enforce them.

The DGT and IGT are charged with implementing labor laws. Certain formal-sector benefits, such as social security accounts for informal workers, were enforced in the informal sector, although no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment were imposed during the year. The informal sector remained largely unregulated by official government actors. The government made efforts to reduce work accidents and illness at work by carrying out more inspections and awareness campaigns to promote a culture of prevention and safety at work. Six technicians worked for the DGT and 15 worked for the IGT, covering three islands (Santiago, Sao Vicente, and Sal). The IGT launched a hiring campaign to recruit five more IGT inspectors during the year. Both agencies agreed with trade unions these numbers were inadequate, and there remained a need for tighter enforcement of labor standards, especially on the more sparsely populated islands where monitoring was more difficult. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. Penalties for labor violations depend on the number of workers employed; the minimum fine is 10,000 escudos ($107) going up to 180,000 escudos ($1,935).

According to the IGT’s 2017 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the INPS, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods. The report indicated the IGT made 770 inspections, including unannounced inspections, and inspectors responded to 723 requests for intervention, conducting 414 inspection visits from January to September.

Although there were no official studies available, some sources speculated foreign migrant workers were more likely to be exploited than others. Between 17,000 and 22,000 immigrants, mostly from ECOWAS countries, were working in the country. Generally immigrants worked in civil construction, security services, hospitality, and tourism. It was common for companies not to honor migrant workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.

The most work-related accidents reported during the year were in the restaurant business and food services, steel industry, and the construction sectors. In September a worker with years of experience at the Frescomar fish processing plant fell into a freezing machine and sustained severe injuries to his leg. He was rushed to the hospital and received appropriate treatment. Both the IGT and the employer conducted inspections and investigations of the event.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.  The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985.  In practice the president retains the power to control legislation.  On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982.  The election was marked by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation.  On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history.  They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair.  In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.

The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups.  The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.

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 and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.  On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources.  Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics.  Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions.  According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media.  Civilian victims included the following:  the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the

Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25.  Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region.  According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.

b. Disappearance

Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.  According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.  Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more.  For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO

Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha.  According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses.  He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6.  Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region.  According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them remained unaccounted for.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.

Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE).  While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017.  It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school.  Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde.  As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.

Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29.  Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction.  Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck.  A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten.  Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone.  Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody.  The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later.  After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.

Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the

Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies.  Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.

Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions.  For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check.  The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.

During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors.  Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both.  Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending.  Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case.  Nine allegations reported previously were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions:  Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.  Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity.  Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children.  Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together.  In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits.  In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters.  Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June.  For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates.  Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates.  As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime.  A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.

The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.  As a result illness was widespread.  Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant.  The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems.  Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread.  Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates.  Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons.  Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.

Administration:  Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.  Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates.  In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.  Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.  Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.

As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons.  At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.  Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba.  The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.

Independent Monitoring:  Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.

For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers.  On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families.  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers.  In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region.  The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria.  The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention.  The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason.  The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense.  The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation.  On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security.  The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces.  The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement.  Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas.  Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR.  The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces.  The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.  The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power.  Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt.  Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts.  Lesser sanctions were handled internally.  The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.

The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse.  The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers.  The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.

As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor.  The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law.  Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement.  The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur.  Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.  This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought.  Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods.  The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command.  The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both.  Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions.  The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.  On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest:  Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado.  “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued.  There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores.  There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.

There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges.  For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months.  The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25.  Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde.  On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds.  The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.

Pretrial Detention:  The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court.  No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees.  According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants.  Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years.  The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.

The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months.  Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both.  Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted.  Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression:  Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy.  Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals.  On several occasions the government used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings.  The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.

During the year the divisional officer for Yaounde V banned public conferences that Hilaire Kamga, an elections expert, intended to organize at Felydac Hotel on February 15 and June 13 to address the issues of voter registration and peaceful transition.  The divisional officer claimed the event was likely to disturb public order.

In September the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, which encompasses the greater Yaounde area, pressured Hilton Hotel management to cancel a symposium entitled “Digital Rights and Elections in Cameroon,” organized by Paris-based Internet without Borders and Lagos-based Paradigm Initiative, days before it was to take place.  Eventually, organizers secured a different hotel without any difficulty.

On June 15, authorities prevented the opposition party, the Cameroon Renaissance

Movement (CRM), from presenting a documentary on presidential candidate Maurice Kamto.  The CRM booked Massago Hotel in Yaounde as the venue for the event.  Hotel management asked CRM leaders to leave the premises a few hours before the beginning of the documentary showing, allegedly following intimidation and threats from authorities.

Press and Media Freedom:  Independent media was active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions especially on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram and the crisis in the two Anglophone regions.  Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.  According to the 2018 Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, authorities imposed a climate of fear and selfcensorship on media practitioners.  Journalists faced significant hurdles, some of which led to exorbitant fines, and in some cases, jail terms.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least seven journalists were in prison.  One was Thomas Awah Junior, who was arrested in Bamenda, Northwest Region, on January 2.  He wrote for the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine and was sentenced to 11 years in prison on May 25 for acts of terrorism against the nation, secession, revolution, and propagation of disinformation through digital means.  Awah Junior was incarcerated at Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde.  Pictures of a severely emaciated Awah were widely circulated on social media in September.  At the end of September, he was transported to a hospital in Yaounde to be treated for tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Violence and Harassment:  Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting.

As in the previous year, authorities arrested journalists in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis.  According to reports by credible organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, on March 20, police arrested Akumbom Elvis McCarthy, a news broadcaster for Abakwa FM Radio, a privately owned media outlet based in Bamenda, Northwest Region.  McCarthy was allegedly taking pictures of police harassing taxi drivers.  He reported in Pidgin English for the Media House, which also publishes news on its Facebook page.  Judicial police detained the news broadcaster for three weeks before referring him to the military tribunal.  The tribunal decided to remand McCarthy into custody for a renewable six-month period while police investigated claims that he reported separatist propaganda.

Censorship or Content Restrictions:  Based on a 1990 law on social communication, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to deposit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication.  Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the National

Communication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously.  The NCC issued warnings and suspensions during the year.  It declared that radio and television broadcasts of political debates during the period of March 10-24 were suspended, alleging that such discussions might cause conflict ahead of the March 25 senate election.  It later clarified that this directive applied only to state-owned media outlets.  Magic FM, a private media outlet, decided to broadcast its Magic Attitude political discussion program.  Galaxy FM, another private media outlet, also continued broadcasting political discussion shows through its popular Frenchlanguage political program, Au Coeur de la Republique.

On March 15, the NCC issued eight separate decisions, warning or suspending journalists, media outlets, and programs for one to three months.  Most were sanctioned for publishing statements deemed unfounded and offensive, which was considered a breach of professional ethics in mass communication.  The media outlets included WB1 Radio, L’Orphelin, Horizon Plus, l’Essentiel du Cameroon, and Watch Dog Tribune.  In all cases the alleged breaches occurred in 2017.

Libel/Slander Laws:  Press freedom is further constrained by strict libel laws.  These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials.  Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.  The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant.  The government contended libel laws were aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations could be permanently damaged by defamation.  There were no reports the government or public figures used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to Internet World Stats (IWS), there were 6,128,422 Internet users in December 2017, representing penetration rates of 24.8 percent.  There are currently no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.  The government, however, has repeatedly disrupted access to the internet.

The country experienced its first internet shutdown in January 2017, after Anglophone teachers, lawyers, and students went on strike over alleged social bias in favor of Francophones.  The government issued a countrywide internet shutdown, which lasted 93 days.  Educational, financial, and health-care institutions as well as businesses that relied on internet access were stunted.  International bodies applied pressure to the government to restore internet access.  Despite internet access being restored in April 2017, there were continuing reports of network instability.

In October 2017 the government effected a second internet blockade, targeting social media and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook.  This continued to affect the country economically, and many citizens were forced to travel back and forth to regions with internet access for business or information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses.

There were a few reports of security personnel disrupting student extracurricular activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right.  The law requires organizers of public meetings,

demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance.  Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies.  The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits.  Authorities typically cited “security concerns” as the basis for deciding to block assemblies.  The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences.  Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year, arrested participants in unapproved protests, and blocked political leaders from attending protests.

On March 9, in Yaounde, police arrested approximately 20 women who participated in a rally, holding up a banner that read, “Stand Up for Cameroon.”  According to the organizers of the rally, including Edith Kabang Walla, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the event was aimed to call attention to the deteriorating sociopolitical situation in the country.  Police released the women after keeping them for a few hours at the judicial police’s regional headquarters.

Authorities also banned some political rallies.  In April the divisional officer of Fokoue in Menoua Division, West Region, banned a meeting meant to encourage voter registration by the CRM opposition party.  The CRM claimed they notified the divisional officer that they were organizing an event on April 11.  This event would have been 10th in a series organized in conjunction with Elections Cameroon, the organization that oversees and administers elections, to encourage more persons to register to vote.  The divisional officer initially told CRM leaders the meeting might not be authorized because April 11 was a market day.  On April 9, he reportedly changed his mind and instead referred CRM’s leaders to the mayor, whom he said had control over the market place.  Organizers said they had contacted the mayor, who said she had planned to conduct a tax collection exercise in the market that day and turned down the request.  Further, in June the mayor of Bagangte banned a rally by the CRM at the local ceremonial ground and reportedly justified his decision by saying that the ceremonial ground was meant only for exceptional events and official ceremonies.  CRM officials said the ruling CPDM held a meeting at the venue a few days earlier.  Authorities also banned rallies by the CRM in Baham and Bandjoun in the West Region.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right.  On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on the grounds that the association is disrupting public order.  The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security.  National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups.  The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval.  The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced.  This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

Unlike in 2017 the government did not ban any organizations during the year.  On July 18, however, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji unilaterally designated three political figures as spokespersons for three opposition political parties, disregarding these parties’ own hierarchies and internal elections.  The minister stated the three parties, the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the

Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), and the African Movement for a New Independence and Democracy (Manidem), were suffering from persistent internal crises.  He urged administrative command officers nationwide to authorize only events organized by the appointees.  On July 20, all three appointed leaders joined 17 other nominally “opposition” leaders to rally with their parties behind President Biya for the October 7 presidential election.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.  President Biya and the majority CPDM party, however, exerted strong influence over key elements of the political process, including the judiciary and Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), the election organizing body.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections:  In the senate and presidential elections held during the year, the

CPDM garnered the majority of votes, except in the Northwest, where it lost to the Social Democratic Front (SDF).  The CPDM remained dominant in state institutions, partially due to strategic redrawing of voter districts, use of government resources for campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to organize and publicize views during electoral campaigns, and privileges associated with belonging to the ruling party.

The country conducted a presidential election on October 7, against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions and insecurity in the Far North due to attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA.  Eight candidates took part in the election; a ninth dropped out just before election day to support a rival opposition candidate.  The election was marred by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registration, and a lack of transparency in the vote tallying process.  In the countdown to the election, government-sponsored media outlets CRTV and Cameroon Tribune produced three times as much programming for the president as for the other eight candidates; in addition the ruling party violated the electoral code by blanketing cities with larger than regulation-sized campaign posters.  While not illegal under law, government workers and financial resources were committed to supporting the incumbent’s campaign.  President Biya was re-elected with 71.28 percent of votes cast.

On March 25, the country held its second senate elections.  The ruling CPDM won 63 of the 70 elected seats, while the opposition SDF won seven elected seats.  The president, in accordance with the constitution, appointed an additional 30 senators, including 24 from the CPDM, two from the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), and one each from four other nominal opposition parties, including Union of the People of Cameroon (UPC), National Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ANDP), Movement for the Defense of the Republic

(MDR), and Cameroon National Salvation Front (FSNC).  Overall, seven political parties were represented in the senate.  The March 25 senate elections were considered peaceful and within the boundaries of the legal framework that heavily favors the ruling party.

In 2013 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections, with 29 parties participating in the legislative elections and 35 in the municipal elections.  The CPDM won 148 of 180 parliamentary seats and 305 of 360 municipal council positions.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected during the year.  In July the parliament adopted, and the president promulgated, a law to extend the term of office of members of the National Assembly by one year.  On July 11, the president signed a decree extending the term of office of municipal councilors for 12 months, effective from October 15.

Political Parties and Political Participation:  As of September the country had 305 registered political parties.  Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.  The president appoints all ministers, including the prime minister, the governors of each of the 10 regions, and important lower-level members of the 58 regional administrative structures.  The president also appoints 30 of the 100 senators, and most of the appointees were from the ruling party.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair, stating that it is not fair to begin with and does not take changes in population into account.  Consequently, smaller districts sometimes were allocated more seats than more populated constituencies.  Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party in both senate and presidential elections to the detriment of the other candidates.  Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election.  Further, authorities frequently sought excuses not to grant opposition parties permission to hold rallies and meetings, while the ruling CPDM held meetings at will.

Participation of Women and Minorities:  No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process.  The law provides that lists of candidates for legislative and municipal elections should take into account the sociological components of the constituency, including gender.  Cultural and other factors, however, reduced women’s political participation compared to that of men.

Women remained underrepresented at all levels of government.  Two women submitted their candidacy for the October 7 presidential election, but neither met the requirements.  Women occupied 26 of 374 council mayor positions; 81 of 280 parliamentary seats; 11 of 63 cabinet positions; and other senior level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions.  With the voting age set at 20, youth older than age 18 and younger than 20 are not allowed to vote.  The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the senate, national assembly, or higher offices of government.

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 often used it to settle political scores.  The penal code identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest.  Reporting of corruption is encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings.  Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, fines up to two million CFA francs ($3,400), or both.  During the year the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) instituted a toll-free number to encourage citizens to denounce acts of corruption of which they were victims or witnesses.  In addition there were a number of organizations under a common platform known as the National Platform of Cameroonian Civil Society Organizations, which under the 2018 Finance Law was provided a budget of 150 million CFA francs ($255,000).  The funds were to permit the organization to monitor the implementation of projects by government entities to confirm that resources disbursed are used appropriately.  Nevertheless, corruption remained pervasive at all levels of government.  The judiciary was not always free to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption:  The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk, which was launched in 2006 to fight corruption, including embezzlement of public funds.  As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases.  On May 4, the SCC placed Emmanuel Lebou, Hamadou Haman, and Aïssatou Boullo Bouba in pretrial detention at Yaounde Central Prison.  Authorities accused the three officials from the ministries of finance and communication of fraudulent manipulation of government payrolls, including payments of fictitious salaries and other allowances, which resulted in losses worth hundreds of millions of CFA francs (several thousand dollars).  In August the SCC delivered its verdict in the prosecution case against Doumana Louis Roger, the former transport delegate for the Northwest Region, and Ayafor Mefor Quita Fozo, a contractor with the Ministry of Transport.  They were under prosecution since 2016 for misappropriating fiscal revenues at the Northwest Regional Delegation of Transport in Bamenda.  The accused were sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively, and were required to pay jointly more than 156 million CFA ($265,000) to the public treasury.

Financial Disclosure:  The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets, but a law passed to implement this provision had itself never been implemented.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases.  Overturning an earlier decision not to allow them back in the country, the government issued visas to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch personnel to return to present their reports on human rights abuses to the government and to hear its views.  As in previous years, however, government officials impeded the effectiveness of many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel.  Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email.  The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences.  The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations with the intention of discrediting the government and military.  Despite these restrictions, numerous independent domestic human rights NGOs continued operations to the best of their ability, although many reported that government threats and intimidation limited their ability to operate in the country.

There were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists, including members of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH), the Mandela Center, and Front Line Fighters for Citizens’ Interests (FFCI), among others.  FFCI executive president Franklin Mowha was reported missing as of August 6 while he was on a business trip to the Southwest Region.  FFCI officials and Mowha’s family members alleged that authorities were informed but failed to investigate the case.  As of late October, his family members did not have any information concerning his whereabouts and feared he might have been killed.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) is an independent, government-funded institution for consultation, monitoring, evaluation, dialogue, concerted action, promotion, and protection of human rights.  The NCHRF was established by a 1990 presidential decree and was subsequently given more powers following the passage of a 2004 law.  The NCHRF, however, is limited to making recommendations to competent authorities and can take no action itself.  The commission publishes yearly reports on the human rights environment and may engage in research, provide education, coordinate actions with NGOs, and visit prisons and detention sites.  NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability effectively to hold human rights violators to account.  Its budget was far smaller than that of most other agencies with comparable status, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Cameroon.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Laws, Human Rights and Freedoms, Justice, Legislation, Regulations, and Administration Committee was adequately resourced and reviewed the constitutionality of proposed legislation, but it was not an effective check on the ruling party’s initiatives.  The parliament generally failed to address the Anglophone crisis, resulting in a protest by opposition Social Democratic Front representatives during the March ordinary session of parliament.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape of men and women and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists.  Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them.  The law does not address spousal rape.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation of all persons.  Whoever mutilates the genitals of another person is subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death.  FMG/C remained a problem, but its prevalence remained low.  As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

According to the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C.  For more than 10 years, the government has carried out initiatives to end FGM/C.  These include granting support for the socioeconomic reconversion of male and female excision practitioners and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and Northern Regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home.  To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment.  Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700).  If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be between one to three years in prison.  If the offender is the victim’s teacher, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison.  Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination:  The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men; in practice, however, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.  Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.  The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owing or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.  Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports suggest some gender discrimination occurred in places of employment, especially in the private sector.

Children

Birth Registration:  Children derive citizenship through their parents, and the responsibility to register birth falls upon parents.  Many births go unregistered because children are not always born in health facilities, and many parents face challenges in reaching local government offices.

Education:  The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education but does not set an age limit.  The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 and $850).  The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years in cases in which the offense is repeated.  Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12.  Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books.  This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

During the year numerous separatist attacks on the education sector in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, including arson attacks on school facilities and physical assaults on administrative staff, faculty and students, disrupted the normal operation of schools.  Many students and teachers were absent during the 2017-18 school year.  According to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 42,500 children were still out of school as of May.

In June, UNICEF reported that at least 58 schools in the Northwest and Southwest

Regions had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in 2016.  Human Rights Watch documented 19 threats or attacks on schools and 10 threats or attacks on education personnel.

In September individuals believed to be Anglophone separatists perpetrated a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the start of the 2018-19 school year in certain localities of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  During the night of September 1, the headmaster of the Bamali primary school in Ngoketunjia Division in the Northwest Region was killed.  On September 3, separatists abducted six students from the Presbyterian Girls Secondary School in Bafut, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region, along with their principal.  They later released the students and principal, who had been subjected to torture.  On September 4, a dozen individuals stormed a high school in Kumbo, Bui Division, in the Northwest Region and vandalized the administrative building, forcing teachers and students to run for safety.  On the same day, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Fako Division in the Southwest Region was attacked.

Child Abuse:  The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and cloud on parentage, which refers to a situation where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child.  Penalties for the offenses range from 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or grievous harm.  Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem.  Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school.  In addition Boko Haram continued to abduct children and used them as suicide bombers.  Press reports cited cases of child rape and the kidnapping of children for ransom.  In its April 20 edition, Mutation Daily reported that Reseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), an association working with girls who have become mothers due to early pregnancy, had received 18 reports of sexual abuse of minors since January.

Early and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18.  Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s March 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15.  The law punishes anyone who compels an individual to marry with imprisonment of from five to 10 years, and with fines between 25,000 and one million CFA francs ($42.50 to $1,700).  By law mitigating circumstances may result in a reduction in punishment, but the final penalty may not be less than a two-year prison sentence.  The court may also take custody from parents who give away their underage children in marriage.  Despite these legal provisions, a number of families reportedly tried to marry off their girls before age 18.  To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family (MINPROFF) organized sensitization campaigns to warn of the problems of early and forced marriages.  MINPROFF conducted these campaigns nationally around major commemorative days, such as the International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day.  At the local level, MINPROFF established women’s empowerment centers in most divisions where grassroots sensitization activities took place.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography.  A conviction, however, requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion.  Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million CFA francs ($170 to $17,000).  The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex.  According to anecdotal reports, children younger than age 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available.

Child Soldiers:  The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but government-affiliated civil defense forces employed child soldiers.  Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets.  There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children to combat government defense and security forces.  In presenting the government humanitarian emergency action plan in July, the prime minister stated that separatists were recruiting children into their ranks and forcing them to fight after consuming drugs and undergoing cultlike rituals.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities:  There were no reports of infanticide of children with disabilities.  According to human rights activists and media outlets, including newspapers Le Messager, Mutations, and Nouvelle Expression, local residents found the head of a decapitated child in a garbage bin on August 27 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Mvog Ebanda, commonly known as “Eleveur.”  Investigations led to the identification of the mother of the child as the perpetrator of the crime.

Displaced Children:  Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of major urban centers, although the trend was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy.  According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 65 percent of IDPs in Far North Region were children younger than 18.  These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection.  In addition thousands of children were negatively impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest.  These children faced significant violations of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike.  The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from forceful recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

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/InternationalParentalChildAbduction/forproviders/legalreportsanddata.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of antiSemitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities.  A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.  The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services.  Public education is tuition-free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities.  Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”  The government did not enforce all these provisions effectively in the past.  On July 26, the prime minister issued a decree spelling out a framework for implementing the 2010 law.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the reporting period.  The majority of children with disabilities attended school with nondisabled peers.  The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills.  Other children with disabilities continued to attend specialized schools such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing Impaired Children (ESEDA).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups.  Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region held many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions.  The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group.  Logging companies continued to destroy their naturally forested land without compensation.  Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices.  The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka.  Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, itinerant pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity, including between adults, is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).

LGBTI rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS

(CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others reported several arrests of LGBTI persons.  LGBTI individuals received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email, including of “corrective” rape, but authorities did not investigate allegations of harassment.  Civil society members stated there were also cases where LGBTI individuals underwent corrective rape, sometimes through the facilitation of the victim’s own family.  Police were generally unresponsive to requests to increase protection for lawyers who received threats because they represented LGBTI persons.  Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.  The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens.  In practice, however, security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants.  This practice and the fear it generated in turn restricted access to HIV/AIDS services.  Anecdotal reports also suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an April 25 release, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights

Defenders, in partnership with the World Organization against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), denounced the arrest and arbitrary detention of five staff members of the association Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO).  AJO promoted the rights of LGBTI persons with HIV and sex workers in the West Region.  According to the release, men in civilian clothing from the territorial police, on April 20, arrested the executive director and two other members of AJO, including a care worker, as they were leaving the organization’s premises.  On April 21, two additional care workers from the organization were arrested at their places of residence.  Police did not have warrants and took the five members of AJO to the Dschang central police station, where they experienced poor detention conditions on charges related to consensual same-sex conduct.  In connection with this incident, 18 other men were arrested.  For the first time in many years, authorities in the West Region introduced the prospect of forced anal exams for the 23 arrestees.  The men were ordered to undergo such exams, but after intense advocacy by the lawyer representing the men, together with diplomatic pressure, the matter was dropped.  The men did not have access to their lawyers until April 24.

In a midterm report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education on the disease.

As in the previous year, while there were no specific cases of discrimination to highlight in employment, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and other attacks were reported during the year.  Several arson attacks were recorded, involving the destruction of both public and private property.  On January 21, in Nkambe, in the Donga and Mantung Division of Northwest Region, unidentified men set the dormitory section of St Rita’s Secondary School on fire after the management defied the school boycott called for by separatists in the Anglophone regions.

On April 28, on the outskirts of Muyuka, Southwest Region, three gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a pregnant schoolteacher.  The incident occurred three days after a similar attack on a school in Kumba took place where assailants riding motorcycles shot and killed the discipline master of the government bilingual high school and chopped off three fingers of a student.

The October presidential election triggered a wave of ethnic-tinged hate speech on social media after Cameroon Renaissance Movement candidate Maurice Kamto prematurely announced he won the election.  These attacks mostly split along tribal lines, with Kamto’s Bamileke and President Biya’s Beti ethnic groups the primary targets.

The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($8.50 and $170) for witchcraft.  There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.  This does not apply to groups including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel.  The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights.  The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and privatesector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors.  The law requires that unions register with the government, permitting groups of no fewer than 20 workers to organize a union by submitting a constitution and by-laws; founding members must also have clean police records.  The law provides for heavy fines for workers who form a union and carry out union activities without registration.  More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations operated, including one public-sector confederation.  Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy.  The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included the majority of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted.  Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike may be dismissed or fined.  Before striking, workers must seek mediation from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security at the local, regional, and ministerial levels.  Only if mediation fails at all three levels can workers formally issue a strike notice and subsequently strike.  The law allowing persons to strike does not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security, including police, gendarmerie, and army personnel.  Instead of strikes, civil servants are required to negotiate grievances directly with the minister of the appropriate department in addition to the Minister of Labor and Social Security.  Arbitration decisions are legally binding but were often unenforceable if one party refused to cooperate.

Employers guilty of antiunion discrimination are subject to fines of up to approximately one million CFA francs ($1,700).

Free Industrial Zones are subject to labor law, except for the following provisions: the employers’ right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers.

The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable legislation on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.  Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were ineffective as a deterrent.  Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.  The government and employers often interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations.  The government occasionally worked with nonrepresentative union leaders to the detriment of elected leaders, while employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.  Blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissal, promotion of employer-controlled unions, and threatening workers trying to unionize were common practices.

Collective agreements are binding until after a party has given three months’ notice to terminate.  Workers’ representatives alleged that the minister of labor and social security often negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.  Following staff representative elections conducted during the year, Syndicat National Libre des Dockers et Activites Connexes du Cameroun (Free National Union of Dockers and Related Activities of Cameroon-SYNALIDOACC) won 14 of the 20 dockers’ delegate seats, thus becoming the majority union at the Douala Sea Port, under the leadership of Voundi Ebale Jean Pierre.  Oumarou Mouansie, the former dockers’ spokesperson, refused to transfer leadership to the new team.  The minister of labor and social security did not involve Voundi in the process leading to the new collective agreement.  Unionized members of the new team alleged they were victims of discrimination by the Douala Autonomous Port (PAD) authorities, especially in terms of job assignments.

For example, the government continued to undermine the leadership of the Confederation Syndicale des Travailleurs du Cameroun (CSTC), one of the 12 trade union confederations elected in 2015, by continuing to cooperate with former leaders of the CSTC.  Jean Marie Zambo Amougou, the former leader, continued to use the title “President of the CSTC” despite a January 2017 court decision ordering him to stop doing so with immediate effect.  Despite the court decision, the minister of labor and social security continued to view Zambo Amougou as the official representative of the CSTC.  The minister reportedly invited him to meetings and sent all CSTC correspondence to Amougou to the detriment of CSTC’s legitimate leader, Andre Moussi Nolla, and other new leaders, and in spite of multiple complaints by the CSTC.  The CSTC tabled the issue before the administrative court in Yaounde early in the year.  During a June 15 hearing session, the administrative tribunal declined jurisdiction to hear and rule on the case.

