Bangladesh

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Police policy requires internal investigations of all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the inspector general of police. The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism regarding the independence and professional standards of the units conducting these assessments and claimed citizens were being deprived of justice. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment.

Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity, drugs, and illegal firearms. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently denied their role in such deaths: they claimed that when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify co-conspirators, accomplices fired on police; police returned fire and, in the ensuing gunfight, the suspect was killed. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings.” Media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents constituted extrajudicial killings. Human rights organizations claimed in some cases law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.

Domestic human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported at least 80 individuals died in extrajudicial killings during the year, including 51 in so-called shootouts or crossfires with law enforcement agencies. Between May 2018 and June, ASK reported a total of 606 incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions. According to another human rights organization, Odhikar, of 71 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and September 30, 35 deaths resulted from gunfights with law enforcement, 30 persons were shot by law enforcement, and six others died from alleged torture while in custody. In 2020 Odhikar reported a total of 225 alleged extrajudicial executions, down from 391 incidents in 2019. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern regarding the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent.

Between January and July, local human rights organizations and media reported 10 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings. In Cox’s Bazar, the site of Rohingya refugee camps, Rohingya constituted a disproportionate percentage of reported “crossfire” killings. On February 23, media reported three Rohingya refugees including the ringleader of the “Zakir Bahini” gang were killed in a “gunfight” with the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Cox’s Bazar. On July 16, media reported Luftar Rahman and Hashem Ullah, Rohingya alleged to be criminals by the government, were reportedly killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB and Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). On July 19, media reported a Rohingya refugee with the alias “Kalimullah” was killed in a “gunfight” with the RAB in Cox’s Bazar. In all these cases, media reported security forces conducted raids to find the alleged criminals. After speaking with family members of the deceased, Amnesty International reported several of those killed were picked up from their homes by police and later found dead.

During the March 26-28 demonstrations after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, civil society and media reported at least 19 persons were killed and more than 100 injured (see sections 1.b., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6).

In May two suspects in the May 16 killing of businessman Shahin Uddin were allegedly killed by security forces days after their arrest. The two were accused of hacking Uddin to death in front of his son. Media reported that one of the suspects, Md. Manik, was killed in a reported gunfight with the RAB, while the other, Monir, was killed two days later, also in a reported gunfight with police. After his death Uddin’s wife filed a murder suit against 20 persons, including former Member of Parliament M.A. Awal. On May 20, the RAB arrested Awal for allegedly ordering the killing of Uddin regarding a land dispute.

In August media reported the Ministry of Home Affairs convened a senior investigation committee to investigate the killing of retired army major “Sinha” Md. Rashed Khan. As a result of the investigation, authorities suspended 21 police officers and charged nine officers. In 2020 police in Cox’s Bazar allegedly shot and killed Khan at a checkpoint. Security forces reported that Sinha “brandished” a gun, while eyewitnesses said Sinha had left the firearm in the car when he was asked by police to exit the vehicle. Sinha’s killing generated intense public discussion on police, extrajudicial killings, and law enforcement excesses.

Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. Between January and September 30, local human rights organizations reported 18 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The government made limited efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts. Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. The Paris-based organization International Federation of Human Rights reported enforced disappearances continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting opposition members, political activists, and individuals who were critical of the government’s policies and response to the pandemic. Political opposition alleged police forces did not register complaints from families of those subjected to enforced disappearances (see also section 2.a.).

Following the March 26-28 demonstrations against Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country and subsequent political clashes (see sections 1.a., 1.d., 2.a., 2.b., and 6), civil society and media reported several Islamic preachers including Abu Taw Haa Muhammad Adnan, madrassa students, and those associated with the organization Hefazat-e-Islam were missing, according to their family members. Some of the disappeared were later found and subsequently arrested under various charges, including under the Digital Security Act (DSA).

On July 19, Mayer Daak (Mother’s Call), an organization of members of the families of victims of enforced disappearances, issued a statement urging the government to return the disappeared persons to their families before the religious holiday of Eid-al-Adha. The organization reported more than 500 individuals have gone missing in the country since 2009. According to the statement, the few victims of enforced disappearance who returned did not discuss their experiences due to fear of reprisal.