As in 2017, trade unionists reported on officials prohibiting the establishment of trade unions in the officials’ private businesses, including Fokou, Afrique Construction, Eco-Marche, and Quifferou, or otherwise hindering union operations.  Some companies based in Douala II, IV, and V and in Tiko (Southwest Region), retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries as union dues but refused to transfer the money to trade unions.

As in 2017, many employers frequently used hiring practices such as subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.  Workers’ representatives stated most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing the electricity company Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter (Alucam), and many others.  Subcontracting was reported to involve all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels.  As a result workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar advantages when working for the same business; subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

A number of strikes were announced during the year.  Some were called off after successful negotiation, some were carried out without problems, while others faced some degree of repression.  Workers’ grievances generally involved poor working conditions, including lack of personal protective equipment, improper implementation of collective agreements, and nonpayment of salary arrears or retirement benefits.  Workers also often complained of illegal termination of contracts, lack of salary increases, and failure of employers to properly register employees and pay the employer’s contribution to the National Social Insurance Fund, which provides health and social security benefits.

In April 2017 the government delegate to the Douala City Council suspended 11 workers’ representatives affiliated with the Wouri Divisional Union of Council Workers following a strike they held that same month.  Employees of the City Council in Douala demanded health insurance for themselves and their immediate relatives.  The government delegate fired the complainants but was overruled by the minister of labor and social security.  The government delegate, however, did not reinstate the employees in their positions.  In February the workers staged a hunger strike requesting their reinstatement and 10 months’ arrears, but the strike failed to bring about a positive outcome.  On September 27, the Littoral Court of Appeals delivered a verdict requesting that the government immediately reinstate and pay the salaries of the 11 workers’ representatives.  The court threatened to impose a fine of 20,000 CFA francs ($34) per day for any delay.  As of midNovember, the 11 workers’ representatives had not been reinstated, nor had they received their salaries following the court’s decision.

Dockers from PAD staged a series of strikes on February 13, June 22, and June 25, after unsuccessful negotiations with authorities.  The dockers first went on strike in May 2017 and reached a poststrike agreement with their employer, the Groupement Professionnel des Acconiers du Cameroun (GPAC), to improve working conditions.  Because their employer did not fulfill promises made, the dockers went on strike again on June 22 and were dispersed with tear gas.  They staged yet another strike on June 25, despite a strong deployment of security forces, to denounce what they referred to as an “advanced state of slavery” imposed by their employer.  Specific grievances included the lack of salary increases, insurance coverage, family allowances, and fair distribution of work, among others.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that a few striking dockers sustained injuries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor.  The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent.  Violations of the law are punishable by prison terms of five to 20 years and fines ranging from 10,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($17 to $17,000).  In cases of debt bondage, penalties are doubled if the offender is also the guardian or custodian of the victim.  The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities.  Although the statutory penalties are fairly severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, due to lack of knowledge of trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources.  In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting amicable settlement.

There continued to be anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region.  Many Kirdi, whose ethnic group was heavily of Christian and traditional faiths and who had been enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing.  Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to Fulani, as were all other subjects.  The combination of low wages and high taxes, although legal, effectively constituted forced labor.  While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable options.

In the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitive wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.  The NGO Mandela Center documented the case of Mohounga Paul Alias, who resided in a Baka camp, died in December 2017 after he fell from the roof of a Bantu family house in an attempt to escape from captivity.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment.  The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day, it and enumerates tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution.  Employers are required to train children between ages 14 and 18.  Because compulsory education ends at age 12, children who are not in school and not yet 14 are particularly vulnerable to child labor.  In addition laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than age 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or work at dangerous heights.  The government, however, earmarked funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to revise the hazardous work list during the year.  The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security are responsible for enforcing child labor laws through site inspections of registered businesses.  The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors.  Authorities did not allocate sufficient resources to support an effective inspection program.  Fines were not sufficient to deter violations, and court action was often ineffective, but workers’ organizations reported child labor was not a major problem in the formal sector.

The use of child labor, including forced labor, in informal sectors remained rampant.  UNICEF’s 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that 47 percent of children ages five to 14 were engaged in labor.  Children working in agriculture frequently were involved in clearing and tilling the soil and harvesting crops, such as bananas and cocoa.  In the service sector, children worked as domestic servants and street vendors.  Children, including refugee children from the Central African Republic, worked at artisanal mining sites under dangerous conditions.  Children were also forced to beg by adults, often by their parents to provide additional income for the household.  According to anecdotal reports, child labor, especially by refugee children, was prevalent in the building construction sector.  Chinese firms based in the country also reportedly used local child labor in the manufacture of children’s shoes.  In March 2017 the government convened a three-day assessment of the 2014-17 Decent Work Country Program and provided training to labor inspectors, including on child labor issues.  During the year the government also increased the number of labor inspectors from 132 to 286, but this number was still insufficient for the size of the workforce.

Parents viewed child labor as both a tradition and a rite of passage.  Relatives often brought rural youth, especially girls, to urban areas to exploit them as domestic helpers under the pretense of allowing them to attend school.  In rural areas many children began work at an early age on family farms.  The cocoa industry and cattle-rearing sector also employed child laborers.  These children originated, for the most part, from the Far North, North, Adamawa, West, and Northwest Regions.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, in collaboration with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and the national police, continued to implement activities to sensitize parents to the negative impact of child labor.  In June authorities in Kribi, in the Ocean Division of the South Region, conducted an operation leading to the identification of at least 21 children, ages six to 13 years, who were selling items on the city’s streets.  Police took the children to the Kribi central police station, where they registered and held the children until they could notify the parents.  Police interrogated the parents, informed them of the risks to which their children were exposed, and warned them they would be prosecuted if the children returned to the streets.  The operation was in line with a decision taken two years earlier by the senior divisional officer for Ocean Division to ban commercial activities by children in his jurisdiction.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.  Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector.  Ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to members of their respective ethnic group members in business and social practices, and persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment.  There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions.  The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage in all sectors is 36,270 CFA francs ($62) per month, greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day.  Premium pay for overtime ranges from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it is weekend or late-night overtime.  Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated with workers for lower salaries, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country.  Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public-works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in the domestic work sector, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities.  There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours a week), service-sector staff (45 hours), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours).  The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest.

The law mandates paid leave at the employer’s expense at the rate of one and onehalf working days for each month of actual service.  For persons younger than age 18, leave accrues at the rate of two and one-half days per month of service.  A maximum of 10 days per year of paid special leave, not deductible from annual leave, is granted to workers on the occasion of immediate family events.  For mothers, leave is generally increased by two working days for each child in the household younger than age six.

The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace.  The minister in charge of labor issues establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety.  These regulations were not enforced in the informal sector.  The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees.  This stipulation was not enforced.  By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.  Representatives for dockers claimed that, in the event of an accident at work, the employer allows treatment for two months and fires the victim if he or she does not recover.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for national enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards, but it did not enforce the law.  Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program.  Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.  Although there were ministries tasked with upholding the labor laws, resources were inadequate to support their mission.  For example, the city of Douala, which has six subdivisions, hundreds of companies, and thousands of employees, had only one labor inspectorate, which was generally poorly staffed.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016. Elections for the Senate had not taken place by year’s end.

Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve, but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved over the last year with the deployment of prefects and security services, in particular, in the western part of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, including rape by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups;[1] arbitrary detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by the government; seizure and destruction of property and use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict by armed groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread corruption; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex conduct; forced labor, including forced child labor; and use of child soldiers by armed groups.

The government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials in the security forces and in the government for alleged human rights violations. A climate of impunity, however, and a lack of access to legal services remained. There were allegations that United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults. The United Nations investigated alleged perpetrators and the number of reported incidents decreased over previous years (see section 1.c.).

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups escalated during the year. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. There were, however, several reports that armed groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in which government agents were implicated, according to reports by MINUSCA.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

In May members of an armed group killed 26 persons and wounded more than 200 others in an attack on the Notre Dame Church of Fatima in the sixth district of Bangui. Separate confrontations on May 14 and 15 between the Union for Peace (UPC) and Anti-balaka elements in Bambari resulted in 32 dead and 23 wounded civilians and armed group members. Clashes among rival groups in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood on May 23 resulted in deaths of 12 civilians.

There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, the LRA perpetrated at least 22 attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele border region in January. Five civilians were killed and 26 abducted. In February the LRA reportedly committed 30 attacks, killing at least 15 civilians and abducting 25 others.

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

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 many reports of disappearances committed by the 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 soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

In February the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Damala assaulted a 40-year-old woman after she came to plead for the release of her son who had been arrested following the theft of a motorcycle. A medical report documented the woman’s injuries.

There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGO sources, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported that it received eight allegations between January and August of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers that were deployed to MINUSCA. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, Morocco, Niger, and Burundi. Of the eight allegations, seven involved minors and all were pending investigations by the United Nations or the troop contributing country.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Two cases alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault or rape), involving minors. In both cases the United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by the Mauritanian government were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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 the 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. Six prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. 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 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 Ngaragba Prison reported 32 juveniles held there. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Administration: MINUSCA is extensively involved in the administration of prisons. MINUSCA personnel staffed the prisons in Bangui, Boura, and Bambari. 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. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors unofficial fees.

Independent Monitoring: In January, February, and July, the government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights in the CAR.

Improvements: In April the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 300 new prison officers.

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.

The judicial system had gradually expanded its presence beyond Bangui to other cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, and Mbaiki. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes were targeted by Seleka forces, prompting their withdrawal from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks. Local commanding officers purchased necessities and office supplies with their own funds.

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.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 11,846 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 1,896 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

In March the CAR internal security forces launched their first training program since 2009 for new police and gendarme recruits. The program had 250 police recruits, 60 of whom were women, and 250 gendarmes, 56 of whom were women.

The Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) arrested three police officers from the OCRB for torturing a woman (see section 1.c.).

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 ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. Led by the CAR bar association, defense lawyers protested and went on strike for higher remuneration, and the government negotiated an increased rate. 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 seldom occurred.

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

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data was not available.

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. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s 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, in practice, 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 between the judiciary and political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In March 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. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. 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 spaces 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 May the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC); the SCC officially launched investigations in October. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system, which operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Operations of the Courts of Appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts, Western district based in Bouar and Central district based in Bangui, held criminal sessions during the year. The Bouar criminal session adjudicated 65 cases involving 108 individuals, with 20 accused appearing in court and 88 convicted in absentia. In December 2017 the criminal session in Bangui adjudicated 27 criminal cases, and the July-August session adjudicated 26 cases. Fifteen cases went to trial and 11 were retained for the next criminal session.

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.

With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the SCC, which is tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.

Criminal hearings resumed in Bouar and in Kaga-Bandoro.

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, a human rights violation. 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 guarantee of their safety and a credible judicial process.

In January the Criminal Court of Bangui found former Anti-balaka leader Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as “Andilo,” guilty of five counts of criminal acts including assassinations, aggravated theft, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and theft. He was sentenced to life in prison with forced labor.

The court found another armed group leader, Ahmad Tidjani, and 10 members of the former Seleka guilty of criminal conspiracy, possession of weapons of war, undermining the internal security of the State and rebellion.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Press and Media Freedom: 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, such as Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, election process, ex-Seleka, and Anti-balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation by armed groups for expressing opinions opposing their ideologies.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government positions.

In July unknown actors killed three Russian journalists near Sibut, a city 124 miles north of the capital. The motivation for the killing is still unknown.

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

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. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place. In May the government briefly detained opposition leader Joseph Bendounga following a march in Bangui. The attorney general reiterated that the detention was justified because the march was not authorized.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: After several postponements, the country held a constitutional referendum in December 2015 followed by the first round of presidential and legislative elections. None of the 30 presidential candidates obtained more than the 50 percent of the votes required to avoid a second round, which was held in February 2016. In January 2016 the Transitional Constitutional Court annulled the December 2015 legislative elections due to widespread irregularities and voter intimidation and fraud and ordered new elections. The rescheduled first-round legislative elections also took place in February 2016, with a second round held in March 2016. The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate were not held, and no date for them has been announced. Central African refugees and members of the diaspora in some neighboring states were able to participate in the elections.

The 2015 constitutional referendum led to the adoption of a new constitution with 93 percent of the votes cast in favor; voter turnout was 38 percent.

The first round of presidential and legislative elections took place in December 2015 with a turnout of 62 percent. Refugees located in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad were able to vote. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, did not allow the estimated 112,000 Central African refugees in its territory to vote.

A total of 415 appeals were lodged contesting the results of the legislative elections, leading the Transitional Constitutional Court to invalidate the ballot and require a new first round of elections. The appeals were based primarily on allegations of irregularities and fraud, corruption, and intimidation of voters and candidates. The second round of the presidential election and the new first round of the legislative elections took place in February 2016. Observers noted a marked improvement in the conduct of the ballot, as the majority of polling stations opened on time and were properly equipped. The Transitional Constitutional Court announced the final results of the presidential election on March 1, 2016, confirming the victory of independent candidate Faustin-Archange Touadera with 62.7 percent of the vote over Anicet-George Dologuele, who had 37.3 percent of the vote. The turnout was 58.9 percent. Dologuele quickly conceded defeat and called upon his supporters to accept the results of the vote. The inauguration of President Touadera took place in March 2016.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Five of the 34 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 12 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 2016 the National Assembly passed a gender equality law. The law outlaws gender discrimination and establishes quotas for women’s representation in elective offices, and public and private institutions. It also establishes an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance.

There were seven Muslim members, including one Fulani member of the cabinet. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In March 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 the handicapped, and with ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues, among other roles.

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

Corruption: Few cases of corruption were brought to trial or exposed with strong evidence in the media; there were, however, widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption. A report by the NGO Collaborative for Development Action Collaborative Learning Projects utilizing firsthand testimony highlighted the extensive nature of corruption in the criminal justice system, where “extortion/bribery, sexual favors, favoritism, and political interference distort every aspect of the criminal justice system.”

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 for scrutiny by 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.

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

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

In August the national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Consultative Committee (CC) launched a pilot disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration project in Bangui. The goal was to disarm 560 armed group members. Thirteen of the 14 recognized armed groups represented on the committee participated in the pilot program. According to the CC, in September 240 armed group members disarmed and enlisted in the FACA. An additional 198 members were disarmed and in training to reintegrate into their communities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In April 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission expected to have the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

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.

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 instrument prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

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 fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($176 to $1,760), depending on the severity of the case.

Nearly one quarter of girls and women have been subjected to FGM/C in the country, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately half of girls were cut between the ages of 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice declined sharply over time.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in the areas controlled by armed groups, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

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

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 about 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 courts issued more than 7,000 birth certificates. They were not delivered, however, because court clerks demanded payment for printing the certificates. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Human Rights Watch documented the continued occupation of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Further, it documented that abuses by fighters in and around schools threatened the safety of students and teachers, and impeded children’s ability to learn. In 2015 according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. 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.

According to an NGO nationwide survey during the year, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

In March a Central African military colonel imprisoned and brutally abused his nine-year-old daughter for two years. The colonel remained free despite criminal charges being filed against him.

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. Constitutional guarantees of women’s rights were rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces had been documented, but many instances had not been investigated or prosecuted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect 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. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

For example, a man raped his four-year-old niece. The child was under medical treatment. UMIRR was investigating the case while the uncle remained in jail.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

For example, during the year, NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves.

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (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 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, armed groups released 3,000 children, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

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.

The government did not enact programs to ensure 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the 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 Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo have begun arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

Social networks were increasingly used to incite hatred against persons of other ethnicities. The High Commission on Communications initiated a campaign to combat hate speech on social networks.

Indigenous People

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

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 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.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($265 and $1,060). When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($176 and $1,413); 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. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. 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 former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam continued working with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to 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. These ethnic groups committed preemptive and reactionary killings in protection of perceived or real threats to their property (cattle herds or farms). Initial killings generated reprisal killings and counter killings.

According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

The law outlawed the practice of witchcraft. According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

In April civil society members organized a conference bringing together anthropologists and legal experts to discuss witchcraft. Participants highlighted the misuse of this law by accusers, notably against women. Nevertheless, in May three persons accused of witchcraft were killed in Ndolobo, near Mbaïki.

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, all 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. Substantial restrictions, including reciprocity, hampered noncitizens from holding leadership positions in a union, despite amendments to the labor code.

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, of Employment and Social Protection 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. 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 and prescribes a penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The government did not enforce the prohibition effectively, however, and there were reports such practices occurred, especially in armed conflict zones. The failure of government enforcement was due to a lack of resources, a dysfunctional judicial system, and an inadequate inspection cadre. 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. In Bangui and other large urban areas, however, this practice was rare, partly because of the presence of human rights NGOs or lawyers and because day labor was inexpensive. 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). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids the employment of children younger than 14 without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection, but the law also provides that the minimum age for employment can be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing hazardous work or working at night. Although the law defines hazardous work as any employment that endangers children’s physical and mental health, it does not define the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor.

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. Five labor inspectors were specifically trained to investigate child labor. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Children continued to perform hazardous work and labored as child soldiers. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Local and displaced children as young as seven years old 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. Children also worked in diamond fields alongside adult relatives, 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.

There were reports of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka 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 www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

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. 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.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the minister of labor, employment, and social protection 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. While the average monthly minimum wage remained 28,000 CFA francs ($49), it was 26,000 CFA francs ($46) for government workers and 8,500 CFA francs ($15) for agricultural workers.

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy unregulated in terms of wages. 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, Employment, and Social Protection, 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.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection 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 about 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 enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection 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. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining. Salary and pension arrears were problems for armed forces personnel and the country’s approximately 24,000 civil servants.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, are 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 years old, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse and generally earned a daily wage of 2,000 CFA francs ($3.50), often 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. On average, they earned 186,000 CFA francs ($328) per year via legal sales, but this figure varied considerably based on the scale of the mine. Often miners supplemented these earnings by either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

No credible information was available regarding workplace injuries and deaths.


[1] 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 (FPRC), the Union for Peace (UPC), and the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013.

Chad

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control of the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture by security forces; arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the government; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; denial of fair public trial; political prisoners; censorship of the press and restrictions on access to social network sites by the government; arrest and detention of persons for defamation by the government; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), with government negligence a factor; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor including forced and other worst forms; and trafficking in persons, particularly children.

There was only one occasion on which the government took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained a problem.

Members of Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant terrorist group, killed numerous persons in the country, often using suicide bombers. Officials and local newspapers reported four attacks by Boko Haram between April and September. Those attacks resulted in the deaths of 34 persons, including civilians and military troops.

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 arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity, according to Freedom House.

Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6).

In April, following recommendations of judges investigating the cases, a court authorized the release of 118 Boko Haram suspects whom the government had insufficient evidence to detain. The remaining detainees with alleged terrorist charges were in Koro-Toro prison awaiting trial. The approximately 16 children and women the government held in 2017 in the Amsinene prison were released in June. The children had been kept in custody not because of their involvement in any criminal offense, but because no other child care was available.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence that the government continued to employ them.

General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former Chadian rebel arrested in 2014 by UN forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) and turned over to Chadian authorities, remained imprisoned in Koro-Toro pending hearings. According to his lawyers, he was denied access to medical treatment while his health deteriorated. In August, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported the representative of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) was concerned about Baba Ladehe’s health and questioned Ladehe’s continued detention after an order of President Deby amnestied all rebels on the proclamation of the Fourth Republic. Baba Ladehe was accused of armed robbery, illegal possession of weapons, assassination, rebellion, and criminal conspiracy. He had spent more than four years in prison without trial.

In April Amnesty International decried authorities’ use of torture, describing a case in which ruling party authorities beat journalist and activist “Mahadine” and subjected him to electric shocks while he was in detention.

On October 3, the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) denounced the acts of General Mahamat Saleh Brahim, commander of the Chadian National Nomadic Guard operating in Ngouri, Lake Chad region. According to the secretary general of the CTDDH, General Saleh Brahim arrested 15 village chiefs because they refused to sign a document to renounce their right of land ownership. General Brahim had previously put the village chiefs in the sun for more than four hours before sending them to prison, subjecting them to humiliating and degrading treatment.

Security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.

On September 17, former government employees demonstrated in front of the public treasury in N’Djamena, claiming salary arrears. National police dispersed them with tear gas. Witnesses and local newspapers reported that police arrested and wounded several protesters.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Chad reported prior to 2018 were pending. The cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relation) and sexual assault (against a child) involving peacekeepers deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Investigations by both the United Nations and Chad were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: According to a Justice Ministry official, there were approximately 8,700 inmates. They were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population since 2012, no new facilities had been constructed. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners, and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities did not always separate male and female prisoners, and held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. They reportedly received insufficient funding to feed inmates.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported food, potable water, sanitation, and health services were inadequate. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities lacked resources to comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported that government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor.

No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available.

After a 2017 visit, President Deby stated that he had observed alarming conditions at Amsinene prison. In a press conference, he stated the prison was seriously overcrowded and the situation had deteriorated. The director of the penitentiary reported the prison held 2,027 inmates, including 92 underage detainees and 49 women. He said poor conditions contributed to the physical and mental deterioration of most detainees, which was compounded by socioeconomic and cultural factors that impacted an inmate’s chance to receive food or medicine from a family or tribal network.

Administration: There was no functioning mechanism by which prisoners could submit complaints about prison conditions to judicial authorities. Although NGOs denounced prison conditions, they did not file a case against the government, and there is no formal complaint process outside of the courts. There was no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits during the year. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the ICRC visited every four to six weeks.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2018 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore” constitutional protections regarding detention. Police and gendarmes also detained individuals for civil matters, contrary to law. There were reports that officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.

The director of Air Inter One, a private airline company, Mathias Tsarsi, had been detained since September 2017. He was charged with financing terrorism, money laundering, forgery, and the use of forgery. Tsarsi was also accused of using an A-340 Airbus aircraft registered in Chad for arms trafficking between Syria, Kazakhstan, and the United States. According to his lawyers, the alleged Airbus A-340 did not belong to Air Inter One.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The military (ANT), gendarmerie, national police, the Chadian National Nomadic Guard (GNNT), and National Security Agency (ANS) are responsible for internal security. A specialized gendarmerie unit, the Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees (DPHR), is responsible for security in refugee camps for both refugees and humanitarian workers. The ANT reports to the Ministry of Defense. The national police, GNNT, and DPHR are part of the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration. The ANS reports directly to the president.

Security forces were corrupt and involved in extortion. According to media reports, police also were involved in violence and arms trafficking. Impunity was a problem. Local media and civil society organizations reported that members of the judicial police, an office within the national police with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups. There were isolated reports of former soldiers posing as active-duty soldiers and committing crimes with government-issued weapons.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no charges were made, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients, allegedly under the instruction of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, RFI reported. After Governor of Doba Adam Nouky Charfadine was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended prison time and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended prison time penalty and fined 250,000 CFA francs ($425) each.

Two gendarmerie entities, the National Judiciary Investigations Section and the Special Intervention Squad of the Gendarmerie, investigate all gendarmerie, GNNT, and army killings to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The Judicial Police investigate police killings.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur, according to local media. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procurer (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. According to justice representatives, at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to justice representatives. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals, according to local media.

Le Visionaire newspaper reported that on August 4, police arrested the director of Radio FM Nada, Beinde Bessande Sylver; the CEO of the English Learning Center, Bendiguim Eric; and the director of the Poly Handicraft Institute of Chad, Mbaihoremem Joachim. They reportedly trained 1,000 young persons in digital technology, reproductive health, and entrepreneurship, which led to their arrest. The prefect of Moundou accused the men of usurping the title of journalist, saying, “They are not allowed to train young people, it is illegal.” All three were released on September 7, following the decision of the public prosecutor of the court of Moundou.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital, according to a Ministry of Justice official. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence for conviction of the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked and underresourced judiciary susceptible to corruption.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was underfunded, overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. Members of the judiciary sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, according to representatives of the bar association. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders.

In July the prosecutor of the republic at the court of Iriba, in the eastern region, was threatened with death after the assassination of two defendants in that court. Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi told the French Press Agency that “while the prosecutor was speaking to an alleged criminal in his office during a hearing, men came to shoot the defendant. Then they went out to shoot another one who also came for a hearing,” according to the minister. Threatened by the relatives of the two victims, “The prosecutor took refuge with the prefect, whom we asked to protect him,” said Djimet Arabi.

“We deplore and condemn the threats hanging over the Chadian magistrates,” said Djonga Arafi, secretary general of the Trade Union of Magistrates of Chad.

On May 22, following an ordinance for release of three detainees against whom no basis for arrest was found, a commander of gendarmes carried out an assassination attempt on a lawyer and his clients allegedly under the instructions of the governor of Doba, who believed the court mismanaged the case, according to RFI. After the governor of Doba, Adam Nouky Charfadine, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in July, the Appeals Court delivered its verdict. Adam Nouky Charfadine was convicted of infringement of freedom, encroaching on justice, and discrediting a court decision. He was sentenced to two years’ suspended imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850). His codefendants were sentenced to the same suspended confinement penalty and 250,000 CFA francs each ($425). According to a representative of the bar association, the sentences were very lenient compared to previous sentences.

A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.

The legal system is based on the French civil code, but the constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the formal French-derived legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede Napoleonic law. Residents of rural areas and refugee/internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.

The constitution enacted in April states that there is a military court system. It comprises two courts: the Military Court, similar to the First Instance Court, and the High Military Court, acting as an appellate court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation; these rights, however, were seldom respected, according to local media. Trials are public. Only criminal trials used juries, but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although this seldom occurred, according to legal experts. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.

In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes impacted legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of dia, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to the NGO Movement Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad (ACAIAT) November report, there were at least 72 political detainees. The list released by ACAIAT showed some detainees had spent seven years and seven months in prison, while the shortest time in prison was one year. All were awaiting trial. According to criminal law, the detainees should have been released because of their lengthy pretrial detention. The representative of ACAIAT said was a politically motivated detention.

Media reported the secret detention of two high-ranking intelligence officers by the government, but further verification was not possible.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of new political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Lawsuits for human rights violations may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available. The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters, and some legal professionals were coerced in order to manipulate legal decisions, according to representatives of the bar association.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the government demolishing homes without due process.

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

Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seized private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.

A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting, after ruling party powers were expanded under the constitution of the fourth republic.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one million to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,100).

Press and Media Freedom: The government subsidized the only daily newspaper and owned a biweekly newspaper. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

According to Freedom in the World 2016, “broadcast media were controlled by the state, and the High Council of Communication exerted control over most content on the radio,” which remained the most important medium of mass communication. The government-owned Radio Diffusion Nationale Tchadienne had several stations. There were approximately a dozen private stations, which faced high licensing fees and threat of closure for coverage critical of the government, according to Freedom House. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

The country had three television stations–one owned by the government and two that were privately owned.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation.

According to NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by either anonymous individuals or those identifying themselves as members of the security services.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets, such as a local radio station in the southern town of Bongor, which reopened in July. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Beginning in March the internet connection was heavily restricted so that users could no longer connect to the most-used social networks. According to lawyers for internet service providers, the decision to restrict access to the internet followed instructions given by authorities. RFI reported the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority stated it had received an order from the Ministry of the Interior to implement this censorship on social networks.

On April 6, a court in N’Djamena ordered the release of journalist Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri, known as Mahadine, who had been detained since 2016 after having posted several videos on Facebook criticizing the government’s mismanagement of public funds. In March the government dropped the original charges of undermining the constitutional order, threatening territorial integrity and national security, and collaborating with an insurrection movement for the much lesser charge of defamation, and the court recognized that he had long passed the limit for preventive detention and ordered his release.

The government blocked access to international data roaming allegedly for security reasons; the government claimed criminals and terrorists from Nigeria and Cameroon were using international roaming to communicate with each other while in Chad. The government also claimed the blockages were due to technical problems, a claim met with widespread skepticism.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 6.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings. Following the 2015 Boko Haram attacks, the ministry often denied permission for large gatherings, including social events such as weddings and funerals.

The Ministry of Administration, Public Security, and Local Governance banned the peaceful march planned by lawyers and notaries for June 16, and it did not happen. The march was intended to demand the government turn former governor of Logone Oriental and his accomplices over to the justice system. Former governor Adam Nouky Charfaddine and some military personnel were accused of the assassination attempt on a lawyer, as well as kidnapping and illegally detaining three individuals released by courts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While an ordinance requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the ordinance was enforced. The ordinance also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 presidential election, President Deby won a fifth term with 59.92 percent of the vote; Saleh Kebzabo placed second with 12.8 percent. While the election was orderly and had a high voter turnout, it was neither free nor fair, and there were numerous irregularities. According to the African Union, staff at polling stations was not adequately trained, 81 percent of ballot boxes observed had not been checked to see if they were empty at the start of polling, and 10 percent of polling stations did not provide secrecy in voting. Runner-up Kebzabo refused to accept the outcome of the vote, stating that it was an “electoral stickup.” Other opposition politicians cited alleged ballot stuffing and the disappearance of ballot boxes.

Some military personnel were required to vote in the open, in front of colleagues and superiors. According to pan-African television channel Africa 24, more than two dozen military members were reportedly jailed and beaten for refusing to vote for the president. FM Liberte coverage included opposition calls for the Independent National Electoral Commission to discount the results of military voting pending investigation.

Security forces detained, tortured, and held incommunicado opposition members, according to human rights organizations and local press.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the electoral law after the 2018 pronouncement of the Fourth Republic mandate complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures, which opposition leaders attributed to the government’s attempt to limit dissent.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Fourth Republic ordinances decree leadership of all political parties must include at least 30 percent women. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. Ethnicity influenced government appointments and political alliances. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and the presidential staff.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was pervasive at all levels of government.

Corruption: There were no reports of government officials being investigated for corruption or embezzlement during the year. On May 7, the General Inspectorate of the State suspended the former investment division head of the Ministry of Finance on suspicion of embezzlement. Days after the suspension, however, he was appointed minister of finance.

Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses or concessions, dispute settlement, regulation enforcement, customs, and taxation. Local human rights organizations reported police extorted and verbally abused motorists. Security forces arbitrarily arrested travelers on pretexts of minor traffic violations.

Judicial corruption was a problem and hindered effective law enforcement.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, but the laws do not specify sanctions for noncompliance, and declarations were not made available to the public.

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

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape–including rape of female refugees–was a problem (see section 2.d.). The law does not specifically address spousal rape. Police often detained alleged perpetrators, but rape cases were rarely tried. Authorities fined and released most rape suspects, according to local media. Communities sometimes compelled rape victims to marry their attackers.

Although the law prohibits violence against women, domestic violence was widespread. Police rarely intervened, and women had limited legal recourse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FCM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women, but the practice remained widespread, particularly in rural areas.

By law, FGM/C may be prosecuted as a form of assault, and charges may be brought against the parents of victims, medical practitioners, or others involved. Nevertheless, lack of specific penalties hindered prosecution, and authorities prosecuted no cases during the year.

The Ministry of Women, Early Childhood Protection, and National Solidarity is responsible for coordinating activities to combat FGM/C. For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The 2017 criminal code provides penalties for sexual harassment ranging from six months to three years in prison and fines from 100,000 to two million CFA francs ($170 to $3,400).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For more information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although property and inheritance laws provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, family law discriminates against women, and discrimination against and exploitation of women were widespread. Local leaders settled most inheritance disputes in favor of men, according to traditional practice.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth within the country’s territory or from at least one parent. The government did not register all births immediately. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although primary education is tuition-free, universal, and compulsory between ages six and 16, parents were required to pay for textbooks, except in some rural areas. Parents often were required to pay tuition for public secondary education. According to the most recent World Bank Development Indicators, six girls attended primary school for every 10 boys. Most children did not attend secondary school.

Human rights organizations cited the problem of the mouhadjirin, migrant children who attended certain Islamic schools and whose teachers forced them to beg for food and money. There was no reliable estimate of the number of mouhadjirin.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18. The law precludes invoking the consent of the minor spouse to justify child marriage and prescribes sentences of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500) for persons convicted of perpetrating child marriage, although the practice was widespread.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, with punishments of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines from 100,000 to two million CFA francs ($170 to $3,400) for conviction. The law prohibits sexual relations with children younger than age 14, even if married, but authorities rarely enforced the ban. The law criminalizes the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography, but no cases of child pornography were reported during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known 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 www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although it does not specify the types of disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law, according to the Chadian Disability Organization. There are no laws that provide for access to public buildings for persons with disabilities. The government operated education, employment, and therapy programs for persons with disabilities.

Children with physical disabilities may attend primary, secondary, and higher education institutions. The government supported schools for children with vision or mental disabilities, but they remained inadequate to address the need.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were approximately 200 ethnic groups speaking more than 120 languages and dialects.

Conflict between pastoralists (herders) and farmers continued, particularly in the southern part of the country, and resulted in deaths and injuries. Herders are largely members of majority Muslim tribes, while farmers are largely minority Christian, and conflict tends to coalesce along religious lines. For example, Abba Garde newspaper reported on September 23 that in the subprefecture of Baktchoro, four persons were killed in a conflict between herders and farmers.

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

The law prohibits but does not define “unnatural acts.” In August the president signed a revision to the penal code making same-sex sexual relations illegal. The code punishes same-sex relations by three months’ to two years’ imprisonment and fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 to $850).

There were no lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations in the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides individuals with HIV/AIDS the same rights as other persons and requires the government to provide information, education, and access to tests and treatment for HIV/AIDS, but the law was rarely complied with due to lack of resources. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, women sometimes were accused of passing HIV to their husbands and were threatened by family members with judicial action or banishment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions of their choice. All unions must be authorized by the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration, which may order the dissolution of a union that does not comply with the law as determined by the ministry. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. While there are no restrictions on collective bargaining, the law authorizes the government to intervene under certain circumstances. The law recognizes the right to strike but restricts the right of civil servants and employees of state enterprises to do so. The law requires a 72-hour notification before a strike. Civil servants and employees of state enterprises must complete a mediation process before initiating a strike, but there is no specified timeline for this process. Employees of several public entities classified as essential services, including postal workers, abattoir employees, and nine more categories, must continue to provide a certain level of services and may be “requisitioned” at the government’s discretion during a strike. The law permits imprisonment with hard labor for participation in an illegal strike. The labor code prohibits antiunion discrimination and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and irregular workers. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Union members reported these protections were not always respected.

The government effectively protected freedom of association and collective bargaining, although both were subject to delays, primarily due to administrative difficulties in convening key officials for negotiations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations, according to an inspector at the Ministry of Labor, although widespread reports of violations continued in media and among NGOs.

There were no reports of restrictions on collective bargaining or punishment of workers for participating in illegal strikes. More than 90 percent of employees in the formal sector belonged to unions. The majority of workers were self-employed and nonunionized, working as cultivators or herders. State-owned enterprises dominated many sectors of the formal economy, and the government remained the largest employer. Unions were officially independent of both the government and political parties, although some unions were unofficially linked through members’ affiliation with political parties.

Public-sector employee unions staged a number of strikes during the year to protest late or nonpayment of salaries, allowances, bonuses, and stipends. Contrary to previous years, strikes that occurred during the year were not accompanied by demonstrations, due to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security 2016 ban on demonstrations, which was challenged by the bar association in an ongoing case.

The government did not give priority to meeting with trade unions. In October 2017 the unions’ Workers Coalition released a press note stating that the government did not fulfil its pay and allowance commitments; thus, the coalition was exploring all possibilities to return to negotiations. The president of the main UST union also warned that it would call for strikes if needed.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The revised penal code signed into law May 2017 criminalizes labor trafficking offenses, including forced labor.

Articles 327 and 331 of the penal code together criminalize “involuntary labor” or servitude through the use of force, fraud, or coercion and prescribe a penalty of two to 10 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of 100,000 to 1 million CFA francs ($170 to $1,700), or both. Articles 328 and 331 together criminalize slavery through the use of force, fraud, or coercion and prescribe penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and 200,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($340 to $17,000). These penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations, according to a director at the Ministry of Justice. There are no penalties for forced prison labor, which was common, according to human rights NGOs.

Government efforts to enforce the law were not consistently effective. Resources, inspections, and remediation with regard to forced labor were inadequate. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in the informal sector. Children and adults in rural areas were involved in forced agricultural labor and, in urban areas, forced domestic servitude.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code stipulates the minimum age for employment is 14. The law provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and domestic service at age 12. The legal minimum age for employment, a lack of schooling opportunities in some areas, and tribal initiation practices contributed to a general acceptance of working children if they were 14 or older, some of whom may be engaged in hazardous work. The minimum age for military recruitment is 18, and the minimum age for conscription is 20. The law prohibits the use of child soldiers (see 1.g.).

The Ministry of Labor provided training to labor inspectors on children’s issues. The Office of Labor Inspection is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws and policies, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained widespread, but authorities did not prosecute any cases during the year, according to officials at the Ministry of Labor. Labor laws apply to work only in formal enterprises; they do not protect children working in informal activities, such as domestic service. Penalties for breaking child labor laws range from six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and a fine of 147,000 to 294,000 CFA francs ($250 to $500), or up to 882,000 CFA francs ($1,500) for repeat offenders, which was not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not impose penalties “if the breach was the result of an error as to a child’s age, if the error was not the employer’s fault.” Police sometimes took extrajudicial action, such as arresting and detaining persons without a court warrant, against child labor offenders. Traditional leaders also sometimes meted out traditional punishments, such as ostracism, according to local human rights organizations.

While the government did not have a comprehensive plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, it worked with UNICEF and NGOs to increase public awareness of child labor. In addition, efforts continued to educate parents and civil society on the dangers of child labor, particularly for child herders.

Child laborers were subjected to domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in cattle herding, agriculture, fishing, and street vending. Chadian children were also found in forced cattle herding in Cameroon, the CAR, and Nigeria. Child herders often lived in substandard conditions without access to school or proper nutrition. Their parents and herders generally agreed on an informal contract for the child’s labor that included a small monthly salary and a goat after six months or a cow at the end of a year. Local NGOs reported, however, compensation often was not paid. According to the Chadian Women Lawyers’ Association, girls sold or forced into child marriages were forced by their husbands into domestic servitude and agricultural labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and labor regulations prohibit employment or wage discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin/citizenship, or membership in a union. There are no laws preventing employment discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social origin.

Workers may file discrimination complaints with the Office of the Labor Inspector, which conducts an investigation and subsequently may mediate between the worker and employer. If mediation fails, the case is forwarded to the labor court for a public hearing. The final decision and amount of any fine depend on the gravity of the case–147,000 to 294,000 CFA francs ($250 to $500) for an initial offense, and fines of 288,000 to 882,000 CFA francs ($490 to $1,500) or six to 10 days in prison for a subsequent offense. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. The penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations, according to a labor inspector from the Ministry of Labor.

Women generally were not permitted to work at night, more than 12 hours a day, or in jobs that could present “moral or physical danger,” which is not defined. Persons with disabilities frequently experienced employment discrimination. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, foreign nationals often had difficulty obtaining work permits, earned lower wages, and had poor working conditions. LGBTI persons and HIV-positive persons faced social and employment discrimination and generally did not reveal their sexual orientation, according to media.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was 60,000 CFA francs ($102) a month, greater than the World Bank poverty rate of $1.90 per day. A total of 38.4 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The law limits most employment to 39 hours per week, with overtime paid for additional hours. Agricultural work is limited to 2,400 hours per year, an average of 46 hours per week. All workers are entitled to uninterrupted rest periods of between 24 and 48 hours per week and paid annual holidays.

The labor code mandates occupational health and safety standards that are current and appropriate for main industries. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment, but they generally did not do so. The labor code gives inspectors the authority to enforce the law and explicitly covers all workers, including foreign and informal workers.

The Office of the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor has responsibility for the enforcement of the minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum wage was not effectively enforced, and many persons were paid less, especially in the informal sector. The 30 labor inspectors in the Ministry of Public Works were insufficient to enforce the law. Labor inspectors may refer cases to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights for prosecution. Inadequate budget and staffing, lack of worker knowledge of their rights, and corruption impeded effective enforcement. Authorities did not always respect legal protections for foreign and irregular workers. Violations of safety and health standards may lead to penalties ranging from approximately 75,000 to 300,000 CFA francs ($127 to $510). Penalties for second offenses may include fines of more than 500,000 CFA francs ($850) and between one and 10 days’ imprisonment. An inspector from the Ministry of Labor reported that these penalties were not adequate to deter violations.

Salary arrears remained a problem for some private-sector employees. Workers did not always avail themselves of their rights concerning work hour limits, largely because they preferred the additional pay.

Multinational companies generally met the government’s acceptable occupational health and safety standards. The civil service and local private companies occasionally disregarded occupational health and safety standards. Local private companies and public offices often had substandard conditions, including a lack of ventilation, fire protection, and health and safety protection.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The Union of the Comoros is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country consists of three islands–Grande Comore (also called Ngazidja), Anjouan (Ndzuani), and Moheli (Mwali)–and claims a fourth, Mayotte (Maore), that France administers. In 2015 successful legislative elections were held. In April 2016 voters elected Azali Assoumani as president of the union, as well as governors for each of the three islands. Despite a third round of voting on Anjouan–because of ballot-box thefts–Arab League, African Union, and EU observer missions considered the elections generally free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

On July 30, Comorians passed a referendum on a new constitution, which modified the rotating presidency, abolished the islands’ vice presidents, and significantly reduced the size and authority of the islands’ governorates. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared the referendum free and fair, although the opposition, which had called for a boycott of the referendum, rejected the results and accused the government of ballot-box stuffing.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; use of excessive force against detainees; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, trafficking in persons, and ineffective enforcement of laws protecting workers’ rights.

Impunity for violations of human rights was widespread. Although the government discouraged officials from committing human rights violations and sometimes arrested or dismissed officials implicated in such violations, they were rarely tried.

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 was a report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.

In late September a recently released detainee died allegedly due to torture (see section 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

Media reports alleged a 30-year-old prison detainee died on September 30, days after having been released from Mutsamudu’s Koki Prison, due to torture he allegedly endured, and harsh conditions. Family members reported they would not make an official complaint due to fear of reprisals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor. The national prison in Moroni is the largest of three prisons in the country. The other two are in Anjouan and Moheli. Military detainees were held in military facilities. National or individual island authorities used various detention facilities as deemed appropriate, and detainees could be transferred from either Anjouan or Moheli to the national prison in Moroni, depending upon the nature of their offenses.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of December the Moroni prison held 135 inmates, but according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) standards, the capacity was 60 inmates. Koki Prison on Anjouan held 90 inmates. Its capacity is not known but all prisoners are kept in only one of the two prison buildings, consisting of three rooms each 215 square feet and a single toilet, and the second building is unused.

The law on child protection provides for juveniles ages 15 to 18 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Juveniles and adult prisoners were held together. As of December there were three juvenile male inmates in the Moroni prison held with adults. That prison also held two adult female prisoners in a separate cellblock. The Anjouan prison held three adult female prisoners in a separate area and no minors. Detainees and prisoners normally received a single meal per day consisting of 1.8 ounces of rice and one egg (Moroni) or red beans when available (Anjouan). Those who did not receive additional food from family members suffered. Other common problems included inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation and lighting, and medical facilities. The prison in Moroni has a nurse on staff and a visiting doctor; prisoners in Koki said they were sometimes allowed to leave the prison if they needed medical care.

There were multiple reports that the writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui (known as SAST), arrested in August for his role in an alleged coup plot, was being held in a prison cell so small he could neither lie down nor stand straight, and that he was being denied medical treatment, visitations, and clean water and sanitation. As of December, however, he was with the general population in Moroni and appeared to be in reasonably good health. Some media reports suggested that four other less well known detainees arrested for the same incident were suffering the same conditions.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints without censorship, but investigations or follow-up actions almost never occurred.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the ICRC to monitor prisons. Authorities required that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) request a visit permit from the prosecutor general.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these provisions, although there were some arbitrary arrests during the year.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Development Army and the Federal Police have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The National Development Army includes both the Gendarmerie and the Comorian Defense Force and reports to the president’s cabinet director for defense. The National Directorate of Territorial Safety, which oversees immigration and customs, reports to the minister of interior, information, and decentralization. The Federal Police report to the minister of interior. The Gendarmerie’s intervention platoon also may act under the authority of the interior minister. When the Gendarmerie serves as the judicial police, it reports to the minister of justice.

Each of the three islands had a local police force under the authority of its own minister of interior, or commissaire of the interior, but these positions were abolished under the new constitution approved in a July 30 referendum, although the governorates continued to resist complying with this change.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, police used excessive force, and impunity was a problem. The ability of the army to investigate abuses by its personnel was uncertain.

On January 20, according to media reports, during routine patrols near Moroni, Grande Comore, the Gendarmerie intervention platoon detained 29 individuals who were not carrying identification and brought them to the military camp at Mde, where they were allegedly tortured and beaten. Eventually they were released, and when photos of injuries surfaced on Facebook, the commander of the Gendarmerie’s forces on Grande Comore reported an investigation was under way and that wrongdoers would be punished. On January 28, President Azali also insisted there should be an investigation. The government reported, however, that the investigation revealed no evidence of torture and provided no further information.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial arrest warrants as well as prosecutorial approval to detain persons longer than 24 hours without charge. The law provides for the prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and for detainees to be informed promptly of the charges against them. A magistrate informs detainees of their rights, including the right to legal representation. These rights were inconsistently respected. The bail system prohibits those for whom bail is posted from leaving the country. Some detainees did not have prompt access to attorneys or their families. According to press reporting, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, under arrest for charges relating to an economic citizenship passport program, was denied the right to confidential counsel with his lawyer.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest. For example, there were multiple press reports of suspects’ wives being held for one or two days in the hopes that this would convince their husband to turn himself in.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. By law, pretrial detainees may be held for no more than four months, although many were held longer. A magistrate or prosecutor may extend this period. Detainees routinely awaited trial for extended periods for reasons including administrative delay, case backlog, and time-consuming collection of evidence. Some extensions continued for several years. Defense attorneys occasionally protested such judicial inefficiencies.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A person arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of the detention, and the law provides for monetary damages if a court finds a detention improper. During the year former president Sambi challenged the basis for his detention under house arrest, although as of late October, he still awaited a ruling. Meanwhile, Sambi was under provisional detention, pending an eventual trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Judicial inconsistency, unpredictability, and corruption were problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and to a timely trial, but lengthy delays were common. The legal system incorporates French legal codes and sharia (Islamic law). Trials are open to the public, and defendants are presumed innocent. Trials are by jury in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and indigent defendants have the right to counsel provided at public expense, although the latter right was rarely observed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Although the law provides for the assistance at no charge of an interpreter for any defendant unable to understand or speak the language used in court, none was provided. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There is an appellate process.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Opposition and some national and international media outlets used the term “political prisoner” in reference to writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui, also known as “Sast,” and four others arrested in August for involvement in an alleged planned coup d’etat. Others arrested in the case included deputy army chief of staff Colonel Ibrahim Salim. According to media, they were charged with conspiracy, attack on state security, conspiracy in an attempted coup d’etat, unlawful weapons possession and complicity, and nonreporting of an attempted crime. Police allegedly recovered weapons and a large amount of cash, but there were no reports any of the individuals involved had committed any acts of violence. On December 17, four individuals, including Tourqui, Ibrahim Salim, and former Vice President Djaffar Said Ahmed Hassane, who has taken refuge in Tanzania, were sentenced to life with hard labor for allegedly plotting against the state.

Civil aviation official Ismael Ahmed Kassim and Hamada Almoutawakil were detained since February for their alleged involvement in placing nails on the Moheli runway prior to the planned landing of President Azali’s plane. Kassim became aware of the nails and alerted the incoming pilot not to land. After authorities detained as many as 45 persons for the incident and allegedly abused and tortured them (per media reports), only Kassim and Almoutawakil remained in prison. On December 13, they were sentenced to prison terms of eight years and five years, respectively.

Civil society, government officials, and political parties on Anjouan reported cases of political prisoners, primarily from opposition political parties based on Anjouan. These officials estimated the number of political prisoners ranged from 11 to 200 detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through an independent, but corrupt court system. By law individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Court orders were inconsistently enforced.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: In July the country adopted a new constitution, which establishes Islam as the state religion and notes, “the state will draw on Sunni principles and rules, and Shafi’i rites which regulate belief and social life.” The law establishes Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis that such religious practices would “affront” society’s cohesion and endanger “national unity.” The law does not permit an imam or preacher to preach or lead prayer, regardless of location, without prior approval.

Press and Media Freedom: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. Some journalists on all three islands practiced self-censorship.

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

On August 2, Faiza Soule Youssouf, chief editor of the government daily newspaper Al-Watwan, was accused by Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou of tarnishing the country’s image by publishing a video on Facebook of a July 30 incident in which referendum opponents severed the hand of a gendarme who was securing the polling station. A week after the interior minister’s accusation, Youssouf was dismissed for alleged “serious misconduct, incitement to the rebellion of journalists, and abandoning of post.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: According to press reports, in January the Gendarmerie detained two managers of Grande Comore-based Radio Kaz, allegedly to question them on the whereabouts of journalist Oubeidillah Mchangama. In July, after reports that journalists on Radio Kaz had made insulting statements regarding the interior minister, the National Council for Press and Audiovisual Media (CNPA) sanctioned the station for having violated information code guidelines. On August 21, the central prefecture suspended the station’s right to broadcast. On September 19, the CNPA made the suspension permanent, and the national regulator ANRTIC withdrew the station’s frequency, 107 FM.

Mchangama and fellow broadcaster Abdillah Abdou Hassane (“Agwa”) of Radio Baraka FM, which police shut down in late 2016 after Hassane was found guilty of defamation, remained in hiding as of September.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

On June 21, a peaceful march by the Mouvement du 17 Fevrier in Fomboni, Moheli, was dispersed by the police due to lack of Interior Ministry authorization, despite the claim by organizers that they had authorization from the mayor of Fomboni. The next day, opposition leaders Moustoifa Said Cheikh, Ahmed Wadaane, and Ibrahim Razida, were arrested for their role in the march and charged with mobbing, disturbing public order, and holding an unauthorized protest. On July 2, they were found guilty and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 Comorian francs ($358), but they were released after 20 days.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

During the year a referendum modified the constitution, which had provided for a rotating union government presidency once every five years, in which each of the country’s three islands took a turn at holding a primary to select three presidential candidates for national election. The new constitution removes the limitation on presidential candidates to those residing on a particular island in an election year and allows the incumbent to run for a second term. Aside from the rotation provision that was modified during the year, anyone meeting constitutional requirements of age, residency, citizenship, and good moral character may run for office.

Recent Elections: In 2015 free and fair legislative elections were held. In April 2016 presidential and gubernatorial elections were held. Incumbent candidates claimed some irregularities, including the theft of ballots on Anjouan. They filed complaints at the Constitutional Court requesting the vote be repeated for both presidential and gubernatorial candidates. They alleged the opposition stole and destroyed approximately 3,000 ballots in Anjouan. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and a third round of voting was conducted successfully at 13 polling stations in Anjouan.

On July 30, the government held a constitutional referendum to extend presidential term limits and end the system of rotation among the country’s three islands. On August 6, the Supreme Court declared that the referendum passed with 92 percent support with a participation rate of 62 percent. The opposition, which boycotted the referendum, rejected those results and accused the government of ballot stuffing. Despite irregularities observed at some polling stations (a gendarme had his hand severed and some ballots boxes were destroyed), the Supreme Court declared the referendum to be generally free and fair. As of November members of the opposition continued to reject the legitimacy of the referendum and the new constitution.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. For example, only one of the 33 seats in the national legislature was filled by a woman in the 2015 election, and only two of the 12 ministers appointed to the cabinet on August 28, were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption (CNPLC) was an independent administrative authority established to combat corruption, including through education and mobilization of the public. In September 2016 the president repealed the provisions of the law that created the commission, citing its failure to produce any results. The Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated this decision, noting that a presidential decree may not overturn a law. Nevertheless, the president has neither renewed the commissioners’ mandates nor appointed replacement members, and the Constitutional Court also lacked a quorum for most of the year, until the constitutional referendum in July abolished the organization altogether.

Corruption: Resident diplomatic, UN, and humanitarian agency workers reported petty corruption was commonplace at all levels of the civil service and security forces. Businesspersons reported corruption and a lack of transparency, while the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a significant problem. Citizens paid bribes to evade customs regulations, to avoid arrest, and to obtain falsified police reports.