In August, Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive study of enforced disappearances in the country, a matter they described as becoming a predominant tactic used by security forces under the ruling government. The report was based on more than 115 interviews with victims, family members, and witnesses between July 2020 and March. It documented 86 cases of enforced disappearances during the prior decade in which the victim’s whereabouts remained unknown. It also alleged government refusal to acknowledge or investigate cases.

In November the Cyber Tribunal Court indicted photojournalist and news editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol on three charges under the DSA that were first filed in March. The court scheduled Kajol’s hearing for January 2022. The government allegedly forcibly detained Kajol in 2020 and held him in government detention for 53 days. Kajol spent a total of 237 days in prison on defamation charges and was released on interim bail in December 2020.

In September the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) raised concerns regarding allegations of disappearances and impunity in the country. The WGEID reported receiving complaints regularly concerning disappearances, mostly relating to alleged disappearances of members of opposition political parties. Since 2013 the government has not responded to a request from the WGEID to visit the country.

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and media reported security forces, including those from the intelligence services, police, and soldiers seconded into civilian law enforcement, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect may take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged many instances of torture occurred during remand. Some victims who filed cases under the Torture and Custodial (Prevention) Act were reportedly harassed and threatened, while some were forced to withdraw their cases due to fear.

According to multiple organizations, including the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. These forces reportedly used beatings with iron rods, kneecappings, electric shock, rape and other sexual abuse, and mock executions. Numerous organizations also claimed security forces were involved in widespread and routine commission of torture, occasionally resulting in death, for the purpose of soliciting payment of bribes or obtaining confessions.

According to international and local civil society, activists, and media, impunity was a pervasive problem in the security forces, including within but not limited to the RAB, BGB, Detective Branch of Police, police, and other units. Politicization of crimes, corruption, and lack of independent accountability mechanisms were significant factors contributing to impunity, including for custodial torture. While police are required to conduct internal investigations of all significant abuses, civil society organizations alleged investigative mechanisms were not independent and did not lead to justice for victims. Law enforcement authorities took no additional steps, such as training, to address or prevent abuses.

On January 4, media reported family members of Rejaul Karim Reja said he died in police custody four days after he was arrested by the Detective Branch of Police in Barisal. Medical reports stated Reja, a law student, died of excessive bleeding and had numerous injury marks on his body. Barisal Metropolitan Police investigated the case and alleged he died because of complications related to drug addiction. Reja’s father alleged police tortured and killed his son and demanded a fair and impartial investigation.

On February 25, media reported writer Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison after being held in pretrial detention for 10 months. Ahmed was charged under the DSA for posting criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook (see section 2.a.). On March 3, the inspector general of prisons told media a three-member investigation committee found “no evidence of negligence.” On March 4, the minister of home affairs announced Ahmed died of natural causes and found no visible evidence of wounds or bruises on his body. According to Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist detained by the RAB alongside Ahmed, Mushtaq Ahmed endured “extensive torture,” including being “beaten a lot” and subjected to electric shock torture to the genitals during his detention. The RAB’s spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ashiq Billah rejected the allegations of torture and dismissed Kishore’s complaints as “lies.” Nationwide protests demanding justice for Ahmed’s death in custody lasted for weeks.

On March 4, Kishore, charged under the DSA, was released on bail. Media reported Kishore appeared visibly injured after being released. On March 10, Kishore filed a legal claim with a Dhaka court under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act alleging that he and Ahmed were tortured in custody. Although police records state he was arrested by Unit 3 of the RAB (RAB-3) in May 2020, Kishore said he was picked up from his residence by men in plainclothes three days prior. Kishore detailed the alleged torture he experienced while in custody, stating, “Every time they were not pleased with an answer, they hit me on my legs, ankles, and soles of my feet,” and that someone from behind slapped him on both sides of his head throughout RAB’s interrogations. Kishore also stated he lacked timely access to medication to control his diabetes. He reported “long-lasting side effects,” such as bleeding through his right ear, severe pain in his left knee and ankle, and difficulty with walking.