In January, four employees of the national pension fund, including its chief accountant, his two assistants, and a security guard, were sued for the embezzlement of 18 million Comorian francs ($42,000) from the national pension fund.

In 2017 a commission of the National Assembly conducted an investigation into the Economic Citizenship Program, developed to award citizenship to stateless Bidoon people in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates. This investigation revealed several cases of large-scale embezzlement involving high-ranking officials of previous governments. After the president received the report and transferred it to the Justice Ministry, the public prosecutor conducted a series of hearings, which resulted in the following outcomes: On June 27, Ibrahim Mhoumadi Sidi, former vice president of the National Assembly, was charged with forgery and use of forgery, and misappropriation of title, allegedly to manipulate the outcome of parliament’s initial vote to approve the economic citizenship program.

In July the investigating judge issued arrest warrants for Mohamed Ali Soilihi, former vice president in charge of the Ministry of Finance, and Hair El Karim Hilali, former national director of security of the territory, for embezzlement in connection with the Economic Citizenship Program.

On August 20, former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi was charged with embezzlement in connection with the Economic Citizenship Program and was placed under house arrest.

The public prosecutor requested that the president of the National Assembly lift the parliamentary immunity of some members of the Assembly for the purpose of investigation, which the assembly president did on October 3.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires high-level officials at national and island levels to declare their assets prior to entering office. The submission of a disclosure is made public, but the disclosure itself is not. Officials subject to the law did so upon taking office. Conviction of failure to comply is punishable by fines and up to two years’ imprisonment. In 2016 the CNPLC reported that all officials subject to the law filed financial disclosures; however, the mandates of CNPLC commissioners have not been renewed since 2017, and it is unclear whether any other organization has taken on the oversight role.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Domestic NGOs largely supplanted government ministries on human rights issues. By law the governmental National Commission for Human Rights and Liberties (CNDHL) is mandated to investigate human rights abuses and to make recommendations to concerned authorities. For most of the year, the CNDHL was nonfunctional because President Azali did not appoint new commissioners after the previous commissioners’ mandates expired in 2017; however, in October the president nominated new commissioners, and they were sworn in by year’s end.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape regardless of age or gender is illegal and punishable if convicted by five to 10 years’ imprisonment or up to 15 years if the victim is younger than age 15. Authorities prosecuted perpetrators if victims filed charges. There were reports families or village elders settled many allegations of sexual violence informally through traditional means and without recourse to the formal court system.

The law treats domestic violence as an aggravating circumstance that includes crimes committed by one domestic partner against an existing or former partner. Penalties for conviction include prison sentences up to five years and fines up to two million Comorian francs ($4,800). Courts rarely sentenced or fined convicted perpetrators. No reliable data were available on the extent of the problem. Women rarely filed official complaints. Although officials took action (usually the arrest of the spouse) when reported, domestic violence cases rarely entered the court system.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal, and conviction is punishable by fines and imprisonment. It is defined in the labor code as any verbal, nonverbal, or bodily behavior of a sexual nature that has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating work environment for a person. Although rarely reported due to societal pressure, such harassment was nevertheless a common problem, and authorities did not effectively enforce the law.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for equality of persons without regard to gender, creed, belief, origin, race, or religion. Nevertheless, inheritance and property rights practices favor women. Local cultures are traditionally matrilineal, and all inheritable property is in the legal possession of women. Societal discrimination against women was most apparent in rural areas, where women were mostly limited to farming and child-rearing duties, with fewer opportunities for education and wage employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Any child having at least one Comorian parent is considered a citizen, regardless of where the birth takes place. Any child born in the country is a citizen unless both parents are foreigners, although these children may apply for citizenship if they have at least five years’ residency at the time they apply. Authorities did not withhold public services from unregistered children.

Education: Universal education is compulsory until age 12. No child younger than age 14 may be prevented from attending school. An approximately equal number of girls and boys attended public schools at the primary and secondary levels, but fewer girls graduated.

Child Abuse: Official statistics revealed cases of abuse when impoverished families sent their children to work for relatives or wealthy families, usually in the hope of obtaining a better education for their children. The NGO Listening and Counseling Service, funded by the government and UNICEF, had offices on all three islands to provide support and counseling for abused children and their families. The NGO routinely referred child abuse cases to police for investigation. Police conducted initial investigations of child abuse and referred cases to the Morals and Minors Brigade for further investigation and referral for prosecution if justified by evidence. If evidence was sufficient, authorities routinely prosecuted cases.

In June, 60-year-old Ibrahim Ali Kassim was prosecuted for sexual assault of a four-year-old girl and was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of one million Comorian francs ($2,400).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Child marriage was a problem, with estimates of 35 to 40 percent of girls being married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law considers unmarried persons younger than age 18 to be minors and prohibits their sexual exploitation, prostitution, and involvement in pornography. Anyone convicted of facilitating the sex trafficking of children is subject to a prison term of two to five years and a fine of 150,000 to two million Comorian francs ($358 to $4,800). Conviction of child pornography is punishable by fines or imprisonment. There were no official statistics regarding these matters and no reports in local media of cases, prosecutions, or convictions relating to either child sex trafficking or child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and applicable laws, particularly the labor code, prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings, information, communication, education, and transportation for persons with disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Despite the absence of appropriate accommodation for children with disabilities, such children attended mainstream schools, both public and private.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal, and conviction is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to one million Comorian francs ($119 to $2,400). Authorities reported no arrests or prosecutions for same-sex sexual activity during the year. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally did not publicly reveal their sexual orientation due to societal pressure. There were no local LGBTI organizations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. It provides for the right to strike but requires an eight-day notification period and a declaration of the reason for the strike and its duration. Civil servants must provide 15 days’ notice. The law includes a mandatory conciliation process for resolving labor disputes with recourse to the courts. Unions have the right to bargain collectively.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers in hiring practices or other employment functions. Worker organizations are independent of the government and political parties. There are no laws protecting strikers from retribution. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including ordering employers to pay indemnities and damages to the employee, were sufficient to deter violations but were seldom applied. Labor disputes may be brought to the attention of the Labor Tribunal.

Workers exercised their labor rights, and strikes occurred in the public sector (education, workers at the port of Anjouan, health, and road transport). There were no reports of retribution against strikers. Common problems included failure to pay salaries regularly or on time, mostly in the government sector, and unfair and abusive dismissal practices, such as dismissing employees without giving proper notice or paying the required severance pay. There were reported incidents of antiunion discrimination during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions for military service, community service, and during accidents, fires, and disasters. During times of national emergency, the government’s civil protection unit may compel persons to assist in disaster recovery efforts if it is unable to obtain sufficient voluntary assistance. The labor code prohibits forced child labor, with specific antitrafficking provisions.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Financial penalties, however, for those who violated the law served as an effective deterrent. Penalties for conviction include from one to six months in prison, a fine of from 50,000 to 200,000 Comorian francs ($119 to $478) for those who abuse their authority to compel someone to work for them or for someone else, or both imprisonment and a fine. Penalties for conviction of trafficking a minor are 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30 million Comorian francs ($71,600). The government did not make tangible efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

There were no reported cases of adult forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and establishes 15 as the minimum age for employment, with a minimum age for hazardous work of 18.

Labor inspectors were responsible for monitoring all potential violations of labor law and did not focus only on child labor cases. Regulations permit light apprentice work by children younger than age 15 if it does not hinder the child’s schooling or physical or moral development. The labor code, however, does not specify the conditions under which light work may be conducted or limit the number of hours for light work, as defined by international child labor standards. In accordance with the labor code, labor inspectors may require the medical examination of a child by an accredited physician to determine if the work assigned to a child is beyond his or her physical capacity. Children may not be kept in employment deemed beyond their capacity. If suitable work cannot be assigned, the contract must be nullified and all indemnities paid to the employee. The labor code also identifies hazardous work where child labor is prohibited, including the worst forms of child labor. Child labor infractions are punishable by fines and imprisonment. The government did not enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but it did not do so actively or effectively. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. In addition child labor laws and regulations do not provide children working in unpaid or noncontractual work the same protections as children working in contractual employment. Children worked in subsistence farming, fishing, and extracting and selling marine sand. Children worked in growing subsistence food crops such as manioc and beans and in the cultivation of cash crops such as vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang (a flower used to make perfume). Some children worked under forced labor conditions, primarily in domestic service and family-based agriculture and fishing. Additionally, some Quranic schools arranged for indigent students to receive lessons in exchange for labor that sometimes was forced. Some families placed their children in the homes of wealthier families where they worked in exchange for food, shelter, or educational opportunities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The preamble to the constitution provides for equality regardless of sex, origin, religion, or race. Article 2 of the labor law forbids employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national ancestry or social origin, or actual or presumed state of health (such as HIV/AIDS). The law does not address sexual orientation. In rural areas women tended to be relegated to certain types of work, and the UN Development Program reported women were underrepresented in leadership roles. There were no official reports of discrimination, however.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A committee called the Labor Collective–consisting of representatives of unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labor–met periodically regarding an enforceable national minimum wage, as the existing minimum wage of 55,000 Comorian francs ($131) per month is only a guideline. The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, except in the agriculture sector, where the maximum hours of work is set at 2,400 per year (equivalent to 46 hours per week). The minimum weekly rest period is set at 24 consecutive hours. The law provides for paid annual leave accumulated at the rate of 2.5 days per month of service. There are no provisions to prohibit compulsory overtime; overtime is determined through collective bargaining. Negotiations with the banking and pharmacy sectors, however, did not yield a collective bargaining agreement. There are no sectors or groups of workers excluded from these laws within the formal sector, but the law does not apply to the informal sector, estimated to include 73 percent of workers. The official estimate for the poverty income level (as of 2014) is 25,341 Comorian francs ($60) per month, less than prevailing minimum wages.

The government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, sets wages in the large public sector and imposes a minimum wage in the small, formal private sector. Although the unions, national government, and local governments did not enforce the minimum wage law and workweek standards, unions had adequate influence to negotiate minimum wage rates for different skill levels for unionized jobs. These provisions applied to all workers, regardless of sector or country of origin. Unions promoted this de facto minimum wage via their ability to strike against employers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. There were four labor inspectors (two on Grande Comore and one each on Anjouan and Moheli), but they did not have enough resources to perform their duties. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

The labor code includes a chapter on occupational safety and health requirements, but these were seldom enforced. Fishing was considered the most hazardous work. Mostly self-employed, fishermen worked from often unsafe canoes. There was no credible datum on the number of occupational accidents. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this regard.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Under the constitution, President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office expired in 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines, and the president remained in office. In 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and in November 2017 it scheduled presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. In August the president announced that he would abide by his constitutionally mandated term limit and not seek an illegal third term. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30; however, presidential elections were canceled in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi with those legislative and provincial elections postponed to March 2019. President Kabila did not run as a candidate and announced he would hand power over to the winner, which would mark the first civilian transfer of power resulting from elections. Results of the elections were still pending at year’s end.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Armed conflict in eastern DRC and parts of the Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings by government and armed groups; forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; delayed elections and restrictions on citizens right to change their government through democratic means; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence against women and children, caused in part by government inaction, negligence; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities or members of other minority groups; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Despite the occurrence of some notable trials against military officials, authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Government security forces, as well as rebel and militia groups (RMGs) continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the central Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender based violence. RMGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor. The government took military action against some RMGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against RMGs in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for 389 extrajudicial killings across the country as of year’s end. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the Kasais, where the SSF fought Kamuina Nsapu and other antigovernment militias. RMGs were responsible for at least 780 summary executions.

On January 21 and February 25, security forces used lethal and disproportionate force to disrupt protests led by Roman Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. During the two days of protests, UN observers and others witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other members of security forces fire directly at protesters, resulting in seven deaths on January 21 and two on February 25. Among those killed on January 21 was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old studying to become a nun, who was shot and killed outside her church in a Catholic parish in Kinshasa. During protests organized by the Catholic Lay Committee on February 25, state security forces killed two persons, including local human rights activist Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound. From August 3 to 7, the SSF used tear gas and live bullets to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths of three persons, including two children, and the injury of at least two persons by police.

In March a joint report by the UN human rights office in Kinshasa (JHRO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covering January 2017 through January stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths. On November 12 and 15, police were responsible for the deaths of two students who were protesting against a teachers’ strike at the University of Kinshasa.

On July 4, the OHCHR released a report on abuses in the Kasais region that accused RMGs Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura and the SSF of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Based on interviews with 524 persons, the experts’ report accused the military of cooperation with Bana Mura militia and an excessively violent response to conflict in the region, particularly the 2101st Regiment that was redeployed to Kananga from North Kivu in 2007 when it was part of the Fifth Integrated Brigade. The report estimated that the conflict, which was most violent in 2017, resulted in “thousands of deaths and a disastrous human rights situation” and displaced 1.4 million persons. Among other incidents, the report documented an SSF attack in May 2017 in Tshikulu that resulted in the summary execution of at least 79 civilians, including at least 19 children. On September 15, a regional civil society development network in the Kasai region released a report stating that in March 2017 the SSF killed 264 civilians in the village of Nganza during antimilitia operations.

RMGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). Numerous armed groups recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, members of the government, and others.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and in several cases detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods.

RMGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.). In July the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed that 66 persons were previously kidnapped in Kasai Province by the Bana Mura, a RMG supported by the government, and used as sexual slaves. The kidnapped included two women, 49 girls, and 15 boys who had been in captivity since as early as April 2017. The government denied the findings, claiming the information was false.

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

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. In November the British nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in DRC. It had accumulated witness testimony of almost 900 cases of torture from DRC, including 74 cases from 2013 to 2018. The report states, “Torture is used predominantly as a form of punishment for political and human rights activism, and as a deterrent against future involvement.” Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protestors.

As of October 10, the United Nations reported that it had received 15 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military, police, and civilian personnel deployed with MONUSCO during the year. Of these cases, 11 involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; three involved allegations of transactional sex; two involved the alleged rape of a child, and one involved sexual assault. As of October 10, all investigations were pending. The United Nations also reported that Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse while deployed in MONUSCO from 2015 to 2017. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations, and investigations by Bangladeshi government were pending at the end of the year.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from the DRC while he was deployed in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central Africa Republic. The case alleged rape of a minor. Investigations by both the United Nations and the DRC were still pending as of year’s end. Twenty-six allegations reported prior to 2018 remained pending, in many cases awaiting additional information by the DRC. The cases included 17 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country worsened during the year, aggravating the already harsh and life threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without access to family or legal counsel. Some civil society activists arrested in Kinshasa were reportedly held in an underground cell operated by the RG at a military camp.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,500 inmates during the year. In September, Radio Okapi reported there were 7,400 inmates at Makala. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. In July local NGO Rural Action for Development reported that 13 infants suffered from malnutrition and other diseases due to poor conditions while held with their mothers in Munzenze Prison in Goma. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to bring them sustenance. The United Nations reported 223 individuals died in detention during the year, a 10-percent increase compared with the 201 deaths recorded in 2017. These resulted from malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. From January to June, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics aggravated the already overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a 20 percent increase in deaths in detention compared with the same period in 2017. In July, five prisoners died from severe diarrhea and malnutrition due to poor sanitation and inadequate medical services in Tshela Prison in Kongo Central. In January, MONUSCO reported that 57 inmates in Manono Prison in Tanganyika Province suffered from malnutrition and that prisoners had endured 10-14 days without food.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population that contributed to prison escapes. On March 21, media reported that two police officers were sentenced to life in prison by a military court for their involvement in a March 18 prison break in Lubumbashi, Haut Katanga province. The United Nations reported that at least 801 individuals escaped detention centers during the year, a significant decrease from the number of 5,926 escapees in 2017.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. On September 13, police arrested seven members of the local civil society group Les Congolais Debout! (Congolese Awake!) at the University of Kinshasa while they were campaigning against the use of voting machines on grounds that the seven were carrying out political activities in what is supposed to be an apolitical environment. After reportedly being beaten, whipped, and forced to clean toilets with bare hands while in police custody, their attorney said they were transferred to an ANR cell and, as of November 15, remained in detention without charges.

RMGs detained civilians, often for ransom, but little information was available concerning detention conditions (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Some prison directors could only estimate the numbers of detainees in their facilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the ICRC, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Interior but consistently denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and the intelligence services of the military and police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both the SSF and RMGs routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Congolese National Police (PNC) operates under the Ministry of Interior and has primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order. The PNC includes the Rapid Intervention Police and the Integrated Police Unit. The ANR, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the RG, and the Minister of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.

Elements of the SSF were undisciplined and corrupt. According to the United Nations, state agents were responsible for 61 percent of the human rights violations documented during the year. PNC and FARDC units regularly engaged in illegal taxation and extortion of civilians. They set up checkpoints to collect “taxes,” often stealing food and money and arresting individuals who could not pay bribes. The FARDC suffered from weak leadership, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly in the East. Nonprofit organizations and the United Nations reported regular instances of extortion, sexual-based violence, including gang rape, arbitrary arrests, and violent assaults by the SSF on Congolese migrants and expelled refugees returning from Angola in October.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with MONUSCO and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as international NGO-supported mobile hearings.

Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights violations. The United Nations reported that the government convicted at least 120 FARDC soldiers and 66 PNC officers for crimes constituting human rights violations during the year. On July 26, the mobile High Military Court in Bukavu sentenced on appeal three convicted high-ranking FARDC officers for various crimes against humanity: Colonel Julius Dhenyo Becker to two years in prison, a sentence that observers criticized for its relative leniency; Lieutenant Colonel Maro Ntuma to 20 years in prison for conviction of crimes including murder; and Colonel Bedi Mobuli to life in prison for conviction of crimes against humanity and crimes of war, including rape and murder. On October 20, the Military Tribunal of Ituri convicted and sentenced Sergeant Bienvenue Mugisa Akiki to death for the October 16 murder of four civilians in Djugu territory of Ituri Province.

The trial continued for individuals accused of involvement in the March 2017 killings of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. After a delay of several months, the military prosecution began to call key suspects to testify, and, on December 7, arrested a military colonel and announced he was a suspect in the killings. Other key suspects have been called to testify although not all have been apprehended.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law arrests for offenses punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

In 2014 the PNC issued a decree reforming arrest and detention procedures. The decree required the PNC to verify facts before arresting individuals, separate men from women, and provide sanitary detention centers. Some improvements in recently rehabilitated detention centers were noted although authorities did not consistently implement the decree, including the holding of men and women together.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained numerous civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members who criticized the government, occasionally under the pretext of state security, and often denied them due process, such as access to an attorney (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Throughout the year security forces regularly held protestors and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 2,933 persons across the country from January through August. In September the UNJHRO reported that at least 561 women were victims of arbitrary arrest from January through August.

In November 2017 civil society activist and member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party Christian Lumu, was arrested and then transferred to an ANR detention cell. He was held without charge and on November 28, was transferred to a military prison where he remained as of December 31. Witnesses stated that he received electric shocks and was beaten while in detention.

On January 21, more than 100 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country according to the United Nations, for participation in peaceful demonstrations organized by Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. On February 25, the United Nations reported that at least 7,194 persons were arbitrarily arrested during protests organized by the Catholic Lay Association. The United Nations reported at least 89 persons, including one minor, were arrested and kept under preventive detention during protests organized in support of opposition politician Moise Katumbi in Lubumbashi and Kasumbalesa in Haut Katanga province on August 3-7.

Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. NGOs estimated that at least three quarters to four-fifths of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays. On September 15, a report by the regional civil society development network CRONGD documented that, of 461 persons arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of RMG involvement, 44 were in detention without charge.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

Amnesty: A total of 148 persons were released following the signing of four executive orders by the minister of justice in January and February. Two of the executive orders applied the law on amnesty of 2014 (43 persons released) and the two others granted conditional release to persons sentenced for participation in an insurrectional movement, war crimes, and political offenses.

On December 29, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced the pardon of “several hundred” prisoners for the New Year and said these individuals would be released. The prisoners were not released by year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion. On August 16, the minister of justice claimed to have issued an international arrest warrant for businessman and opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who was convicted in 2015 of real estate fraud despite a Catholic Council of Bishops (CENCO) 2017 report concluding that the SSF pressured judicial officials to convict him. It was not clear that any warrant was actually issued. CENCO also concluded that a similar property fraud case against opposition member and businessman Jean-Claude Muyambo was equally unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.” Muyambo, who claimed to have permanent damage to his foot following beatings during his arrest in 2015, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 and ordered to pay 1,580,000 Congolese francs ($9,900) in damages for conviction of breach of trust and illegal retention of documents. Muyambo was among the prisoners slated to be released by the justice ministry on December 30, but he remained in prison at year’s end.

A shortage of judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on numerous cases of corruption and malpractice each month. Many of these rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates. One judge on the High Council said its March investigation into corruption concluded that 250 magistrates were guilty of counterfeiting, including fake diplomas, and failure to pass the recruitment test.

A recruitment drive during the year, however, increased to 3,000 the number of military and civilian judges, and in July the minister of justice announced the recruitment of appellate court judges throughout the country. That same month, three members of the nine-member constitutional court were inducted, including one advisor to the president and another prominent member of the president’s ruling party.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates. These rights extend to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities charged political prisoners with a variety of offenses, including offending the person or threatening the life of the head of state, inciting tribal hatred or civil disobedience, spreading false rumors, treason, and attacking state security. While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some of these prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and the ANR (see section 1.c.).

As of year’s end, the United Nations estimated that at least 71 persons were held in detention for their political opinions or legitimate citizens’ activities, although the United Nations reported that many more persons deemed political prisoners might be held in unreported locations. A local NGO, Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), reported at the UN Security Council on November 13 that 54 political prisoners were in detention. On September 25, a court sentenced activists Carbone Beni and three other members of the citizen movement Filimbi to 12 months in prison for offenses against the head of state, undermining state security, and distributing subversive material. They were originally arrested in December 2017 following advocacy for peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Church in support of the December 2016 Agreement and credible elections. They were held without charge in ANR cells for nearly six months before they were taken to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kinshasa for questioning and transferred to Makala Prison. Observers criticized the proceedings for presenting confessions obtained under duress and for fabricating evidence. An international human rights NGO stated that police and intelligence agents beat the Filimbi members while they were in detention and during interrogation. On December 25, Beni and the three other Filimbi members were released for time served.

On July 16, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced the government had liberated 4,019 prisoners as part of the December Agreement’s “confidence building” measures. Most of the prisoners, however, were released some time earlier under the terms of the 2013 Nairobi agreement between rebel group M23 and the government and were not political prisoners.

In August, four civil society activists who were arrested in July 2017 for attempting to march and deliver a letter to the Lubumbashi Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) office were convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to eight months in prison. In November 2017 a fifth member of this group, NGO activist and human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya, was convicted of provocation and incitement of disobedience and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Mbuya served six months in jail before he was released on February 13 while the four other activists were released shortly before him.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. The United Nations previously reported that FARDC soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in the Nganza commune of Kananga, Kasai Central Province, in March 2017 looking for suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers. The OHCHR report on the Kasais released in July attributed 89 civilian deaths, including at least 11 children, to the March 2017 FARDC operation (See 1.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes and uniformed security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

Press and Media Freedom: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks on media from November 2017 to October and attributed 77 percent of these attacks to government agents, including nearly half to state security forces. JED reported that the number of attacks on media had not changed from 2017. JED reported 53 cases of arrests of journalists, including 15 who remained in detention for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. In September the District Court of Kinshasa found editor of satirical newspaper Le Grognon Tharcisse Zongia guilty by default of criminal defamation charges for accusing Barthelemy Okito, secretary general of the Sports Ministry, of embezzling public funds meant for the national football team. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. On July 6, Bukavu correspondent for Africanews Gael Mpoyo and his family went into hiding after receiving multiple death threats for posting a documentary film concerning the forcible eviction of residents in Mbobero from a property belonging to President Kabila.

The 121 documented press freedom violations reported by JED included 53 journalists detained or arrested, 30 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 21 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, during the year Minister of Kasai Oriental Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji charged television journalist Eliezer Ntambwe with defamation for an accusation during an interview that the governor had stolen a 35-carat diamond. Ntambwe was arrested on April 2, but released on April 11 after the governor withdrew his charge.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: RMGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

According to Freedom House, there were reports that government authorities disrupted access to news coverage to prevent critical reports on the government and government figures.

On December 30, 2017, the day before planned protests calling on President Kabila to step down, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service and internet service throughout the country “for reasons of State security.” On January 1, internet access was restored. The government cut most internet service from January 21 to January 24 during church-led protests calling on the government to hold elections and implement the December 2016 Agreement. The government cut internet service again on February 25 during additional protests. On December 31, the day after nationwide elections, the government cut internet again. The internet remained blocked at year’s end. Authorities continued to reserve the right to implement internet blackouts, citing a 2002 act that grants government officials the power to shut down communications and conduct invasive surveillance. Additionally, the Criminal Code of 1940 and Press Freedom Act of 1996 have been used to restrict freedom of expression.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 633 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

On March 19, a joint report of the UNJHRO and the OHCHR for 2017 stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths and several hundred wounded during protests. The report stressed the illegality of government prohibitions on public demonstrations and accused the FARDC’s 11th Rapid Reaction Brigade and the Republican Guard of grave violations of human rights for indiscriminately using live rounds specifically against civilians in August 2017 after members of the RMG Bundu dia Kongo separatist group attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa. The report also cited instances of threats and intimidation against protestors by government officials and outlined specific attacks and restrictions against UNJHRO personnel. The report confirmed at least nine deaths during December 2017 demonstrations, at least 98 wounded, and 185 arbitrarily arrested. For the January 21 demonstrations, the report cited at least seven persons killed, 67 wounded, and at least 121 persons arbitrarily arrested, including four children. The report also stressed that security force members were rarely, if ever, held accountable for disproportionate use of force during protests. It stated the United Nations was aware of only a few instances in which security force members were held accountable, including the case of one police officer who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Bukavu for conviction related to his actions during a protest in July 2017.

In March government and civil society representatives released a report of investigations into abuses related to protests during December 2017, on January 21, and on February 25, alleging 14 deaths, 65 injuries, and 40 persons arrested, detained, and in some cases tortured.

In Kinshasa opposition parties were regularly allowed to hold political rallies. On April 24, the opposition UDPS party held a rally in the capital. On September 29, opposition parties held a rally in Kinshasa, but reports and photographs showed that the government sought to deter attendance by halting public transportation, raising fuel prices, and dumping garbage near the site of the rally.

The government, which must simply be informed of nonviolent demonstrations and is not vested with authorizing their occurrence, consistently prohibited nonviolent demonstrations elsewhere in the country, notably in Lubumbashi, Kananga, and Goma. On October 13, government officials and the SSF blocked opposition leaders from organizing a political rally in Lubumbashi to highlight concerns regarding the electoral process. The SSF prevented opposition leaders from accessing a residence of the rally leader and fired live ammunition into the air while opposition members attempted to reach the planned rally point. From November 21 to election day on December 30, the JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths. This included three deaths in Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Although CENI organized elections during the year, more than a million voters were disenfranchised by CENI’s decision to cancel elections in the Ebola-affected areas of Beni and Butembo in eastern DRC ostensibly for public health and security reasons. Elections were also canceled in the western town of Yumbi after intercommunal violence killed nearly 1,000 persons from December 16 to 18. Unknown numbers of voters were also disenfranchised on election day due to CENI’s failure to produce accurate voter lists or publicize the location of polling stations.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30 but widely criticized due to irregularities and a lack of transparency. Results were not announced by year’s end.

The government stated it accredited 270,000 domestic observers but denied accreditation to many international elections observers and media outlets. Election observers reported significant irregularities on election day due to delays opening some voting stations, confusion regarding the use of electronic voting machines, the location of polling stations, and the posting of voter lists.

On December 12, a fire at the CENI warehouse in Kinshasa allegedly destroyed approximately 8,000 voting machines and other voting materials needed to hold elections in Kinshasa. On December 20, the CENI announced elections would be delayed by seven days in order to replace the voting equipment destroyed in the fire. On December 26, CENI cancelled presidential elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province citing risks of Ebola and insecurity and in Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province due to recent intercommunal violence. CENI announced that legislative and provincial elections in those areas would be held in March 2019.

Gubernatorial elections took place in the provinces of Maniema and Kwango in March. However, the Supreme Court invalidated the Maniema gubernatorial election and the vice governor was appointed as acting governor.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Outgoing president Joseph Kabila’s Presidential Majority political alliance–which included his former party (the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Congo, and other parties–enjoyed majority representation in government, the parliament, and judicial bodies, including on the Constitutional Court and CENI. State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest source of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of opposition members, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), limiting travel within or outside the country, targeting opposition leaders in politically motivated judicial actions, and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content. On December 19, the Governor of Kinshasa prohibited presidential candidates from holding campaign activities in Kinshasa allegedly due to security concerns. The announcement, however, was widely believed to be politically motivated to suppress support for opposition candidates.

The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement and arbitrarily arrested opposition party members. At various points during the year, including the election campaign period, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events. On December 11, in Lubumbashi, PNC agents used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse violently opposition candidate Martin Fayulu from holding a campaign rally, resulting in deaths. The JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths during the campaign period, from November 21 to election day on December 30. This included three deaths Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

National Assembly president Aubin Minaku continued to prevent the opposition UDPS party from changing its representative to the CENI in violation of a December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties.

In a number of districts, known as “chefferies,” traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are then paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held 9 percent of seats in the National Assembly (44 of 500) and 6 percent in the provincial assemblies (43 of 690). Five of 108 senators were women. Among the 59 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, and vice ministers, six were women, a decrease in the total number from that of the government formed in 2016 (from 11 percent of 68 such positions to 10 percent of 59 such positions). Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 5).

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

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.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. NGOs and media reports during the year alleged irregularities in the public contract management process for the awarding of contracts related to the voter registration process. A September report by NGO The Sentry alleged corruption and self-enrichment by CENI officials in the awarding of a no-bid $150 million contract for electronic voting machines to be used in the December elections. Additional revenue losses were due to racketeering and exploitation of minerals in the east by the SSF, FARDC elements, and RMGs. Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal and illicit and strongly linked to armed groups and elements of the FARDC. Artisanal mining products, particularly gold, were smuggled into Uganda and Rwanda, often with the connivance of government officials. As of 2017 research by NGO International Peace Information Service estimated 44 percent of artisanal mine sites in the east were free of illegal control or taxation by the SSF or RMGs; 38 percent were under the control of elements of the FARDC; and the remainder was under the control of various armed groups. In 2014 the government launched a mechanism to standardize supply-chain processes across the Great Lakes Region for artisanally produced cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), and coltan (tantalum ore), the implementation of which continued. On June 12, the government publicly launched an artisanal gold traceability initiative but had not begun implementation by year’s end. The mining code of 2018 mandates membership in mining cooperatives for all artisanal miners, and requires accreditation to transform, transport, and conduct transactions in artisanal mining products.

In 2013 Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel estimated that the country lost $1.36 billion between 2010 and 2012 due to undervalued mining asset sales. In July the NGO Global Witness reported that more than $750 million in payments by mining companies to country’s tax agencies and state mining companies between 2013 and 2015 never reached the national treasury. In November the Carter Center reported 1.2 trillion Congolese francs ($750 million) in unaccounted for mining revenues earned by the parastatal Gecamines from 2011 to 2014. This constituted more than two-thirds of the 1.75 trillion Congolese francs ($1.1 billion) in mining revenues earned by Gecamines during this period. The Carter Center’s analysis of Gecamines contracts and finances found that the government could also not account for more than half a billion dollars in infrastructure loans from Chinese banks. The report documented how government officials circumvented the mining code and regulations governing state-owned enterprises to divert revenue and observed that suspicious financial transactions appeared to coincide with the country’s electoral cycles. In a public statement after the Carter Center’s report was released, Gecamines chief executive officer Albert Yuma claimed all revenues were accounted for and denied the allegations.

An UNGOE report published in June noted that armed groups and criminal networks, including DRC security officers, continued to derive illegal revenues through gold smuggling and illicit taxation. The UNGOE provided information that a significant portion of the gold traded by Uganda and Rwanda is sourced fraudulently from neighboring countries, including the DRC, and then exported to countries including the UAE. The UNGOE previously reported cases involving FARDC elements and RMGs in the exploitation and trade of gold in the country, including that of Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, also known as Tango Four. According to the report, Amisi owned several gold dredges through a local gold mining company that benefited from FARDC protection. The UNGOE previously reported “almost all artisanally sourced gold in the DRC is exported illegally and underestimated in both value and volume.” The June UNGOE report also documented cases of fraud in the tagging and transport processes of various minerals in the east, noting that, while some projects are underway to strengthen the government’s technical capacity to detect fraud in the transport of minerals, the UNGOE believed structural measures were also needed to address the problem of corruption among agents responsible for tagging. In June the UNGOE reported several cases where FARDC officers violated the Tin Supply Chain Initiative traceability system by fraudulently tagging minerals. The group also found that some FARDC officers participated in the smuggling and illegal transportation of minerals. In September the Congolese Association for the Fight Against Corruption alleged Congolese citizens smuggled an estimated $30 million in gold to Hong Kong via Kenya.

A report published by the UNGOE in 2014 indicated that elements of the FARDC, local poachers, and armed groups remained involved in the illegal exploitation of and trade in wildlife products, including ivory (see section 1.g.).

In 2016 the government launched an initiative to boost the economy that included specific measures to fight tax evasion and enforce penalties against corrupt civil servants. In 2016 the prime minister established the Corruption and Ethics Monitoring Observatory (OSCEP) to monitor corruption in the civil service. OSCEP’s mandate includes generating a database of corruption-related activities as well as coordinating anticorruption activities among government agencies, including the antifraud brigades of the Customs Authority, the Ministry of Mines, the General Inspectorate of Finance, the Financial Intelligence Unit (CENAREF), and the Bureau of the Special Advisor of the Head of State in Charge of Good Governance. Although CENAREF undertook some anti-money-laundering activities, OSCEP remained largely inactive.

In an effort to combat corruption, the government continued a program to pay many civil servants and security forces in major cities by direct deposit, eliminating an important means of graft. Previously, the government utilized a cascading cash payment system, disbursing salaries to senior officials for payment to subordinate officials, who in turn paid their staffs.

The law criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing. Limited resources and a weak judicial system hampered the ability of CENAREF to enforce regulations against money laundering. Local institutions and personnel lacked the training and capacity to enforce the law and its attendant regulations. Former minister of justice, Luzolo Bambi is the president’s special envoy to fight corruption and money laundering. On August 4, Bambi set out his renewed “battle against impunity” in a letter to the attorney general. In 2016 the president issued an executive ordinance granting Bambi’s office broad arrest authority. The arrest authority did not prove effective, since the special envoy lacked the personnel to make arrests, and for the most part remained limited to referring suspects to the court system for prosecution.

Government authorities and wealthy individuals at times used antidefamation laws that carry criminal punishments, as well as other means of intimidation, to discourage media investigation of government corruption (see section 2.a.).

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s 2018 enacted budget (approximately 14 percent) consisted of off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully elaborated. These accounts facilitate graft by shielding receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard of 2016, the DRC is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. While awaiting the onset of the country’s first validation for compliance under this standard, preliminary assessments have revealed serious weaknesses.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president and ministers to disclose their assets to a government committee. The president and all ministers and vice ministers reportedly did so when they took office. The committee had yet to make this information public.

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. In 2016 the government declined to renew the work permit of a Human Rights Watch researcher and revoked the visa of Congo Research Group director Jason Stearns, officially for reasons of “undesirability.” During the year the government declined to issue or renew visas for some international journalists and researchers. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters, where political prisoners were often detained. In Kasai the government and the SSF provided MONUSCO limited access to suspected mass grave sites, including a site located inside the FARDC officers training school in Kananga, and impeded UN access to individuals arrested in connection with the killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. The government also blocked UNJHRO access to morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities during protests in January and February in Kinshasa.

In March 2017, UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan were killed in Kasai Central Province. Cell phone video footage showed the two being shot and Catalan later being decapitated by a group of militants. The UNGOE called the incident an assassination “in a premeditated setup under hitherto unclear circumstances” and stated the killings constituted “a deliberate attack against the UN Security Council, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” The government accused members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing the experts, and in June 2017 a trial began in Kananga of 18 defendants, 14 of whom, including several individuals who appeared in the video, remained at large. In October 2017 the trial was suspended but resumed in August. On December 6, a DRC Military Intelligence Colonel was arrested, one of four government officials implicated in the murders. In its 2017 annual report, the UNGOE wrote that the evidence it reviewed “does not yet allow the Group to attribute responsibility for the murder.” The available evidence does not preclude the involvement of different actors, however, such as (pro- or antigovernment) Kamuina Nsapu factions, other armed groups, as well as members of state security services. In May media reported the United Nations stated that the government “hampered” investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights made some progress, publishing reports on violence in Beni territory, protests during December 2017, January, and February, and the Kamuina Nsapu phenomenon in the Kasais. It also visited detention centers, followed up on complaints of human rights violations from civilians, and held a meeting on the right to demonstrate. It continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs or to have representation in all 26 provinces.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions.

From January to August, the UNJHRO reported that at least 893 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender based violence. The UNJHRO stated that perpetrators were primarily armed groups followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. The UNJHRO stated that RMGs, including the Raia Mutomboki, also targeted women and girls during the year. On April 15-19, the United Nations reported that at least 66 women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rapes and gang rapes, by members of the Raia Mutomboki in the South Kivu provincial towns of Keba, Wameli, Kamungini, and Bimpanga. Implementation, including promulgation of the text of the amended family code adopted in 2016, had not begun by year’s end. As of November 19, the United Nations reported that the SSF killed 143 adult women and RMGs killed 111 women and girls.

The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented adult victims and 183 child victims, including one boy, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Province, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey(DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On July 26, the High Military Court of Bukavu upheld the December 2017 conviction of Frederic Batumuke, a provincial member of parliament, and 10 other persons for murder and crimes against humanity for the rape of 37 girls ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The same court also convicted and sentenced Colonel Bedi Mobuli (aka Colonel 106) to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including rape, sexual slavery, looting, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence if convicted of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($125); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including mutilation of children and use of children in combat in the Kasais, to harmful traditional and religious practices. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militias often put children, particularly young girls, on the front lines of battle, believing they have powers that could protect them as well as other fighters. For example, it reported Kamuina Nsapu militias often believed young girls could trap bullets fired at them and fling them back at attackers. The Kamuina Nsapu also reportedly slashed children’s stomachs as part of an initiation ritual to see if they would survive and how the wound would heal.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with conviction carrying a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. A 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. It was not, however, compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used other schools as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and RMGs. UNJRO documented 153 attacks on schools, including 118 in Ituri province, the majority that were committed in the context of interethnic conflict.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.

The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Many children suffered abuse from militia groups that recruited children and believed they possessed magic powers. The armed group Bana Mura was reportedly responsible for taking women of childbearing age and enslaving them to give birth to children that would be raised in a different ethnic group. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militants forced children to undergo a “baptism” ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those children who did not die of these wounds were reportedly recruited into the militia and used as combatants, often put on the front lines as “fetish keepers” due to their supposed powers. These practices resulted in the deaths of many children during the Kasai conflict in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($58). The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The 2009 Child Protection Code criminalized child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through July, UNICEF assisted 2,694 children who were victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately half of these children (1,076 girls and 37 boys) were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance. There were also reports that child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, during 2016 (see section 6). While targeted sexual violence against children decreased in the region following arrests and charges against some militia members responsible, many of the survivors continued to face stigmatization from their communities.

Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which remains the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Since 2016 the conflict in the Kasais displaced more than 1.4 million persons, including many children who were kidnapped by militia members or otherwise separated from their families. The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street children.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides specific government protection for them. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

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

While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported that authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials, who committed abuses against LGBTI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in perpetrating discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The latest available DHS, which dates from 2013-14, captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate of adults and children between 15 and 49 was 0.7 percent, and an estimated 390,000 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2017.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. In the wake of an offensive against Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, the SSF targeted for arrest young men identified by tribal scarring as members of the Bemba community. This harassment by the SSF was given as a reason why several young men subsequently joined the Mai Mai group. Small-scale conflicts in the Rutshuru and Lubero territories of North Kivu conflict exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hutu, on the one hand, and the Kobo, Nyanga, and Nande ethnic communities, on the other hand. In January 2017 the Nande-affiliated Mai Mai Mazembe RMG attacked the town of Kibirizi, decapitating one Hutu, burning one woman to death, and burning 16 homes. In April 2017 intercommunity tensions between Tshokwe and Pende (accused of being affiliated with the Congolese security forces) and Luba and Lulua communities (accused of being Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers) turned violent, particularly in Kamonia territory, Kasai Province. In April 2017 Tshokwe youths armed with rifles and machetes killed at least 38 persons, including eight women and eight children, mainly of Lulua ethnicity, in several parts of the territory.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes, although by law police, army, and domestic workers may not strike. The law also prohibits directors in public and private enterprises from striking. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. The law provides unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and more than one union may be represented within a single business. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years. Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members plus one employer representative. Union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with the unions. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors) do not have the right to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

The union committee is required to notify the company’s management of a planned strike, but it does not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. Generally, the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. Sometimes employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law disallows striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the penalties for violations were not adequate to deter violations. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three contiguous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private sector and public enterprise unions at the national level. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. The public administration sector is divided among and represented by 15 different national unions, five of which represent the majority of the workers.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Employees of the Port and Transportation Authority, whose services are essential to maintain the country’s heavily import-based economy, went on strike twice during the year due to salary arrears. Other civil servants including doctors, nurses, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Budget personnel also went on strike repeatedly during the year due to salary issues. The most recent doctors’ strike was suspended in September; the nurses’ strike continued. Professors at the University of Kinshasa went on strike at least twice, most recently beginning October 8, to protest lack of payment of their salaries at an inflation-adjusted exchange rate. In other provinces, such as Kasai Oriental, the strike continued, albeit sporadically.

The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law effectively or to provide oversight. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not effectively exercise the right to strike. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite workers’ legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances during the year, to undermine unions’ collective bargaining efforts, companies refused to negotiate with unions but opted to negotiate individually with workers.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so only partially.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Under the labor code, conviction of forced labor is punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, a fine, or both; conviction of forced child labor is punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The law also provides for a penalty of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for the conviction of the enrollment or use of children younger than age 18 in the armed forces or police. Penalties for violations were an insufficient deterrent because the government did not effectively enforce the law.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows detention or the exaction of work for the purpose of national development (as a means of levying taxes). The government, however, did not invoke this provision.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were reports that forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country. Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal (nonindustrial) mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining tools and equipment, often at high interest rates despite low wages. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay debt were at risk of becoming perennial debtors. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate this practice. In the East RMGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages and held men, women, and children captive for trafficking, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. In North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, some members of FARDC units and RMGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines.

Some police officers arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom. In September an article in The Economist reported a study indicating that Kinshasa traffic police received 80 percent of their income from corruption.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced or compulsory labor and took no action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. The government did not report any official forced labor investigations, and there were no prosecutions. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child protection code and labor code set the minimum age for work at 16, and Ministerial Order No. 12 sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items. Penalties for conviction of violations for the worst forms of child labor, which are one to three years of imprisonment and fines as high as 20,000 Congolese francs ($13), were insufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted a new action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; its implementation was scheduled to start during the year; however, implementation had not begun as of September due to lack of funds. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. These agencies had no budgets for inspections and conducted no child labor investigations.

In March the governor of Lualaba Province in the Katanga region made a public announcement prohibiting children from participating in mining activities in two villages near the artisanal mines of Kasulu and Kipuki, encouraging the children to go to school instead. Children had been employed at the two sites to clean copper and cobalt ores, and haul sacks of minerals. It was unclear what impact the governor’s declaration had.

In August 2017 an interministerial committee, including the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Mining, organized a national workshop at which Minister of State for Employment and Labor Lambert Matuku announced a strategy to eliminate child labor, including in the mining sector, by 2025. In September, Matuku repeated the same strategy at another workshop sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to fight child labor in the mining sector. No implementation had taken place by year’s end, however.

While criminal courts continued to hear child labor complaints, neither the courts nor other government agencies effectively enforced these laws. The government did not allocate relevant ministries and the National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor specific budgetary resources.

There was no effective systematic government effort to redirect child labor away from artisanal mines. The Ministry of Mines International Conference on the Great Lakes Region certificate-validation process prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting, but the ministry had limited capacity to enforce this process.

The government did not undertake any measures to reinforce the capacities of the labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. The 2018 mining code, which replaced the previous code of 2002, prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was a problem throughout the country (see section 7.b.). Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. For their economic survival, families often encouraged children to work. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. The commercial exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Various mining sites, located principally in the eastern regions of North Kivu and Katanga, employed many child workers. Data on Katanga estimated that children younger than age 18 made up 40 percent of all workers in the region’s mines. According to a 2017 University of California-Berkley report, 13 percent of the mining labor force living in the mining communities of the copper cobalt belt were younger than age 18, a total of 4,714 children. Of these, 49 percent are 14 years old or younger. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Given the same status as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures.

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Upper Katanga, Kasai Oriental, Kasai Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. Persons with disabilities, albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest pay scales applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The prime minister decreed the new minimum daily wage would increase from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) as of May 10, progressively, which would raise the minimum wage above the World Bank poverty level of $1.90 per day. This increase was scheduled in 25-percent installments, and the first two occurred in June and December. The National Labor Council, the country’s highest labor forum, is a tripartite organization formed by unions, government, and employers. According to the labor code, ordinary sessions of the National Labor Council should take place twice a year. The most recent session took place in October 2017.

In the public sector, the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 to 72 hours, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The National Labor Council met in 2017 and agreed to raise the minimum wage from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) beginning January 1, 2018. The average monthly wage did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Government salaries remained low, ranging from 65,000 to 95,000 Congolese francs ($41 to $59) per month (not including bonuses, which in some instances were considerably larger), and salary arrears became more frequent in both the civil service and public enterprises (parastatals). In August the government announced a raise of 20,000 Congolese francs ($13) per month, but workers had yet to receive the additional funds by year’s end. Many public-sector employees reported that they did not receive their annual bonuses. In 2012 the government began paying some civil servant salaries through the banking system in an effort to stop the practice in which supervisors created fake employees and skimmed off some of their subordinates’ salaries. The Budget Ministry stated that 75 percent of civil servants received their pay through the banking system, but some observers believed that figure was grossly inflated. For others the government delivered cash in large shipments for local authorities and supervisors to distribute.

The labor code specifies health and safety standards. The Ministry of Labor employed 200 labor inspectors, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. The government did not effectively enforce such standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. Major international mining companies effectively observed health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. The law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 the international NGO International Peace and Information Services estimated there were approximately 300,000 artisanal miners in the East in the 2,000 identified mine sites. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. In 2016 President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fourth term. International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. Most opposition groups did not characterize the elections as free and fair. Three of the seven opposition parties participated in the February legislative elections. Opposition groups stated that the government reneged on a 2015 agreement by not installing an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the AU, IGAD, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by the leaders of unrecognized opposition parties.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary treatment by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; criminal libel; restrictions on free assembly and association; abusing and detaining government critics; government abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose or influence significantly their government; government corruption; violence against women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); restrictions on worker rights; and child labor.

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

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

According to a human rights group, on July 9, state security forces shot and killed a young man in Northern Djibouti during an investigation into an armed rebel group.

In 2015 the government investigated law enforcement officials and civilians allegedly responsible for killing as many as 30 persons gathering for a religious ceremony. The government did not find any law enforcement officials responsible for the deaths. Several civilian cases related to the same incident remained pending.

Authorities seldom took known actions to investigate reported cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings from previous years or to try suspected perpetrators.

The government prioritized investigating and arresting alleged members of a rebel group after accusing the group of a May attack on heavy machinery for the construction of a controversial road project in the North.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, according to credible local sources, security forces assaulted detainees.

Security forces arrested and abused journalists, demonstrators, and opposition members.

On March 26, domestic human rights groups stated that Documentation and Security Service (SDS) personnel detained and beat Mohamed Ahmed Ali after he produced a series of Facebook posts. The motive for his arrest was unclear. He was released one week later without trial.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

International organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the central prison. The Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held irregular migrants and was not part of the prison system. There were reports police and gendarmes abused prisoners.

Physical Conditions: Gabode Prison conditions of detention for women were similar to those for men, although less crowded. Authorities allowed young children of female prisoners to stay with their mothers. The prison population exceeded the facility’s original planned capacity by almost double. Due to space constraints, authorities did not always hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities occasionally separated opposition supporters from the rest of the prison population. Authorities provided poor lighting and heating, limited potable water and ventilation, and poor sanitation conditions for the prison population.

Prisoners with mental disabilities, who constituted a growing percentage of the prison population, regularly received adequate care. They were kept in the infirmary, although separately from prisoners with serious communicable diseases. They had access to psychiatric services through the national health system.

Conditions in jails, which held detainees until their summary release or transfer to the central prison, were poor. Jails had no formal system to feed or segregate prisoners and did not provide consistent medical services. Prisoners were fed on a regular basis.

Conditions at the Nagad Detention Facility were poor, although detainees had access to potable water, food, and medical treatment. Authorities deported most detainees who were foreign nationals within 24 hours of arrest. While normally used for irregular migrants, the government also used the Nagad Detention Facility as a temporary holding place for civilians arrested during political demonstrations or engaged in political activity.

Government statistics indicated no prisoner or detainee deaths during the year.

Administration: Officials investigated reports of cases of inhuman conditions that they deemed credible. The government-sponsored National Commission for Human Rights conducted an annual tour of the prisons but did not release a public report.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually granted prison access to foreign embassies for cases of foreign citizens detained in the prisons. Authorities allowed International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to visit the Nagad Detention Facility and the Gabode Prison quarterly to assess general prison conditions. The government also allowed embassy officials to visit Gabode Prison.

According to an independent organization, high-profile refugees–formerly prisoners of war–received adequate treatment at the Nagad Detention Facility, including mental health services.

Improvements: A permanent doctor and four nurses were available at the prison. The medical staff provided specialized medicine for those detainees with specific illnesses such a tuberculosis or diabetes. An international organization provided female prisoners with specialized hygiene kits on a regular basis. Government officials organized a fundraiser to donate sanitary kits and stationary materials to female prisoners and children. Women prisoners had access to vocational training and income-generating activities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police under the Ministry of Interior, the Army and National Gendarmerie under the Ministry of Defense, and the Coast Guard under the Ministry of Transport. An elite Republican Guard unit protects the president and reports directly to the presidency. A separate National Security Service also reports directly to the presidency. The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as at the international airport. The army is responsible for defense of the national borders. The Coast Guard enforces maritime laws, including interdicting pirates, smugglers, traffickers, and irregular migrants.

Security forces were generally effective, although corruption was a problem in all services, particularly in the lower ranks where wages were low. Each security force has a unit responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct, and the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution. During the year the government received one formal complaint of law enforcement misconduct. The state prosecutor brought charges against two law enforcement officers accused of abusing a detainee during an arrest. The case continued at year’s end. Authorities took no action to investigate complaints of misconduct from previous years. Impunity was a serious problem.

The National Police has a Human Rights Office and has integrated human rights education into the police academy curriculum.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement authorities should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays. The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, although the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could get court ordered release but not compensation.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year government officials arbitrarily arrested journalists, opposition members, academics, and demonstrators, often without warrants.

For example, in February SDS personnel arrested Abdou Mohamed Bolock for complaining on Facebook that the Obock Region lost legislative seats under the leadership of the prime minister. He was detained and later released without charge.

In October, after a traffic dispute, a foreign contractor was beaten, unlawfully detained, and denied access to the person’s embassy. The contractor was released after two days in detention and ordered to leave the country.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Prisoners often waited two, three, or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: After release detainees have the ability to challenge lawfulness of detention. Due to mistrust of the judicial procedure and fear of retaliation, the majority refrained from pursuing recourse.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities often did not respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Islamic law (sharia), and nomadic traditions.

The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but trials did not proceed in accordance with the presumption of innocence. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases the court consists of the presiding judge of the court of appeal, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law provides that detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities generally respected these rights. The indigent have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Traditional law often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates that compensation be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as killing and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive issues such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued over the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by such rulings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In cases of human rights violations, citizens could address correspondence to the National Human Rights Commission. On a variety of matters, citizens could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes among government branches. Citizens could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government did not always comply with those bodies’ decisions and recommendations pertaining to human rights.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property, but the government did not always respect the law. Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance.

The government monitored digital communications intended to be private and punished their authors (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

In separate instances in May, SDS personnel arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard) and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. In June authorities dismissed their cases after allegedly seizing their passports. On September 1, Ali was arrested again for publishing a post on Facebook that criticized the government’s decision to mandate school uniforms for public schools. He was subsequently released without charge.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.