In March the UN Human Rights Council released a statement urging the “prompt, transparent, and independent” investigation into Ahmed’s death, the “overhaul” of the DSA, the release of all detained under the law, and an investigation into allegations of ill-treatment of other detainees, including Kishore. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the RAB were a “long-standing concern.”

On March 14, a Dhaka court directed the Police Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation into Kishore’s claims. On October 17, media reported the Bureau submitted to the courts the investigation report, which stated there was no evidence of Kishore’s allegations of torture against 16 or 17 unnamed individuals in plainclothes, nor was there definitive evidence that one or more persons picked up the cartoonist from home and tortured him physically and mentally in May 2020. On November 24, Kishore filed a no-confidence application against the investigation report, which the court accepted.

On June 26, 10 international human rights groups issued a statement for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, stating the government allegedly failed to follow up on recommendations made by the CAT in 2020 to better prevent and address torture.

On July 3, media reported a three-member committee was formed to investigate the alleged torture of Indian prisoner Shahjahan Bilash after footage of the incident went viral on social media. Five officers from Cumilla Central Jail, including the chief prison guard, were suspended. Three other prison employees were also suspended for allegedly circulating the video footage.

Multiple news outlets reported a woman filed a case under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act against six persons on July 5, including three police officers, alleging she was tortured and sexually assaulted while in custody in the Wazirpur police station in Barisal District. In response to the allegations, a senior judicial magistrate court asked the district police to launch an investigation and ordered a medical report to be submitted within 24 hours of the complaint. Media reported the district police withdrew two of the accused officers from the police station and launched an investigation into the allegations. The medical report submitted to the court by the local hospital stated injury marks were found on both hands, neck, and other parts of the woman’s body. The officers accused in the case denied the allegations.

The government permitted visits from governmental inspectors and nongovernmental observers who were aligned with the incumbent party. No reports on these inspections were released. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to support the Prisons Directorate and assisted 68 prison centers across the country, including supplying personal protective equipment and helping the government launch isolation centers to alleviate the spread of COVID-19.

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The law also permits authorities to arrest and detain individuals without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual is involved with a serious crime. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities increasingly held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. The government generally did not respect judicial independence and impartiality.

Human rights observers maintained that magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or courts ruled based on influence from or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials. During the pandemic media reported many courts were closed and very few operated virtually, exacerbating case backlogs.

In January the High Court ordered the release of Md. Kamrul Islam, who was prosecuted in a fraud case based on an investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The High Court asked the commission to act against the investigators who apparently charged the wrong person for the crime. In 2003 the commission accused and pressed charges against Islam for using a fake certificate to obtain admissions to a college in 1998. In 2014 he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released on January 28.

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.

During the year the government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications to scan public discussions on COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the virus. In March the Information Ministry announced the formation of a dedicated a unit to monitor social media and television outlets for “rumors” related to COVID-19.

On June 22, a Dhaka court issued a notice on behalf of 10 Supreme Court lawyers requesting the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to disclose the steps it had taken to prevent eavesdropping on private, telephone conversations. The notice mentioned 16 eavesdropping cases to be evaluated, which were previously disclosed by the press. Some of these cases involved eavesdropping on members of the political opposition. According to the press, the BTRC did not respond to the request.

In September 2020 the High Court asserted citizens’ right to privacy and stated the collection of call lists or conversations from public or private telephone companies without formal approval and knowledge of the individual must stop. In its verdict the court stated, “It is our common experience that nowadays private communications among citizens, including their audios/videos, are often leaked and published in social media for different purposes.”

Colombia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP), from January 1 through August 26, there were 28 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents.”

According to government and NGO reports, police officers killed multiple civilians during nationwide protests that began on April 28. The NGO Human Rights Watch collected information linking 25 civilian deaths during the protests to police, including 18 deaths committed with live ammunition. For example, according to Human Rights Watch and press reports, protester Nicolas Guerrero died from a gunshot wound to the head on May 3 in Cali. Witness accounts indicated a police shooter may have been responsible for Guerrero’s death. As of July 15, the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into 28 members of the police for alleged homicides committed during the protests, and two police officers were formally charged with homicide. Police authorities and the Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into all allegations of police violence and excessive use of force.

Armed groups, including the National Liberation Army (ELN), committed numerous unlawful killings, in some cases politically motivated, usually in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly due to COVID-19 pandemic and the national quarantine. From January 1 through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office registered six new cases of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally charged four members of the security forces with aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian.

Efforts continued to hold officials accountable in “false positive” extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to early 2000s. As of June the Attorney General’s Office reported the government had convicted 1,437 members of the security forces in cases related to false positive cases since 2008. Many of those convicted in the ordinary and military justice systems were granted conditional release from prisons and military detention centers upon transfer of their cases to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). The military justice system developed a protocol to monitor the whereabouts of prisoners granted conditional release and was responsible for reporting any anomalies to the JEP’s Definition of Juridical Situation Chamber to take appropriate action.

The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of five retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of July 31. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,535 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of July 31.

In addition the JEP, the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Nonrepetition provided for in the 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continued to take effective steps to hold perpetrators of gross violations of human rights accountable in a manner consistent with international law. This included activities to advance Case 003, focused on extrajudicial killings or “false positives” largely committed by the First, Second, Fourth, and Seventh Army Divisions. In a February 18 ruling, the JEP concluded that, from 2002 to 2008, the army killed at least 6,402 civilians and falsely presented them as enemy combatants in a “systematic crime” to claim rewards in exchange for increased numbers of for combat “enemy” casualties. Several former soldiers and army officers, including colonels and lieutenant colonels convicted in the ordinary justice system, admitted at the JEP to additional killings that had not previously been investigated nor identified as false positives.

On July 6, the JEP issued charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against a retired brigadier general, nine other army officers, and one civilian in a case concerning the alleged extrajudicial killing and disappearance of at least 120 civilians in Norte de Santander in 2007 and 2008. The killings were allegedly perpetrated by members of Brigade 30, Mobile Brigade 15, and Infantry Battalion 15 “General Francisco de Paula Santander.” On July 15, the JEP issued a second set of war crimes and crimes against humanity indictments against 15 members of the Artillery Battalion 2 “La Popa” for killings and disappearances that took place in the Caribbean Coast region between 2002 and 2005.

In 2019 there were allegations that military orders instructing army commanders to double the results of their missions against guerillas, criminal organizations, and armed groups could heighten the risk of civilian casualties. An independent commission established by President Duque to review the facts regarding these alleged military orders submitted a preliminary report in July 2019 concluding that the orders did not permit, suggest, or result in abuses or criminal conduct and that the armed forces’ operational rules and doctrine were aligned with human rights and international humanitarian law principles. As of September a final report had not been issued.

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and July 31, 15 police officials were formally accused of having ties with armed groups.

According to a February 22 report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 133 human rights defenders were killed in 2020, but the OHCHR was only able to document 53 of those cases, due to COVID-19 pandemic-related movement restrictions. According to the Attorney General’s Office, in the cases of more than 400 killings of human rights defenders from January 2016 to August 2021, the government had obtained 76 convictions. According to the OHCHR, 77 percent of the 2020 human rights defender killings occurred in rural areas, and 96 percent occurred in areas where illicit economies flourished. The motives for the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases. For example, on August 21, two armed men entered the motorcycle shop of Eliecer Sanchez Caceres in Cucuta and shot him multiple times, killing him. Sanchez was the vice president of a community action board and had previously complained to authorities about receiving threats from armed groups. Police officials immediately opened an investigation into the killing, which was underway as of October 31.

The Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists, created in 2018, strengthened efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. The Inspector General’s Office and the human rights ombudsman continued to raise awareness regarding human rights defenders through the Lead Life campaign, in partnership with civil society, media, and international organizations. Additionally, there was an elite Colombian National Police (CNP) corps, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit (NPU), a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post, which shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attacks and investigating and prosecuting these cases.