On March 10, SDS personnel arrested Djiboutian Armed Forces communications officer Captain Rashid Hachi Youssouf, and detained him for one week for sharing the first chapter of his novel, The Al Capone of Milk, online. The title is an apparent reference to Ainanche Ismail Omar Guelleh’s (son of the president) exclusive control of the country’s milk market. On March 14, Youssouf was released. The president dishonorably discharged him from the army. He fled overseas, where he resided at year’s end.

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

The Ministry of Communication in 1992 authorized the creation of the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) wishing to operate media outlets. In 2017 the commission received an office and hired staff. The commission has not issued any licenses, but it reported it had not received any applications. The commission intervened during the February legislative elections to enforce balanced coverage of majority and opposition parties by local state-owned media (television, newspaper, and the radio). The opposition parties engaged in the race characterized media coverage as fair.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists.

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

Before a newspaper may begin circulation, it requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigates funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and radio station La Voix de Djibouti that often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the northern region of the country for security reasons.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the 2016 presidential election and confirmed the re-election of President Ismail Omar Guelleh for a fourth term in the first round of voting. The Constitutional Council certified that Guelleh was re-elected president with 111,389 of 127,933 votes cast, giving him 87.7 percent of the vote. Two opposition and three independent candidates shared the rest of the votes. One opposition group boycotted the election, stating the process was fraudulent. After the election opposition members noted irregularities, including alleging authorities unfairly ejected opposition delegates from polling stations, precluding them from observing the vote tallying. Most opposition leaders called the election results illegitimate.

International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the 2016 presidential election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. For example, international observers stated the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) coalition continued to provide campaign paraphernalia after the campaign period closed, including on the day of the election. Some polling station workers also wore shirts and paraphernalia supporting the UMP. The executive branch selected the members of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).

During the year the Constitutional Council proclaimed the official and final results of the legislative election and confirmed the ruling coalition’s control of 90 percent of the legislature. Two opposition parties shared the remaining 10 percent. Leaders of unrecognized opposition parties called the election results illegitimate due to the lack of a regular and independent election commission, and expressed their displeasure through Facebook posts and hunger strikes.

International observers from the AU, IGAD, Arab League, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation characterized the legislative elections as “free, just, and fair.” The mission from the AU, however, noted several worrisome observations, including lower voter registration due to restrictive laws, inadequate implementation of biometric identification processes during the elections, voter intimidation, inadequate security of submitted ballots, premature closures of voting centers, and the lack of opposition observers during ballot counting.

There was limited progress on implementing the 2016 law establishing conditions for opposition party activities and financing. The AU noted that the financing part of the law had not been implemented for the legislative elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: State security forces beat, harassed, and excluded some opposition leaders. The government also restricted the operations of opposition parties.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Interior refused to recognize three opposition political parties, although they continued to operate: the Movement for Development and Liberty (MoDEL), the Movement for Democratic Renewal, and the Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RAADE). Members of those political parties were routinely arrested and detained for illegal political activity.

In August the minister of interior refused to renew the authorization for the Republican Alliance for Development (ARD) party to operate legally in the country. After an internal party reshuffle, the government refused to acknowledge new party leadership. From August 8 to 18, ARD president Abdoulkaer Abdallah went on a hunger strike.

On March 23, authorities arrested a security guard at an annex of the RADDE opposition party. Authorities detained him for one day and released him with instructions to evacuate the space. Abdisalam Ismail, Youth Designate for the RAADE party, was arrested on October 21 and remained detained.

On October 18 and 19, police arrested five MoDEL leaders for reportedly opening a training school for their supporters.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. While women did participate, they did not meet the required 25 percent of political candidates and election administration officials, required by a 2017 law. International observers documented only 11 percent of election administration officials were women, and only 8 percent of candidates were women.

In 2017 the country elected its first female mayor in a communal election. In the February legislative elections, the number of women elected to the legislature more than doubled from eight to 18.

Women held 18 of 65 seats in the National Assembly, and there were three women in the 23-member cabinet. The presidents of the Appeals Court and of the Tribunal of First Instance were both women. Custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life.

For the February legislative elections, CENI had no high-ranking female members.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption. The government ceased an initiative begun in 2012 to rotate accountants among government offices as a check on corruption. The law requires the court and Inspectorate General to report annually, but both entities lacked resources, and reporting seldom occurred.

During the year the Court of Budget and Disciplinary Action made annual reports on corruption available online. The court also called a conference with local journalists to distribute reports. The authority to prosecute corruption, however, lies with the Criminal Court.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law, but they usually did not abide by the law.

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

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

Following the death of human rights activist Jean Paul Noel Abdi in 2012, a group of civil servants from various ministries created the Djiboutian Observatory for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights. Although the organization applied for association status in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, the Ministry of Interior had not granted the group formal status by year’s end.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Human Rights Commission included technical experts, representatives of civil society and labor unions, religious groups, the legal community, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Assembly. By law the commission is a permanent institution with staff and regional offices. The commission last produced an annual report in 2016 and occasionally commented on cases of concern.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law includes sentences of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape but does not address spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence against women was common. While the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, it prohibits “torture and barbaric acts” against a spouse and specifies penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. Police rarely intervened in domestic violence incidents. The Cellule d’Ecoute (Listening Committee) addresses domestic violence in a tripartite arrangement with the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement agencies, and the council on sharia. This committee refers cases to the Ministry of Justice when abuse is violent or to the council on sharia for divorce proceedings.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but it was a problem. According to a 2012 Ministry of Health survey, 78 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C. According to the UNFD, infibulation, the most extreme form of FGM/C, with a prevalence rate of 67.2 percent, continued, although with declining frequency. Per government officials, new cases of FGM/C were rare in the country’s urban areas, but they also noted a small subsection of the population travels to surrounding countries to have FGM/C performed. The law sets punishment for conviction of FGM/C at five years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650), and NGOs may file charges on behalf of victims. The law also provides for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 DJF ($565) for anyone convicted of failing to report a completed or planned FGM/C to the proper authorities; however, the government had punished no one under this statute by year’s end. Government officials acknowledged their awareness-raising efforts to end FGM/C were less effective in remote regions of the country.

The government continued efforts to end FGM/C with a high-profile national publicity campaign, public support from the president’s wife and other prominent women, and outreach to Muslim religious leaders. During the year the government began drafting strategies to raise awareness among migrants, persons with disabilities, and youth.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and anecdotal information suggested such harassment was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens without distinction concerning gender, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector. In accordance with sharia, men inherit a larger proportion of estates than do women. The government promoted female leadership in the small business sector, including through expanded access to microcredit.

A presidential decree requires that women hold at least 20 percent of all high-level public-service positions, although the government has never implemented the decree.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. The government encouraged prompt registration of births, but confusion regarding the process sometimes left children without proper documentation. Lack of birth registration did not result in denial of public services but did prevent youth from completing their higher studies and adults from voting. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although primary education is compulsory, only an estimated three of every four children were enrolled in school. Primary and middle school are tuition-free, but other expenses are often prohibitive for poor families.

Child Abuse: Child abuse existed but was not frequently reported or prosecuted, and the government made only limited efforts to combat it.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the law fixes the minimum legal age of marriage at 18, it provides that “marriage of minors who have not reached the legal age of majority is subject to the consent of their guardians.” Child marriage occasionally occurred in rural areas. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning worked with women’s groups throughout the country to protect the rights of girls, including the right to decide when and whom to marry. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for three years’ imprisonment and a fine of one million DJF ($5,650) for conviction of the commercial exploitation of children. The law does not specifically prohibit statutory rape, and there is no legal minimum age of consent. The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The sale, manufacture, or distribution of all pornography, including child pornography, is prohibited, and violations if convicted are punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 DJF ($1,130).

The government enacted an anti-trafficking-in-persons (TIP) law in 2016 that prohibits trafficking and outlines definitions distinguishing trafficking and smuggling. The law provides language that the “means” element generally needed to prosecute TIP cases is not required when the victim is a child.

Despite government efforts to keep at-risk children off the streets and to warn businesses against permitting children to enter bars and clubs, children were vulnerable to prostitution on the streets and in brothels.

Displaced Children: During the year the government and NGOs in partnership commissioned an investigation and full qualitative and quantitative study of unaccompanied minors living on the streets. This report had not been released to the public. NGOs reported an increasing number of unaccompanied minors living in Djibouti City or traveling through the country en route to the Middle East.

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

Anti-Semitism

Observers estimated the Jewish community at fewer than 30 persons, the majority of whom were foreign military members stationed in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, although the law prohibits such discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.). Both the Ministry of National Solidarity and the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning have responsibility specifically to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The government also created the position of presidential advisor for persons living with disabilities. Nevertheless, the law was not enforced. The government did not mandate access to government services and accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, and buildings were often inaccessible. The law provides persons with disabilities access to health care and education, but the law was not enforced.

Authorities held prisoners with mental disabilities separately from other pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. They received minimal psychological treatment or monitoring. Families could request confinement in prison for relatives with mental disabilities who had not been convicted of any crime, but who were considered a danger to themselves or those around them. There were no mental health treatment facilities and only one practicing psychiatrist in the country.

Government agencies conducted awareness-raising campaigns, and NGOs organized seminars and other events that drew attention to the need for enhanced legal protections and better workplace conditions for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The governing coalition included all of the country’s major clans and ethnic groups, with minority groups also represented in senior positions. Nonetheless, there was discrimination based on ethnicity in employment and job advancement (see section 7.d.). Somali Issas, the majority ethnic group, controlled the ruling party and dominated the civil service and security services. Discrimination based on ethnicity and clan affiliation remained a factor in business and politics.

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

The law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct among consenting adults. No antidiscrimination law exists to protect LGBTI individuals. There were no reported incidents of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, although LGBTI persons generally did not openly acknowledge their LGBTI status. There were no LGBTI organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reported cases of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although stigma against individuals with the disease was widespread. Several local associations worked in collaboration with the government to combat social discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right to form and join independent unions with prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law provides the right to strike after giving advance notification, allows collective bargaining, and fixes the basic conditions for adherence to collective agreements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The economic free zones (EFZs) operate under different rules, and labor law provides workers fewer rights in the EFZs.

The procedure for trade union registration, according to the International Labor Organization, is lengthy and complicated, allowing the Ministry of Labor virtually unchecked discretionary authority over registration. The government also requires unions to resubmit to this approval process following any changes to union leadership or union statutes, meaning each time there is a union election, the union must reregister with the government.

The law provides for the suspension of the employment contract when a worker holds trade union office. The law also prohibits membership in a trade union if an individual has prior convictions (whether or not the conviction is prejudicial to the integrity required to exercise union office). The law provides the president with broad discretionary power to prohibit or restrict severely the right of civil servants to strike, based on an extensive list of “essential services” that may exceed the limits of international standards.

The government neither enforced nor complied with applicable law, including the law on antiunion discrimination. Available remedies and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations, particularly in view of the lack of enforcement.

The government also limited labor organizations’ ability to register participants, thus compromising the ability of labor groups to operate. The government did not allow the country’s two independent labor unions to register as official labor unions. Two government-backed labor unions with the same names as the independent labor unions, sometimes known as “clones,” served as the primary collective bargaining mechanisms for many workers. Members of the government have close ties to the legal labor unions. Only members of government-approved labor unions attended international and regional labor meetings with the imprimatur of the government. Independent union leaders stated the government suppressed independent representative unions by tacitly discouraging labor meetings.

Collective bargaining sometimes occurred and usually resulted in quick agreements. The tripartite National Council on Work, Employment, and Professional Training examined all collective bargaining agreements and played an advisory role in their negotiation and application. The council included representatives from labor, employers, and government.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 2016 TIP law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and strengthens tools available to prosecutors to convict and imprison traffickers (see section 6, Children). Prosecutors increasingly enforced the law, but since law enforcement investigators had difficulties in identifying trafficking crimes, law enforcement leadership sought out training for their respective investigative officers. On July 30, the Ministry of Justice led a roundtable for the World Day against Trafficking with representatives from relevant ministries, including law enforcement, civil society, and survivors of human trafficking.

Citizens and migrants were vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including as domestic servants in Djibouti City and along the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor. Parents or other adult relatives forced street children, including citizen children, to beg. Children also were vulnerable to forced labor as domestic servants and coerced to commit petty crimes, such as theft (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all labor by, and employment of, children younger than age 16, but it does not specifically prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law places limitations on working more than 40 hours a week and working at night. Government enforcement of the law was ineffective. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for monitoring workplaces and preventing child labor; however, a shortage of labor inspectors, vehicles, and other resources impeded investigations of child labor. Inspections were carried out in the formal economy, although most child labor took place in the informal sector.

Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, occurred throughout the country. Children were engaged in the sale of the narcotic khat, which is legal. Family-owned businesses such as restaurants and small shops employed children during all hours. Children were involved in a range of activities such as shining shoes, washing and guarding cars, selling items, working as domestic servants, working in subsistence farming and with livestock, begging, and other activities in the informal sector. Children of both sexes worked as domestic servants. Children experienced physical, chemical, and psychological hazards while working.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no law prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status.

The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate resources to carry out inspections for discrimination in both the formal and informal sectors. According to disability advocates, there were not enough employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and legal protections and access for such individuals were inadequate. The law does not require equal pay for equal work (see section 6).

By law foreign migrant workers who obtain residency and work permits enjoy the same legal protections and working conditions as citizens. This law was not enforced, however, and migrant workers experienced discrimination. In January 2017 the National Assembly passed a refugee law formalizing refugees’ right to work, and it passed two implementing decrees the following December.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 35,000 DJF ($198) per month for public-sector workers, compared to the World Bank poverty income level equivalent to 336 DJF ($1.90) per day. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for the private sector, but it provides that minimum wages be established by common agreement between employers and employees. According to the government statistics office, in 2017 79 percent of the population lived in relative poverty.

The legal workweek is 40 hours over five days, a limit that applies to workers regardless of gender or nationality. The law mandates a weekly rest period of 48 consecutive hours and the provision of overtime pay at an increased rate fixed by agreement or collective bargaining. The law states overtime hours may not exceed 60 hours per week and 12 hours per day. The law provides for paid holidays. The government sets occupational safety and health standards that cover the country’s main industries. The minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced, including in the informal economy.

No law or regulation permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment.

There was a large informal sector but no credible data on the number of workers employed there.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards, wages, and work hours; however, resources allotted to enforcement were insufficient, and enforcement was ineffective. The ministry employed one labor inspector and four controllers. The Labor Inspectorate conducted 30 inspections, including within EFZs, during the year based on complaints about illegal labor conditions and found violations in every case. Because of lack of enforcement, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Resources provided to enforce the law, including inspections, were inadequate. The Labor Inspectorate had insufficient resources to train inspectors, conduct regular preventive inspections, or pursue enforcement of previous cases. The most common remedy for violations was for the labor inspector to visit the offending business and explain how to correct the violation. If the business complied, there was no penalty.

Migrants were particularly vulnerable to labor violations. Workers across several industries or sectors sometimes faced hazardous working conditions, particularly in the construction sector and at ports. Hazards included, for example, improper safety equipment and inadequate safety training. According to the Labor Inspectorate, workers typically reported improper termination, not abuses of safety standards.

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. Since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991. President Obiang received a claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in an election that many considered neither free nor fair in April 2016.

In November 2017 the country held legislative and municipal elections that lacked independent domestic or international monitoring and verification of the voter census, registration, and the tabulation of ballots. The ruling PDGE party and its 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote, taking all 75 Senate seats, 99 of 100 seats in the lower chamber, and all except one seat in municipal councils. The voter registration process was not transparent. The government restricted opposition party access to the media and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted on the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; torture and arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; censorship and site blocking; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; severe restrictions on political participation; corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; violence against women, including rape, with limited government action to investigate or prosecute those responsible; and forced labor.

The government took few steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On April 3, Santiago Ebee Ela, 41, member of the outlawed opposition party Citizens for Innovation (CI), died at Malabo Central Police Station, reportedly because of “cruel torture.” Government authorities did not confirm the death, nor did state media report it. CI alleged that Ebee Ela was arrested at home on the night of January 2 and was one of more than 200 party activists authorities detained since December 2017 as part of a crackdown following the mid-November 2017 elections. The majority of the CI members were released quickly. The final 36 received a pardon on October 10 and were released that month. Judge Jose Esono Ndong Bidang died in a police station in Malabo on July 23 after he was denied medical attention in police custody.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of at least two disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Foreign press reported that Equatoguinean-Italian citizen Fulgencio Obiang Esono and Equatoguinean citizen (and Spanish resident) Francisco Micha Obama disappeared from Togo. Reports suggest that the government may have ordered their rendition and that both were later brought to Malabo’s infamous “Black Beach” prison.

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders.

On January 4, approximately 150 members of the CI political party were arrested and detained in both Malabo and Bata without notification of a crime committed. CI leaders asserted they were tortured by soldiers and held for days without access to food and water (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). On October 10, the president pardoned 169 prisoners, including the 36 members of the CI party who were still in prison. These were among the first prisoners released by October 22.

Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions.

Authorities routinely harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested, detained, and deported foreigners–primarily African immigrants–without due process (see section 2.d.).

Military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, and beat women, including at checkpoints. Senior government officials took no steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in the violence.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 there were approximately 475 adult male inmates and 25 adult female inmates in police station jails; no data was available on the number of inmates in prisons. There was no information available on the number of juvenile detainees.

Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable.

Men, women, and minors had separate sleeping quarters and bathrooms but shared a common area for meals. Pretrial and convicted prisoners were held separately, although they shared a common area.

Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings.

Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees shared one toilet facility that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases including malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting was not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food.

In addition, the Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons for civilians on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within the prisons. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: There was no independent monitoring of prisons or detention centers. The government allowed UNICEF to visit youth rehabilitation centers in Centro Sur and Riaba but did not permit monitoring by media or local human rights groups.

Improvements: On July 27, the government inaugurated a new, modern maximum-security correctional facility located in Oveng Asem, on the mainland, with a capacity for more than 500 prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements. Authorities held detainees incommunicado, denied them access to lawyers, and jailed them for long periods without charge, beyond the 72 hours allowed by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The vice president asserts overall control over the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. The military often carried out police functions and, in some cases, mixed units of police and military operated together.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Police, gendarmes, and military personnel were poorly trained, ineffective, and corrupt. Impunity was a problem. Security force members, who often were inebriated, extorted money from citizens and foreigners at police checkpoints and during routine traffic stops. The government did not maintain effective internal or external mechanisms to investigate and punish security force abuses.

No government body examines security force killings to evaluate whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. Nevertheless, in some high-profile cases, prosecutors and the judiciary performed show trials to exonerate the accused.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but determination of the legality of detention often took longer, sometimes several months. NGOs indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal time limit of 36 hours.

Some foreigners complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly to political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, businesspersons, and others. Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.

Police detained foreigners and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to such abuse.

There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrest. Professor Julian Abaga Ncogo was detained in December 2017, allegedly for discussing what he perceived as an untenable political, economic, and social situation in the country. Somehow, the message got to some authorities who had him arrested. He was released in July, just before the National Political Dialogue.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them in practice. The 150 CI party members arrested in early January were detained for a month without access to lawyers and were only allowed representation after their convictions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.

Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the parliament, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate of the nation for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes.

The military justice system, based entirely on the system in effect in Spain when the country gained its independence in 1968, provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.

In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but the courts did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a public trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials but unless they could afford private counsel rarely were able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. The law extends these rights equally to all citizens, but authorities did not respect the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number. They were held at Black Beach prison where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys for several months.

On March 8, political activist and cartoonist Ramon Nse Esono Ebale was released from prison after being acquitted for counterfeiting and money laundering, crimes that he was charged with in December 2017 due to false testimony by a police officer, the state’s main witness.

After the early January arrest of 150 members of the opposition CI party, on February 23, the High Court in Mongomo convicted and sentenced 31 CI members to 41 years in prison for sedition, undermining authority, damaging government property, and physical injury. The court also ordered the dissolution of the CI political party and imposed a fine of 138 million CFA francs ($235,000). CI’s Jesus Mitogo Oyono Andeme, the only opposition party member elected to the legislature in the November 2017 elections, was among those convicted. All 31 were released on October 22 as part of the amnesty ordered by the president on October 10.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints. Civil matters were often settled out of court, and in some cases tribal elders adjudicated local disputes.

The government sometimes failed, for political reasons, to comply with domestic court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel. In 2017 a Chinese citizen was killed by a group attempting to rob his house. One of the perpetrators dropped his identity card as he fled the scene, which showed he was a member of the military. In prior years, military members had been killed while they attempted break-ins.

Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. The government blocked employment of known members of opposition parties. Members of civil society have reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedom: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International newspapers and news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in November 2017 the government censored all international channels.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel that the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the November 2017 legislative and municipalities elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days.

In December 2017 cell phone access to WhatsApp resumed while access to Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted throughout the year.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 26.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Faculty, students, and members of opposition political parties complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors practiced self-censorship. In December the press reported the minister of education fired a teacher from the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy Party (CPDS), allegedly because he was promoting his political ideology in his classes. Opposition blogs alleged the teacher was fired because he criticized a rule requiring female students to cut their hair to a certain length.

Some cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. This was more common outside of the largest cities. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but regulatory provisions effectively undermined this right, and the government routinely restricted freedom of assembly. The government formally abolished permit requirements for political party meetings within party buildings but requires prior permission for public events, such as meetings in other venues or marches, and frequently denied these permit requests. The government frequently dispersed peaceful, preapproved public gatherings if a participant asked a question that could be construed as criticism of the government or the PDGE.

In contrast, authorities pressured citizens to attend progovernment demonstrations and rallies. For example, various citizen groups, government employees, and others were required to participate in the annual Independence Day parade.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. All political parties, labor unions, and other associations must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. During the year the government continued to reduce funding for civil society organizations and distributed remaining funds among a few mostly progovernment organizations close to the president’s inner circle. Grant funding decisions were arbitrary and nontransparent.

Politically motivated crackdowns on civil society organizations remained a problem, including the temporary detention of civil society activists without charge.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic lines. Only one labor organization was believed to be registered by the end of the year, but the registry was inaccessible due to a change in leadership at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (see section 7.a.).

Despite laws that authorities stated were designed to facilitate the registration of political parties, the government prevented the registration of opposition parties. Although elected officials from the CI opposition party were released from prison on October 22 after a presidential pardon, they were not immediately allowed to return to their positions in local and national offices because the party had been deregistered early in the year.

During the 2017 legislative and municipal electoral campaign season, public gatherings were closely monitored and tightly controlled. Political parties required government authorization to hold rallies. Authorities prohibited political parties from campaigning in the same location at the same time as the official PDGE party. The PDGE received preferential treatment. On election day security forces prevented voters from forming large groups (see section 3).

A 1999 law on NGOs limits to approximately 53,000 CFA francs ($90) per year the amount of funding civil society organizations can receive from foreign sources. The government has also pressured civil society organizations, especially those focused on human rights, through both overt and covert means (see sections 1.d. and 5 for additional information).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent elections: In November 2017 legislative and municipal elections the ruling party (PDGE) and 14 coalition parties claimed 92 percent of the vote in the country’s closed-list party system. The PDGE and its 14 coalition parties took all 75 Senate seats and 99 out of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. CI was the only opposition party to win a seat in the legislature, although the single opposition legislator was imprisoned for several months during the year (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). At the local level, the PDGE coalition won all but one of the municipal council seats and all except one mayoral race.

There were irregularities and no transparency in the electoral process. The voter census and registration process took place without independent domestic or international monitoring. The government restricted media access to the opposition and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted for more than one week before the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet. The government created an atmosphere of intimidation by deploying military personnel at polling stations.

In 2016 President Obiang claimed 93.7 percent of the vote in presidential elections that were marred by reports of capricious application of election laws, nontransparent political funding, polling station irregularities, voter fraud, intimidation, and violence. Military personnel and PDGE representatives were present at all polling stations, while opposition representatives were present only at some stations. There were instances in which procedures to protect ballot secrecy were not enforced. Photographs of the president remained on public buildings used as polling stations.

Contrary to the constitution, which requires that presidential elections be held no more than 45 days before or 60 days after the end of the prior presidential term, the election was held 136 days before the end of the president’s term.

In the months leading up to the presidential election, security forces violently dispersed opposition rallies and arrested demonstrators and opposition leaders (see section 2.b.). Some opposition political parties chose to boycott the elections in protest.

The government and the PDGE had an absolute monopoly of national media, leaving opposition political parties with no means to disseminate their message. The PDGE received hourly radio and television coverage before and during the campaign period while opposition parties received none. The PDGE was also able to cover the city in campaign posters and gave away smart phones, promotional clothing, and even cars at campaign events.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) was not independent of PDGE or government influence. By law the NEC consists of six judges appointed by the head of the Supreme Court, six government representatives and a secretary appointed by the president; and one representative from each registered political party. The president appointed the minister of interior, a PDGE leader, to be head of the NEC.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDGE ruled through a complex network of family, clan, and ethnic relationships. Public-sector employees were pressured to join the PDGE and even to agree to garnishment of their salaries to fund PDGE activities. The party’s near monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media hampered the independent opposition parties–the CPDS, Popular Union of Equatorial Guinea, Popular Action for Equatorial Guinea, and the CI.

For example, the PDGE conducted a national campaign with extensive media coverage in preparation for the November 2017 legislative and municipal elections. Opposition parties, however, had little to no access to media during this period, contravening the National Pact of 1993, the regulating framework for political parties that stipulates access to media and political financing and that provides for opposition political parties to have free, weekly national radio and television spots.

Political parties could receive both private and public funding but were not required to disclose the amount of private funding. In advance of the 2016 presidential elections, only the PDGE received public funding, and the amount was not publicly disclosed.

The government subjected opposition members to arbitrary arrest and harassment before and after the elections.

Opposition members reported discrimination in hiring, job retention, and obtaining scholarships and business licenses. They also claimed the government pressured foreign companies not to hire opposition members. Businesses that employed citizens with ties to families, individuals, parties, or groups out of favor with the government reportedly were selectively forced to dismiss those employees or face reprisals.

Registered opposition parties faced restrictions on freedom of speech, association, and assembly. For example, supporters who attended opposition political party campaign rallies were singled out for police interrogation and harassment. Some political parties that existed before the 1992 law establishing procedures to register political parties remained banned, allegedly for “supporting terrorism.”

Civil servants were removed for political reasons and without due process. In 2016 both the executive and judicial branches were restructured, with party affiliation a key factor in obtaining government employment. The PDGE conducted a nationwide campaign, and government employees were required to support it to keep their positions.

The president exercised strong powers as head of state, commander of the armed forces, head of the judiciary, and founder and head of the ruling party. The government generally restricted leadership positions in government to select PDGE members or members of a coalition of loyal parties that campaigned and voted with the PDGE.

A 2011 constitutional amendment removes the presidential age limit of 75 and limits a president to two seven-year terms (starting from the next election). The constitution also establishes three separate branches of government and creates a new post of vice president appointed by the president. As a result, President Obiang, who has ruled since 1979, may serve one more seven-year term if he chooses to run for re-election in 2023. In 2016 the president appointed his son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, as vice president.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Male-controlled cultural influences, however, limited women’s political participation, especially in rural areas.

The president, vice president, prime minister, deputy prime minister, and all three vice prime ministers were men. After the November 2017 elections, women occupied 21 of 72 Senate seats and 11 of 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Two of the 25 cabinet members were women, and two of the 28 deputy and vice ministers were women. There was one woman among the eight justices of the Supreme Court.

The government did not overtly limit minority participation in politics, but members of the Fang ethnic group occupied the top ranks. The group, estimated to constitute 80 percent of the population, exercised dominant political and economic power.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides severe criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not effectively implement the law. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, as the president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal fortunes from the revenues associated with monopolies on all domestic commercial ventures, as well as timber and oil exports. Corruption at all levels of government was a severe problem.

Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption. According to Freedom House, the budget process was “opaque.” The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Survey for 2017 gave the country a score of eight points out of 100. The International Monetary Fund had a staff-monitored program during the year, based on the government’s request. The government received a list of requirements to improve fiscal transparency, including hiring auditors to review government and state-owned enterprise budgets.

There are no specific laws about conflict of interest or nepotism.

Corruption: On September 14, Brazilian authorities seized two suitcases with $1.4 million in cash and another suitcase containing approximately 20 watches valued at $15 million when Vice President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo landed in Sao Paulo on an unofficial visit. The press reported on October 10 that Brazilian officials launched an investigation because they believed the undeclared cash and luxury watches, along with apartments and cars owned by the vice president in Brazil, may have been part of an effort to launder money embezzled from Equatorial Guinea’s government.

The government acceded to the United Nations Convention against Corruption on May 30.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require public officials to declare their assets to the National Commission on Public Ethics, although no declarations were made public. There are no formal procedures to control submission of asset disclosures and no penalties for noncompliance. No public officials have been required to comply with asset disclosure laws.

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

The law restricts NGO activity. The country’s few domestic NGOs mainly focused on issues such as health, women’s empowerment, and elder care. Although the law includes human rights among the areas in which NGOs may operate, no local NGO reported publicly on the abuse of civil, political, or other human rights by the government or on official corruption. The Center for Studies and Initiatives for the Development of Equatorial Guinea (CEIDGE) has spoken publicly about government corruption, but it has been restricted since 2016. On October 27, four individuals detained and beat civil society leader and human rights activist Alfredo Okenve Ndo of the CEIDGE. Initial reports suggest that security force members may have carried out the attack, mistaking him for his brother Celestino Okenve Ndo, who was a member of an opposition party.

Amnesty International, Freedom House, and Human Rights Watch focused on human rights. No international NGOs maintained offices in the country.

The government was suspicious of human rights activities, claiming human rights concerns were largely prompted by antigovernment exile groups and hostile foreign NGOs. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Government officials used media outlets to try to discredit civil society actors, categorizing them as supporters of the opposition and critics of the government. The few local activists who sought to address human rights risked intimidation, harassment, unlawful detention, and other reprisals.

The government’s 2016 suspension of CEIDGE activities, including participation in the government’s effort to rejoin the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative committee, continued. In August the government warned several NGOs about accepting financing from foreign sources and warned them about terrorist financing and money laundering (see sections 1.d. and 2.b. for additional information).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations maintains an office and has several programs in the country. Members of international human rights NGOs and the African Development Bank continued to report difficulties obtaining visas to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Citizens have the right to file a petition with the Commission on Human Rights that is part of the House of Deputies’ Committee for Complaints and Petitions. A government-funded Center for Human Rights and Democracy held human rights awareness campaigns. A National Commission on Children’s Rights was created in 1997, in coordination with UNICEF. These human rights bodies were not fully operational, independent, adequately resourced, or effective, although UNICEF continued to provide capacity building.

Government officials responsible for human rights issues functioned more to defend the government from accusations than to investigate human rights complaints or compile statistics.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and, if convicted, punishable by 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines if convicted. The law does not address spousal rape. The government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to reluctance of victims and their families to report rape. Even when victims reported rape, police and judicial officials were reluctant to act, particularly if alleged perpetrators were politically connected or members of the police or military.

Domestic violence is illegal. The penalty for conviction of assault ranges from one to 20 years’ imprisonment. Victims were reluctant to report cases, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities treated domestic violence as a private matter to be resolved in the home. Police and the judiciary were reluctant to prosecute domestic violence cases. No statistics were publicly available on prosecutions, convictions, or punishments during the year.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality mediated some domestic disputes but had no enforcement powers. Police organized several workshops on family violence during the year.

The government-controlled media regularly broadcast public service announcements regarding domestic violence.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although not widespread, levirate marriage, the practice by which a man is required to marry his brother’s widow, occurred.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment and it was a problem. The government made no effort to address the problem, and no statistics were publicly available.

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

Discrimination: While the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the country follows the Spanish civil code that applied when the country gained independence in 1968. The code discriminates against women in matters of nationality, real and personal property, and inheritance. According to a 2012 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women report, the prevalence of negative stereotypes and adverse cultural norms and customs resulted in discrimination against women.

Custom confined women in rural areas largely to traditional roles. Women in urban areas experienced less overt discrimination but did not enjoy pay or access to employment and credit on an equal basis with men (see section 7.d.).

The government provided courses, seminars, conferences, and media programs to sensitize the population and government agencies to the needs and rights of women. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality held events around International Women’s Day to raise public awareness of these rights. The ministry also provided technical assistance and financial support to rural women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from (at least) one Equatoguinean parent, whether born in the country or abroad. The Ministry of Health requires parents to register all births, and failure to register a child may result in denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory until age 13, although all students are required to pay for textbooks and other materials. Most children attended school through the primary grades (sixth grade). Boys generally completed secondary or vocational schooling. The Ministry of Education required teenage girls to take a pregnancy test, and those who tested positive were not allowed to attend school. Domestic work and childbearing also limited girls’ access to secondary education, especially in rural areas. No public statistics on school enrollment, attendance, or completion were available.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Corporal punishment was a culturally accepted method of discipline, including in schools.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no minimum age for marriage. Forced marriage occurred, especially in rural areas, although no statistics were available. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality operated programs to deter child marriage but did not address forced marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of sexual consent is 18. Child commercial sexual exploitation is illegal, but underage girls were exploited in commercial sex, particularly in urban areas of the two largest cities, Malabo and Bata. Conviction of the commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable by 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not prosecute offenders. The law does not address child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was small, likely less than 200 persons. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, nor does it mandate access to buildings or transportation for persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.). Persons with disabilities may vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but lack of physical access to buildings posed a barrier to full participation. Inaccessible public buildings and schools were an obstacle for persons with disabilities, including some newly constructed government buildings that lacked such access.

Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, although no accommodations were made for their disabilities.

There were no legal restrictions on the right of persons to vote or participate in civic affairs based on their disability, but lack of access posed a barrier to full participation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination, harassment by security forces, and political marginalization of minorities were problems (see section 7.d.).

The predominant ethnic group, the Fang, dominated political and economic power. Foreigners were often victimized. Documented and irregular immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Mali, Benin, Togo, Gabon, Ethiopia, and other African countries represented a significant portion of the labor force. Officials routinely stopped foreigners at checkpoints, asked them to provide documentation, and often attacked and extorted them. The government delayed its renewal of residence and work permits, leaving immigrants vulnerable to abuse because they lacked valid documents.

In public speeches, President Obiang frequently referred to foreigners as a security and terrorist threat and warned of a renewal of colonialism. Reports of drunken security forces harassing and extorting foreigners at gunpoint increased, including an incident directed at foreign medical professionals and their families, whom they accused of being colonialists.

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

No laws criminalize same-sex sexual conduct, but societal stigmatization of and discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community was a problem. The government made no effort to combat this stigma and discrimination. The government does not formally recognize the existence of LGBTI persons or groups. Its position is that such sexual orientations and gender identities are abnormal. There is no formal, legal protection for LGBTI persons or groups.

LGBTI individuals often faced stigma from their families as well as from the government and employers. Families sometimes rejected youth and forced them to leave home, often resulting in them quitting school as well. Some LGBTI individuals were removed from government jobs and academia because of their sexual orientation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Despite frequent public statements and radio campaigns advocating nondiscrimination, there remained stigma around persons with HIV/AIDS, and many individuals kept their illness hidden.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to establish unions, affiliate with unions of their choice, and collectively bargain. The law also allows unions to conduct activities without interference. The law requires a union to have at least 50 members from a workplace to register, effectively blocking most union formation.

The government did not enforce laws providing freedom of association or the right to collective bargaining. The Union Organization of Small Farmers was the only legal, operational labor union. Authorities refused to recognize other unions, including the Workers Union of Equatorial Guinea, Independent Service Union, Teachers’ Trade Union Association, and the Rural Workers Organization. Penalties were not applied and were insufficient to deter violations.

The law broadly acknowledged the right to engage in strikes, but no implementing legislation defines legitimate grounds for striking. No law requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, although such dismissal may fall under wrongful termination. The government did not generally allow unions to organize. The government has never authorized a strike.

Although labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination, the government placed practical obstacles before groups seeking to organize, such as not allowing groups to register legally. The government did not protect the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference. Most often those seeking to organize were co-opted into existing party structures by means of pressure and incentives. Labor NGOs faced restrictions and were unable to operate.

Dismissed workers could appeal to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security through their regional delegate, but there was little trust in the fairness of the system. Citizens and foreigners with valid work permits have the right to appeal Ministry of Labor and Social Security decisions to a special standing committee of the House of Deputies established to hear citizen complaints regarding decisions by any government agency.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Neither penalties nor the government’s inspection efforts were sufficient to deter violations.

Men and women from Cameroon, Benin, and other neighboring countries, as well as from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, were recruited for work, and some were subsequently subjected to forced labor. Often they were not compensated as agreed upon, and their passports were confiscated. In one publicized case, a high-level member of the president’s cabinet severely beat an employee of one of his private businesses when she demanded payment. He then returned her passport and forced her to leave the country.

Employees in the public and private sector were often paid months in arrears. Some workers, especially those from overseas, quit their jobs because of nonpayment, having effectively worked for months without compensation.

Companies in the construction sector, among others, held the passports of their foreign workers, a possible indication of forced labor. Some companies claimed they held passports to keep them from being stolen.

Late in the year, the government increased its attention and efforts to combat trafficking in persons (TIP), culminating in the creation of a government-wide action plan to deal with the issue. Action items included eliminating child labor, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The 2004 Antitrafficking Law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18, except that with the authorization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, minors between ages 16 and 18 may perform light work that does not interfere with their school attendance. Minors are permitted to work only during the day, and their workday is limited to six hours, for which they are paid the equivalent of an eight-hour daytime work rate. The penalty for employing children under age 16 is a fine equal to 15 months of the minimum wage per minor, which is doubled for repeat infractions. Penalties are higher for minors under age 18 who perform night work or work in hazardous environments.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but labor inspectors focused mainly on the construction industry and not on child labor. The laws were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Children were transported from nearby countries–primarily Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and Gabon–and forced to work as domestic workers, market laborers, ambulant vendors, launderers, and beggars. The government occasionally provided social services on an ad hoc basis to children found working in markets. Attention to school attendance generally focused more on citizen children than on their foreign peers.

In 2016, for the first time, security forces identified three potential child trafficking victims from the Central African Republic (CAR). The children had been living in the country for two years. Authorities considered them trafficking victims brought to Malabo for domestic servitude and sex trafficking. In August 2016 security officers turned over the children to the CAR embassy for repatriation without providing any victim protection services. The government did not identify or prosecute the persons suspected of exploiting the children, and there have been no other prosecutions for child labor violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, political opinion, national origin, social status, or union affiliation. Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, language, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political affiliation, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status. Discrimination against foreign migrant workers occurred. High-ranking members of opposition parties that were not aligned with the official government party (PDGE) were unable to find work and were barred from government employment.

The government does not have an agency responsible for the protection of persons unable to work due to permanent or temporary illness or other health conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not effectively enforce the legal mandate to employ a specific percentage of persons with disabilities in companies with 50 employees or more, nor did the government take steps to accommodate them in the workplace.

The country continued to have a large gender gap in regard to access to education, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Deep-rooted stereotypes and ethnic traditions impeded women’s employment opportunities. Men had more employment opportunities than did women. Women mostly worked in the informal sector where they did not have access to benefits or social security. The lack of enforcement left women vulnerable to discrimination, but they rarely complained due to fear of reprisals.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality continued a program to promote self-employment among rural women. The first lady, on an ad hoc basis, donated funds to promote women-owned businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage for the private sector was last set in 2011, and varied by occupation from 129,000 CFA francs ($219) to 1.29 million CFA francs ($2,190) monthly, higher than the World Bank poverty income level of $1.90 per day. Pay rates in the hydrocarbon industry were set many times higher than comparable positions in other sectors.

The law requires employers to pay citizens at the same rate as foreigners and to pay domestic workers not less than 60 percent of the national minimum wage.

The standard work week is eight hours a day and 48 hours a week for daytime work, six hours a day and 36 hours a week for night work, and seven hours a day and 42 hours a week for mixed day and night work. Offshore workdays are a minimum of 12 hours, of which eight hours are considered regular work and four hours are counted as overtime. The workday includes one hour for meals and breaks. The law also requires paid leave for government holidays, annual leave, and bonuses of 15 days’ pay twice yearly. Overtime is not mandatory, except as provided by law or special agreement, and is prohibited for pregnant workers. The law allows overtime for night work. Premium pay is required for overtime and holidays. Women had six weeks pre- and post-maternity leave that could be extended for medical reasons. The law provides for two paid daily breaks of one hour each to breast feed.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide for protection of workers from occupational hazards, but they were not consistently observed. The law permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for setting and enforcing minimum wage, workweek rules, and OSH standards. The ministry conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, and the small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The ministry does not publish the results of its OSH inspections.

Legal protections exist for employees who are injured or killed on the job and for those who were exposed to dangerous chemicals, but these protections were generally extended only to those in the formal sector. Protections in the hydrocarbons sector exceeded minimum international safety standards.

The government did not monitor the informal sector that included a majority of workers. No credible data or statistics were available.

Foreigners, including migrants from other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, were sometimes subjected to poor working conditions, and the passports of some workers were confiscated. Some workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, supplied with insufficient safety gear, and subjected to excessively long hours.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since an independence referendum in 1993.

Civilian authorities in the regime maintained effective control over most security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; limits on freedom of internal movement and foreign travel (visa-free overland travel to and from Ethiopia resumed in September); inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; corruption; restrictions on international nongovernmental organizations; human trafficking; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and forced labor, including forced participation in the country’s national service program, routinely for periods beyond the 18-month legal obligation.

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

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

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

International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the government committed arbitrary killings with impunity and subjected detainees to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

In August the UN Human Rights Committee released a list of issues pertaining to the government’s implementation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the government did not submit a report at that session. The United Nations’ list of issues included a number of references to human rights violations, including reports of wide-scale extrajudicial executions and disappearances, especially of those whose loyalty to the authorities was questioned. The list also referred to allegations of cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by governmental actors, particularly the National Security Office.

The UN special rapporteur (SR) on the situation of human rights in Eritrea presented her fifth and final report at the Human Rights Council on June 14. The report referred to an arbitrary killing of a young man who was trying to cross the border in July 2017, and the SR asserted instances of extrajudicial killings at the border continued. In 2017 Doctors without Borders reported on the experiences of Eritreans who reported they were shot trying to cross the border to Ethiopia.

A 2016 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report found that authorities had previously committed extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings. In July 2017 the SR reported that her requests to visit the country during her five-year mandate had also been denied, thus limiting her ability to provide further information on current conditions.

b. Disappearance

An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not make efforts to prevent the disappearances, or investigate or punish those responsible for such disappearances. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies and foreign or dual nationals. Disappeared persons included those detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and persons not known to have committed any offense.

There were no known developments regarding the situation or well-being of members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.

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

The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.

According to NGO and UN reports, security forces tortured and beat army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.

Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or poor detention conditions.

In 2015 the COI, which had been denied access to the country, reported sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in military training camps, that the sexual violence by military personnel in camps and the army amounted to torture, and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps amounted to sexual slavery. In a 2015 report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern regarding reports of women in national service frequently subjected to sexual violence, including rape. There was no access for observers to assess these reports, limiting observers’ ability to speak directly to current conditions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious health damage and in some instances death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting problematic.

Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by the police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in that center. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.

Data on the prevalence of death in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. The government did not take action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.

In July, Doctors without Borders quoted one Eritrean who had experienced overcrowded prison conditions after trying to cross the border into Sudan. The SR’s June report mentioned four deaths resulting from harsh prison conditions: Habtemichael Mekonen and Habtemichael Tesfamariam, both Jehovah’s Witnesses; Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, president of al-Diaa Islamic School in Asmara; and Haile Woldetensae, former minister of foreign affairs and one of the G-15. In late 2017, two deaths were reported: Solomon Habtom, a former freedom fighter, and an unnamed evangelical Christian.

Authorities held some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them. The government did not provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers, although a Western visitor reported seeing groups of prisoners at a private eye doctor for regular six-month check-ups. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.

Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.

Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not inform foreign embassies when their respective citizens were arrested, nor did it grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for reasons purportedly involving national security, but it permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Authorities did not permit religious observance for some prisoners and detainees, although at least one detention center had a facility where authorities permitted inmates to conduct religious observances. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring by independent government or nongovernmental observers or permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions during the year. The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but such acts remained widespread.

In September security agents apprehended former finance minister Berhane Abrehe without charge days after he published a two-volume book critical of the government. He remained under house arrest with security officials posted outside of his residence. His wife Almaz Habtemariam was detained in February, allegedly for helping their son leave the country without a required exit visa.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, the reserves, demobilized soldiers, or the civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the National Security Office, which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Police generally do not have a role in cases involving national security.

Impunity for abuse was the norm. There were no known internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse or government actions to reform the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates that, unless there is a crime in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that they detained persons held without charge due to national security concerns.

The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrarily denied, bail amounts were capriciously set or not set, and release on bail sometimes involved paying bribes.

Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. During the October 2017 and March 2018 protests over the arrest and death in custody of Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, arrests and arbitrary detentions occurred, and in November 2017 there were reports of the arrest and detention of a wife and mother of three young children after her husband had left the country.

Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups, primarily for their refusal to perform national service. According to UK-based freedom advocacy group CSW, formerly known as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Human Rights Watch, between May and December 2017 the government arrested approximately 210 evangelical Christians. In July international religious NGOs reported the release of more than 35 Jehovah’s Witnesses who had renounced their religion four years prior.

Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.

There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.

Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. Detainees were not always told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. Judicial corruption remained a problem. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The unimplemented constitution provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, with an exception that allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. In practice, however, the right to such a trial was generally not respected.

The unimplemented constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare one’s defense, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right for defendants to refuse to testify. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish to have an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers are court appointed and have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants who are unable to pay for an attorney are not provided one at public expense.

Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.

Special courts have jurisdiction over both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.

Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges. Judges are elected by the community.

In 2015 the government published revised penal, criminal procedure, civil, and civil procedure codes. The codes had yet to be put into full effect by year’s end. Some judges applied the new codes while others did not.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Like other prisoners, the government did not permit any access to political detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.

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

The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.

Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones in particular since authorities required permits to use subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. To obtain a SIM card, citizens must present proof of completion of or exemption from national service, a PFDJ membership card, and a letter of recommendation from their regional office to the Telecommunications Ministry. Diplomats must provide a residence permit, a house lease agreement, a work permit, a supporting letter from their embassy, two photographs, a diplomatic identification card, and two copies of their passport and visa. Other foreign citizens reported the need for a blood test and X-ray to screen for hepatitis C and tuberculosis. It was not clear whether the presence of those conditions would result in refusal of a SIM card.

The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.

Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes, threatened family members, and sometimes took fathers away without explanation. Reports, particularly from rural areas, stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country. Militia groups reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm attendance at national service projects.

Some girls, women, and men married and had children to avoid national service.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

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

Press and Media Freedom: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media and requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

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

In July Ethiopian journalists working as stringers for the Associated Press were informed they would be denied visas on arrival to cover the visit of the Ethiopian prime minister to the country, and as a result, the airline did not allow them to board the inaugural flight from Ethiopia to Eritrea carrying officials, business persons, and other journalists. In August international journalists from Deutsche Welle were allowed access during a visit by Germany’s development minister.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television (DStv) required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia. In July following the peace agreement with Ethiopia, public places displayed Ethiopian television stations, and telephone services between Eritrea and Ethiopia were re-established.

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants frequented internet cafes. In order to use an internet cafe, patrons must present proof they had completed national service. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available. In October 2017 after protests in Akhria, communication channels, internet access, and the telephone system were temporarily cut or jammed.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on providing land-based internet service. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to most recent International Telecommunication Union data, 1.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

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

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers. In late 2017, however, and early during the year, the embassies of two Western countries received public recognition for sponsoring cultural performances, and a group from one of the countries was broadcast on national television during the New Year celebrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups. During the October 2017 and March protests, the government did not provide any official data in connection with the arrests and detentions, or the number of persons injured or requiring treatment because of the excessive use of force by the security apparatus.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law and unimplemented constitution provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections, based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, but they were not able to exercise this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government came to power in a 1993 popular referendum, in which voters chose to have an independent country managed by a transitional government. This government did not permit the formation of a democratic system. The government twice scheduled elections in accordance with the constitution but canceled them without explanation. An official declaration in 2003 asserted, “In accordance with the prevailing wish of the people, it is not the time to establish political parties, and discussion of the establishment has been postponed.” Communities elect area administrators, magistrates, and managing directors.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The country is a one-party state. Political power rested with the PFDJ and its institutions. At times the government coerced persons to join the PFDJ.

Membership in the PFDJ was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities reportedly visited citizens in their homes after they completed national service and compelled them to join the party and pay the required fees. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of PFDJ membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some citizens in the diaspora claimed convocations occurred at Eritrean embassies, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Persons seeking executive or judicial services sometimes reported they obtained services more easily after paying a “gift” or bribe. Patronage, cronyism, and petty corruption within the executive branch were based largely on family connections and used to facilitate access to social benefits. Judicial corruption was a problem, and authorities generally did not prosecute acts such as property seizure by military or security officials or those seen as being in favor with the government. Reports indicated corruption also existed in the issuance of identification and travel documents, including in the passport office. Individuals requesting exit visas or passports sometimes had to pay bribes.

There were reports of police corruption. Police occasionally used their influence to facilitate the release from prison of friends and family members. Police demanded bribes to release detainees.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not subject public officials to financial disclosure.

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

International civil society organizations focused on human rights were generally not able to operate in the country. The government generally did not cooperate with such groups or with investigations into human rights abuses. There were no local human rights NGOs operating in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2017 the United Nations established a human rights advisor position to work with the government on its framework of action in response to the 2014 Universal Periodic Review, with which the government was cooperating. The government did not permit visits by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea or the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Sexual assault between spouses is punishable by one to three years in prison only where the spouses are not living together.

While the law does not specifically criminalize domestic violence, assault and battery is punishable from nine months to seven years in prison, depending on the recurrence and seriousness of the crime. Authorities rarely intervened in domestic violence cases.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for both women and girls. Government efforts to reduce FGM/C included public awareness campaigns at the local level targeting religious and community leaders. Government reports stated regions and subzones were considered 100 percent free of FGM/C practices. Local UN representatives confirmed that the government took FGM/C seriously as a problem and acted credibly to combat the practice. The UN Population Fund worked with the government and other organizations, including the National Union of Eritrean Women and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, on a variety of education programs to discourage the practice.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The transitional penal code does not criminalize sexual harassment. There was no record of any person ever being charged or prosecuted for sexual harassment.

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

Discrimination: Family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws provide men and women the same status and rights. The law requires equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women, particularly in rural areas, continued to face economic and social discrimination. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from having at least one citizen parent, whether the person is born in the country or abroad. Registration of a birth within the first three months requires only a hospital certificate. In 2015 CEDAW reported that authorities registered almost all children born in urban hospitals but not those born in rural areas, where there were few hospitals. If not registered a child may not be allowed to attend school but may receive medical treatment at hospitals. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education through grade seven is compulsory and tuition free, although students’ families were responsible for providing uniforms, supplies, and transportation. Access to education was not universal, but the government took steps to encourage attendance, including public awareness campaigns and home visits by school officials. In rural areas parents enrolled fewer daughters than sons in school, but the percentage of girls in school continued to increase.

The government requires all students who reach grade 12 to complete their secondary education at the Sawa National Education and Training Center. Some persons who attempted to leave the country did so to avoid going to Sawa because of obligatory military training and poor living conditions at the school.

Child Abuse: Local social welfare teams investigated circumstances reported to be abusive and counseled families when child abuse was evident. Child Wellbeing Committees existed at the district and community levels that provide mitigation and assistance for abused and neglected children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18, although religious entities may condone marriages at younger ages. Girls in rural areas were particularly at risk for early marriage. Female officials spoke publicly on the dangers of early marriage and collaborated with UN agencies to educate the public regarding these dangers, and many neighborhood committees actively discouraged the practice. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child prostitution and includes penalties relating to obscene or indecent publications. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Penalties for conviction of the commercial sexual exploitation of children include imprisonment. Such crimes were seldom reported, and punishment was rarely applied.

Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children younger than age 18 into the armed forces. Children younger than age 18, however, were detained during round-ups and sent to Sawa National Training and Education Center, which is both an educational and military training school where living conditions are Spartan and health care very basic. Those who refused to attend and participate in military training were often unable to get a job.

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 no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the country’s sole remaining Jew maintained the sole synagogue.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, but they do not specify the types of disabilities against which discrimination is prohibited. The government implemented programs to assist persons with disabilities, especially combat veterans, and dedicated substantial resources to support and train thousands of persons with physical disabilities. No laws mandate access for persons with disabilities to public or private buildings, information, and communications. There were separate schools for children with hearing, vision, mental, and intellectual disabilities. Most of these schools were private; the government provided some support to them. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination was believed to continue against ethnic minorities, particularly against the nomadic Kunama and the Afar, two of nine ethnic groups in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity “or any other indecent act,” which is punishable if convicted by five to seven years’ incarceration. If it is found that the act was not consensual, punishment ranges from seven to 10 years’ incarceration. The government did not actively enforce this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons do not exist.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Most unions are government-sponsored. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of union leaders dismissed for union activity, but it does not provide equivalent protection for other workers dismissed for engaging in union activity. The law allows for the establishment of unions in workplaces with at least 20 employees and requires a minimum of 15 members to form a union. The law requires prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare to establish a union, but it deems registration granted if the ministry does not respond within one month. Employees of the Bisha mine (which was 60 percent foreign owned and managed, 40 percent government owned) organized a nongovernmental union during the year.

Representatives from the International Labor Organization visited in July and met with government officials and representatives from the diplomatic community. The civil code has a chapter on contracts for the performance of services that includes the obligations of the employer.

The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities did not allow nongovernmental meetings of more than seven persons. There is one umbrella trade union, the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW), established in 1979 as the trade union wing of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. The NCEW was not wholly independent, as it was directly linked to the ruling party. The NCEW’s member union represents hotel workers, service personnel, agricultural professionals, and teachers, among other occupations. The NCEW reported that labor boards, made up of representatives from the union, the workers, and the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare, address grievances before the likelihood of strikes emerges.

In general no NGOs played a significant role in promoting the rights of workers in the country.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and slavery but allows compulsory labor for convicted prisoners. The law’s definition of forced labor excludes activities performed as part of national service or other civic obligations, and labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions do not apply to persons engaged in national service. The law provides penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of “enslavement.” The law also provides penalties of imprisonment and fines for “violation of the right to freedom to work,” which appears to cover situations of forced labor. The government enforced these laws within private industry.

By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50 must perform national service, with limited exceptions. The national service obligation consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military service and development tasks in the military forces, for a total of 18 months, or for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ according to the person’s capacity and profession. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.

Forced labor occurred. Despite the 18-month legal limit on national service, the government did not demobilize many conscripts from the military as scheduled and forced some to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service could not resign or take other employment, generally received no promotions or salary increases, and could rarely leave the country legally because authorities denied them passports or exit visas. Those conscripted into the national service performed standard patrols and border monitoring in addition to labor such as agricultural terracing, planting, road maintenance, hotel work, teaching, construction, and laying power lines.

The government required those not already in the military to attend civilian militia training and carry firearms, including many who were demobilized, the elderly, or persons otherwise exempted from military service in the past. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involved security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training involved occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures.

There were reports of recruitment efforts for national service projects such as cutting grass at the airport or fixing roads happening without notice or extra payment for participants.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although this restriction does not apply to self-employed workers. The government prohibits persons younger than age 18 from employment between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and for more than seven hours per day. The government has not determined by national law or regulation the types of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but inspections were infrequent, and penalties, if imposed, were arbitrary and generally insufficient to deter violations. Although the government had a national action plan to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, the implementation process was not clear, and reports were not published.

Children in rural areas commonly worked on family farms, fetched firewood or water, and herded livestock. In urban areas children worked as street vendors of cigarettes, newspapers, and chewing gum. Children also worked in small-scale garages, bicycle repair shops, metal workshops, and tea and coffee shops. They also transported grain or other goods via donkey cart or bicycle. Child domestic service occurred, as did begging by children.

The government continued to require secondary school students in the ninth, 10th, and 11th grades to participate in summer work programs known as maetot. News reports indicated students engaged in activities such as environmental conservation, agricultural activities (irrigation, maintenance of canals, and terracing), and production and maintenance of school furniture. They also served as crossing guards in urban areas. For reasons unknown, there was no maetot program in the year.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

With respect to employment and occupation, labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, social origin, nationality, political orientation, or religion. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, language, or age.

Discrimination against women was common in the workplace and occurred in an environment of impunity. The transitional penal code does not criminalize sexual harassment (see section 6, Women).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage for employees of PFDJ-owned enterprises and government employees was 360 nakfa per month. At the official exchange rate, this equaled $23, but it was considerably less at the unofficial market rate. There was no national minimum wage for private-sector workers. The government paid national service recruits according to a fixed scale, and the most common salary was 800 nakfa ($52) per month. During the year the government announced salaries of recruits would be raised, but reportedly increased deductions from salaries such as taxes and maintenance resulted in a decrease in some cases. The standard workweek was more than 40 hours, and employers sometimes required overtime. The law allowed for more than two hours per day or eight hours per week of overtime. The law entitles workers to overtime pay, except for those employed in national service, but this was not always enforced. The legal rest period is one day per week, although most employees received one and one-half days.

No published occupational health and safety standards existed. Each government enterprise has a separate agreement with the local union defining the work standards, including occupational health and safety regulations, for that enterprise. There were 168 government enterprises in the country.

The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for worker safety and welfare. The ministry employed inspectors, but the number was unclear and likely insufficient. The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers reported that every enterprise has an inspection at least once per year that is then reviewed by the enterprise, the union, and the ministry.

Approximately 80 percent of the population was employed in subsistence farming and small-scale retail trading. There were no reliable data on the informal economy and no effective mechanisms for monitoring conditions or protecting workers in the informal economy.

Information regarding abuses pertaining to wage, overtime, safety, and health standards was neither reported nor available.

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and headed by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has held power since 1967. Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a highly questionable vote count in Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held in two rounds. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. The African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections; however, fewer did so than in the 2011 legislative elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh prison conditions; political prisoners; criminal libel; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; trafficking in persons; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute officials and punish those convicted of abuses. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem.

Authorities took steps to investigate alleged abuses by Gabonese peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic and to mitigate future risks.

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

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

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances. In December 2017 the family of television journalist and opposition activist Jocelyn Obame Nsimoro reported him missing. Throughout the year his family attempted unsuccessfully to locate him through police, judicial, and other official channels and through social media. As of October authorities had yet to open a formal investigation into Nsimoro’s disappearance.

In September 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. As of October the government had not conducted an official inquiry.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but security force personnel sometimes employed cruel and degrading treatment.

For example, in January, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former member of parliament, stated he was subjected to mistreatment and torture while in detention after a mobile phone was found in his cell at the Libreville Central Prison. His lawyer stated that prison officials beat him with police batons, pickaxe handles, and electric cables. After his lawyer filed a complaint concerning mistreatment, the prison director was replaced.

Refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security forces. According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and soldiers occasionally beat noncitizen Africans who lacked valid resident permits or identification. Authorities sometimes detained noncitizen Africans, ordered them to undress to humiliate them, and exacted bribes from them.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (transactional sex) and abuse against two Gabonese peacekeepers deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by UN and Gabonese authorities were pending at year’s end along with investigation of three allegations of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships) and abuse (rape, including of minors) against at least 20 Gabonese peacekeepers reported in prior years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 3,000. Reports also indicated overcrowding in other prisons.

No credible data or estimates were available on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were reports of difficulties in obtaining access to prisons. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Malachie visited prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention; however, the government did not always respect these provisions. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained civil society and labor leaders following peaceful protests and marches.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, and the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, gendarmerie, republican guard, and all other branches of the security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish those found responsible for abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, impunity was a significant problem.

Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Security force members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. The Inspector General’s Office was responsible for investigating police and security force abuse and corruption. Information on effectiveness of this office was not available.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit. Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.

Authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado or hold them under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrests. In August and September 2017, authorities arrested the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” As of December no trial date had been set for Oyougou or Massavala; both remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months for a misdemeanor and one year for a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that could sometimes last up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints, and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem.

To address military cases, each year the Office of the Presidency appoints a military court composed of selected magistrates and military members. A military court provides the same basic legal rights as a civilian court. Outside the formal judicial system, minor disputes may be referred to a local traditional chief, particularly in rural areas, but the government did not always recognize a traditional chief’s decision.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station, and authorities provided free interpretation as necessary, when staff members with the required language skills were available. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of choice and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals and have a right to be present at trial. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf, and appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In August the president stated there were no political prisoners in the country. One civil society group, however, claimed there were seven individuals in prison it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in August and September 2017, opposition leaders Frederic Massavala-Maboumba and Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention.

In 2016 a former PDG deputy who joined the opposition was arrested without a warrant and charged with disturbing public order, failure to help a person in danger, instigation of violence, and illegal firearms possession. He had yet to be tried and remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations may seek relief in the civil court system, although this seldom occurred.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities also monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Nevertheless, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended several media outlets, including the newspaper Echos du NordEchos du Nord was suspended twice during the year, once for failing to be represented at a hearing regarding publication of a “tendentious article” critical of the president and a second time for publishing an article regarding the purchase of a luxury car by the vice president that he disputed.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole major daily newspaper, L’Union, was progovernment. Approximately 131 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but only 30 newspapers were published regularly. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law on freedom of expression and media freedom did not meet international standards.

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in 2017 there were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists were reportedly warned not to investigate the cause of death of children suspected of being the victims of ritual killings.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. Pro-opposition content on television was limited.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($850 to $8,500). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, HAC issued two one-month suspensions in July and October to Echos du Nord.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no restrictions on internet and social media access during the year.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 50.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government did not consistently respect this right. In August 2017 parliament enacted a law that placed restrictions on freedom of assembly. On August 28, authorities prohibited union leaders from holding a march to protest austerity measures. Authorities detained several individuals who attempted to march but released them after a few hours without charge. There were reports the government failed to approve permits for public meetings. Some civil society activists stated they did not submit requests to hold public meetings because they expected the government would deny them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections. Members of the opposition questioned the fairness of the electoral process and complained of unequal media access. They also urged the government to reinstate presidential term limits, replace the first-past-the-post system with a two-round voting system, reform the Constitutional Court, and create a more effective biometric voting program–measures opposition members believed would increase the fairness of the electoral system.

In April and May 2017, these demands were a major focus of the National Dialogue. The dialogue included political parties and civil society organizations; however, presidential contender Jean Ping and some other opposition leaders boycotted the dialogue. In May 2017 dialogue participants recommended a two-round voting system, an increase in the number of national assembly deputies, and elimination of the National Electoral Commission, but they did not recommend presidential term limits. In January the president executed amendments to the constitution containing these changes.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April the Constitutional Court dissolved the National Assembly. The Senate assumed National Assembly responsibilities, and a new caretaker government was installed. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held. Both rounds of legislative elections were calm, with a voter turnout of 43 percent in the first round. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. Opposition leaders alleged irregularities such as ballot stuffing, vote buying, polling stations opening without the presence of opposition representatives, and unfair treatment of the opposition by the Gabonese Elections Center. Domestic and international organizations were not authorized to observe the elections. A limited African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The PDG has dominated the government since creation of the party by former president Omar Bongo in 1968. PDG membership conferred advantages in obtaining government positions. Opposition members complained of unfair drawing of voter districts, alleging the president’s home province received disproportionately more parliamentary seats than other provinces. They also stated that the PDG had greater access to government resources for campaign purposes than did other parties.

There were restrictions on the formation of political parties. For example, in 2017 the Ministry of Interior refused to register the Heritage and Modernity wing of the PDG as an opposition political party. In July 2017 it overcame this obstacle by merging with an existing political party, the Front for National Unity and Utilitarian Development, which adopted the name and bylaws of Heritage and Modernity.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. As of April women held only 13 of 41 ministerial positions, 18 of 120 National Assembly seats, and 19 of 102 Senate seats. The president of the Senate was a woman.

Members of all major ethnic groups occupied prominent government civilian and security force positions. Members of indigenous populations, however, rarely participated in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Police, gendarmes, and military members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. In February taxi drivers held a strike to protest higher fuel prices and police harassment, including exacting bribes. The 2016 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators suggested corruption remained a serious problem.

In 2015 the government officially launched a three-year Fight Against Corruption and Money Laundering Strategy in partnership with the UN Development Program, National Commission against Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI), National Agency for Financial Investigation, and private-sector and civil society partners. The strategy aims to encourage and reward ethical standards in public life, consolidate the rule of law, improve governance, increase transparency in the management of public finances, diminish inequality, and achieve a fair and transparent distribution of the benefits of growth.

Corruption: In 2017 the government started an anticorruption campaign. A number of officials, including several directors of agencies and two former ministers, were arrested on corruption charges. In January 2017 former minister of economy and presidential advisor Magloire Ngambia, along with Minister of Petrol and Hydrocarbons Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou, were arrested and charged with corruption. On October 5, Ngoubou was released on bail, but Ngambia remained in detention.

In January, following adoption of changes to the constitution, the government created the Special Criminal Court for the prosecution of persons charged with misappropriation of public funds in excess of 250,000 CFA francs ($425). As of October five individuals had been tried, four of whom were convicted. For example, on April 26, former public agent Blaise Wada was convicted of embezzlement and illicit enrichment and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two billion CFA francs ($3.4 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires executive-level civil servants and civil servants who manage budgets to disclose their financial assets to the CNLCEI within three months of assuming office. Most officials complied, but some attempted to withhold information. The government did not make these declarations available to the public. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but they were not enforced.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated, albeit with government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Several human rights NGOs reported governmental intimidation and a general lack of responsiveness to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights coordinates government efforts to improve respect for human rights, organize human rights training for government officials, and address major human rights problems. The National Human Rights Commission, composed of representatives from civil society, media, religious groups, and the judiciary had a degree of independence. Commission members provided basic human rights training to police and gendarmes and inspected detention conditions at Libreville police stations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law does not address spousal rape. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women virtually never filed complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provided in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work police intervened in response to incidents of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it remained a widespread problem. NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the military was pervasive.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women owned businesses and property, participated in politics, and worked in government and the private sector. Nevertheless, women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs. Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of awareness of the requirements of the law. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although education is compulsory until age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. There was no significant difference in the rates of enrollment between boys and girls; however, due to high rates of early pregnancy, girls were less likely to complete school than were boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, with penalties for conviction of up to life in prison, one million CFA francs ($1,700), or both. Child abuse occurred, but the law was not regularly enforced.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. Perpetrators convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Conviction of child trafficking is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 10 million to 20 million CFA francs ($17,000 to $34,000). Conviction of possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of six months to one year and a fine of up to 222,000 CFA francs ($378). These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access, hindering access to state services and the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. There was accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because buildings were not accessible. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.

Indigenous People

The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. The law grants members of indigenous ethnic groups the same civil rights as other citizens, but they experienced societal discrimination. They remained largely outside of formal authority–keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures–and did not have ready access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population. No specific government programs or policies assisted them.

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

The law does not criminalize sexual orientation or limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There were no reports LGBTI persons were targeted for abuse, but underreporting of such incidents was likely, in view of societal stigma. Societal discrimination in employment and housing was a problem, particularly for openly LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs removed occurred and often went unpunished. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing. The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported 24 victims of ritual killings and five disappearances from January to October. The actual number of victims was probably higher because many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. The law provides for the right to strike, with restrictions. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and the law provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activities. Unions must register with the government to obtain official recognition, and the government routinely grants registration. Agreements negotiated by unions also applied to nonunion workers.

Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after mandatory arbitration fails. Public-sector employees’ right to strike could be restricted where the government determines that it poses a threat to public safety. The law does not define the essential-services sectors in which strikes are prohibited; however, armed services are prohibited from unionizing and striking. The law prohibits government action against strikers who abide by the notification and arbitration provisions and excludes no groups from this protection. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country’s two export-processing zones.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources to protect the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike were adequate. Penalties for violations of these rights are compensatory, determined on a case-by-case basis, and generally sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes delayed.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Some unions were politically active, and the government accused them of siding with opposition parties. In March 2017 a six-month teachers’ strike by the Confederation of National Teachers’ Unions was ended by court order. The Ministry of Interior prohibited the teachers’ union from conducting activities, claiming the union had disturbed public order. Members filed suit with the Constitutional Court to annul the Interior Ministry’s decision. The Constitutional Court affirmed the union’s legal status but did not lift the Interior Ministry’s prohibition on activities.

Employers created and controlled some unions. Although antiunion discrimination is illegal, some trade unionists in both the public and private sectors complained of occasional discrimination, including the blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissals, and threats to workers who unionized. Trade union representatives complained they experienced hurdles accessing educational establishments during their efforts to represent and defend their members’ interests. Key labor union leaders noted the majority of labor violations stemmed from unwarranted dismissals, occasionally of workers on strike, leaving them without social security and insurance benefits.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law criminalizes child-bonded labor only. The government did not effectively enforce the law with respect to adult victims. The government enforced the law more actively to combat forced labor by children. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent and did not deter violations or reflect the serious nature of the offense, except for penalties for child trafficking.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The lack of sufficient vehicles, budget, and personnel impeded the ability of labor inspectors to investigate allegations of forced labor. Additionally, labor inspectors found it difficult to access family-owned commercial farms and private households due to inadequate roads. The government strengthened the capacity of labor inspectors during the year, and UNICEF provided training for labor inspectors in coordination with the Labor Ministry.

Boys were subject to forced labor as street hawkers or mechanics, as well as in work in handicraft shops. Boys and men were subject to forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Girls and women were exploited in domestic servitude, market vending, restaurants, and commercial sexual exploitation. Conditions included very low pay and long forced hours. Migrants were especially vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 without the expressed consent of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Professional Training, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Public Health. The law provides for fines from 300,000 to 600,000 CFA francs ($510 to $1,020) and prison sentences if convicted of up to six months’ imprisonment for violations of the minimum age law. These penalties were sufficient to contribute to deterring violations.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Professional Training is responsible for receiving, investigating, and addressing child labor complaints through inspectors. The Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Child Trafficking files and responds to complaints. Although the committee has a network of approximately 2,000 persons to provide social services and support to victims of child labor at the local level, these individuals do not play an enforcement role due to budget constraints. Complaints are referred to police, who carry out investigations and refer cases to the courts for prosecution.

The government enforced the law in the formal sector. During the year authorities removed at least 50 children from forced labor, and arrested and prosecuted at least 16 individuals suspected of employing them.

Children sometimes were subject to forced and exploitive labor. The government organized the repatriation of approximately 63 foreign children exploited in trafficking in 2017 and during the year, and it organized training sessions for authorities to handle potential victims of child trafficking.

Child labor remained a problem. Noncitizen children were more likely than were children of citizens to work in informal and illegal sectors of the economy, where laws against child labor were seldom enforced. An unknown number of children, primarily noncitizens, worked in marketplaces or performed domestic labor. Many of these children were the victims of child trafficking (see section 7.b.). Citizen children, particularly street children, also worked in the informal sector.

Child laborers generally did not attend school, received only limited medical attention, and often experienced exploitation by employers or foster families. In an effort to curb the problem, police often fined the parents of children who were not in school. Laws forbidding child labor covered these children, but abuses often were not reported.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and work conditions based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, national origin or citizenship, or social background. It does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work, and women’s pay lagged behind that of men. Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to indigenous persons, disabled persons, persons with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI persons. There were reports of labor exploitation of indigenous persons by their Bantu neighbors, who paid them much less than the minimum wage. Undocumented foreign workers frequently experienced wage discrimination and poor work conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage was 150,000 CFA francs ($255), greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The law provides for a minimum income of 80,000 CFA francs per month ($136). Government workers received an additional monthly allowance of 20,000 CFA francs ($34) per child and transportation, housing, and family benefits. Authorities did not enforce wage laws adequately, although workers could file suit if they received less than the minimum wage. Labor inspections were infrequent. There was no minimum wage in the informal sector, which accounted for the vast majority of workers.

The labor code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 consecutive hours. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work as determined by collective agreements or government regulations. By law the daily limit for compulsory overtime may be extended from 30 minutes to two hours to perform specified preparatory or complementary work, such as starting machines in a factory or supervising a workplace. It also may be extended for urgent work to prevent or repair damage from accidents. The daily limit does not apply to establishments in which work is continuous or to establishments providing retail, transport, dock work, hotel and catering services, housekeeping, security services, medical establishments, domestic work, and journalism.

The Ministry of Health establishes occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime, and safety and health standards in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Employers generally respected minimum wage standards. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding overtime or health and safety standards, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that contributed to deterring violations. In the formal sector, workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The government did not enforce labor code provisions in the informal economy or in sectors where the majority of the labor force was foreign, such as in the mining and timber sectors. Employers obliged foreign workers to work under substandard conditions, dismissed them without notice or recourse, and often physically mistreated them. Employers frequently paid noncitizens less than they paid citizens for the same work and required them to work longer hours, often hiring them on a short-term, casual basis to avoid paying taxes, social security contributions, and other benefits.

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in 2016 were peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; corruption in all branches of government; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; infanticide of children with disabilities; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced; and exploitative child labor, including forced child labor.

The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. This included the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). Impunity remained a problem, however.

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 a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In some cases authorities described these killings as having taken place in an “exchange of fire.”

In July police killed seven persons near Kumasi in an incident that sparked riots when authorities claimed the victims were suspected robbers. In September the ministerial committee established to investigate the circumstances that led to the deaths submitted its initial report to officials. After studying the report, in a statement issued in November by the minister of information, the government directed that 21 police officers be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations. According to the statement, the government determined there was no evidence the victims were armed robbers. News coverage indicated that police headquarters had not yet received a copy of the committee’s investigative report.

As of November authorities had not been able to provide any further updates regarding police service enquiries concerning four officers implicated in the 2016 killing by police of a suspect in Kumasi. The government did not prosecute any officers for the incident, but it dismissed one officer and reprimanded five others.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified. By September the Police Professional Standards Bureau (PPSB) had received 77 cases of police brutality and investigated 14 of those reports.

In December the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) completed an investigation into the brutal assault by military personnel against a 16-year-old boy in April 2016 for allegedly stealing a phone. The CHRAJ investigated the case according to the constitution and the UN Convention Against Torture among other related charters and conventions, and ultimately recommended payment to the victim of 30,000 Ghanaian cedis (approximately $6,400) and that the military personnel be tried according to the Armed Forces Act.

In February the United Nations reported that it received a complaint of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Ghana deployed in the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations investigated allegations that members of the unit were having sexual relations with women at one of the protection camps. Forty-six Ghanaian police officers were subsequently repatriated on administrative grounds. Ghanaian authorities continued to investigate.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated that it held 14,985 prisoners (14,827 men and 158 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began holding some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

In October foreign diplomatic representatives observed that several prisons suffered from severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and limited rehabilitation programs. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, prison overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more inmates than designed capacity. In July, following two days of hearings, a judge at the Kumasi Central Prison granted bail to 53 of 105 remand prisoners who had applied under the Justice for All program. According to reports, officials were still working to release remand prisoners who received bail in 2017 but who remained in custody because they could not meet the bail terms. Civil society organizations estimated Kumasi Prison alone had more than 400 remand prisoners.

The government reported 30 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic hepatitis B, infection, heart failure, severe hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and septicemia.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service procured five pieces of equipment, including four mechanical planters, to improve agricultural production. Construction of a new camp prison was reportedly making progress as part of efforts to improve food production and decongest the prisons. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam a medical officer was recruited to operate the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to properly transport inmates off-site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held at least three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.

Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.

Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that construction of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they faced challenges accessing health care and recreational facilities.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. As of September the Prisons Service reported receipt of 1,381 complaints on various issues, including communication with relatives, health, food rations, sanitation, and court proceedings and appeals. In April a public relations officer from the Ghana Prisons Service wrote an opinion piece for an online newspaper, disputing claims inmates received food only once a day and were subjected to forced labor. The author, however, also called for bolstering resources for inmate meals and recognized overcrowding remained a serious difficulty. Information available in September indicated there was one report of two officers physically abusing a prisoner. They were tried administratively and awaiting a final verdict.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited fulfillment of this right.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police, under the Ministry of the Interior, are responsible for maintaining law and order, but the military continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure. A separate entity, the Bureau of National Investigations, handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Police maintained specialized units in Accra for homicide, forensics, domestic violence, economic crimes, visa fraud, narcotics, and cybercrimes. Such services were unavailable outside the capital due to lack of office space, vehicles, and other equipment. Police maintained specialized antihuman trafficking units in all 11 police administrative regions.

Police brutality, corruption, negligence, and impunity were problems. While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused suspects and other citizens. There were delays in prosecuting suspects, reports of police collaboration with criminals, and a widespread public perception of police ineptitude. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. There were credible reports police extorted money by acting as private debt collectors, setting up illegal checkpoints, and arresting citizens in exchange for bribes from disgruntled business associates of those detained. A study by the Ghana Integrity Initiative, conducted in 2016 and released in February 2017, indicated that 61 percent of respondents had paid a bribe to police. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.” In July police killed seven suspected robbers, stirring outcry when the local Zongo (predominantly Muslim enclave) community maintained the young men were innocent. In November the minister of information called for 21 police officers to be suspended and made subjects of criminal investigations.

The Office of the Inspector General of Police and PPSB investigate claims of excessive force by security force members. The PPSB also investigates human rights abuses and police misconduct. Through August the PPSB had recorded 1,144 complaints, of which 210 investigations were completed and 934 remained under investigation. Over this period the PPSB investigated 233 reports of unprofessional handling of cases, 217 of misconduct, 201 of unfair treatment, 160 of undue delay of investigation, 59 of unlawful arrest and detention, 77 of police brutality, 34 of harassment, 14 of fraud, 37 of extortion, and one of rape. As of September the CHRAJ had not received any reports of police beating detainees.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government is not required to provide it, although legal counsel is generally provided to those charged with first-degree felonies. As of September the government employed only 20 full-time legal aid lawyers, who handled criminal and civil cases, and 45 paralegals, who handled civil matters. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure the person’s appearance at a later court date. Officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

The law provides for bail, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail prohibitively high. In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that denied bail to those accused of specific serious crimes, including murder, rape, and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Law.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests by police. Unlawful arrests and detentions accounted for 5 percent of all complaint cases PPSB received through August.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prisons Service statistics available in September indicated 1,944 prisoners, just under 13 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failing to investigate or follow up on cases, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation of criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances. Inadequate record keeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, some for up to 10 years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.

Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.

Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Violence and Harassment: The Media Foundation for West Africa counted 17 cases of attacks on journalists from January 2017 to March 2018. Earlier in the year, police assaulted a reporter who had visited the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters to report on the arrest of a political party official. The reporter sustained fractures to his skull. Officials reported an investigative report was submitted to administrators in May and provided no further information as of September. In June there were reports that a member of parliament criticized and incited violence against a prominent journalist whose investigative crew produced a film about corruption in Ghana soccer, including involvement by government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The internet was accessible in Accra and other large cities. There was limited but growing internet access in other areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 38 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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