By law the Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP (see section 1.c. for additional information regarding investigations and impunity).

According to the Attorney General’s Office, there were six formal complaints of forced disappearance from January 1 through July. As of December 2020, the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine registered 32,027 cases of forced disappearance since the beginning of the country’s armed conflict. Of those, 923 persons were found alive and 1,975 confirmed dead. According to the Attorney General’s Office, as of July there were no convictions in connection with forced disappearances.

The Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons, launched in 2018, continued to investigate disappearances that occurred during the conflict.

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials employed them. CINEP reported that through August, security forces were allegedly involved in 19 cases of torture, including 40 victims. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. NGOs including Human Rights Watch reported that police beat and sexually assaulted demonstrators during the nationwide April-June protests. Human Rights Watch documented 17 cases of beatings, including one that resulted in death. The human rights Ombudsman’s Office and multiple NGOs reported at least 14 cases of alleged sexual assault by police officers during the protests. Police launched internal investigations of all allegations of excessive use of force.

The Attorney General’s Office reported it convicted six members of the military or police force of torture between January and July 31. In addition the Attorney General’s Office reported 50 continuing investigations into alleged acts of torture committed by police or the armed forces through July.

CINEP reported organized-crime gangs and armed groups were responsible for four documented cases of torture including seven victims through August. CINEP reported another 19 cases of torture in which it was unable to identify the alleged perpetrators. According to government and NGO reports, protesters kidnapped 12 police officials during the nationwide protests, torturing some.

According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

The Attorney General’s Office is the primary entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces, except for conflict-related crimes, which are within the jurisdiction of the JEP. The JEP continued investigations in its seven prioritized macro cases with the objective of identifying patterns and establishing links between perpetrators, with the goal of identifying those most responsible for the most serious abuses during the conflict.

Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible illegal actions. The government made improvements in investigating and trying cases of abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases were investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial, were also significant obstacles.

President Duque signed three decrees in March to modernize the military justice system. The decrees transfer the court system from the Ministry of Defense to a separate jurisdiction with independent investigators, prosecutors, and magistrates. This was a step toward transitioning the military justice system from the old inquisitorial to a newer accusatory justice system. Transition to the new system continued slowly, and the military had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigation duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and the Attorney General’s Corps of Technical Investigators.

In June, President Duque announced police reform plans focused on enhancing community-police relations, accountability, and human rights. Since the announcement, the CNP established a human rights directorate that responds directly to the director general of police and hired a civilian to oversee it. In partnership with a local university, the CNP also developed a human rights certification course for the entire police force and began training 100 trainers to replicate this 200-hour academic and practical course throughout the country. The CNP also enhanced police uniforms with clear and visible identifiable information to help citizens identify police officers who utilize excessive force or violate human rights protocols.

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. There were allegations, however, that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 85 cases of arbitrary detention involving 394 victims committed by state security forces through August 1. Other NGOs provided higher estimates of arbitrary detention, reporting more than 2,000 cases of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, or illegal deprivations of liberty committed in the context of the national protests.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained in this manner from being used in court.

NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of July 31, there were no active criminal investigations underway in connection with illegal communications monitoring. The Inspector General’s Office reported that as of August 5, there were 40 disciplinary investigations against 38 state agents in connection with illegal surveillance and illegal monitoring of communications.

The government and the FARC, formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, continued to implement the 2016 peace accord. In 2017 the FARC completed its disarmament, and as of July nearly 13,000 former members were engaged in reincorporation activities, including the formation of a political party. An estimated 800 to 1,500 FARC dissident members did not participate in the peace process from the outset. As of October, NGOs estimated FARC dissident numbers had grown to approximately 5,200 due to new recruitment and some former combatants who returned to arms. A significant percentage of FARC dissidents were unarmed members of support networks that facilitated illicit economies. Some members of the FARC who participated in the peace process alleged the government had not fully complied with its commitments, including ensuring the security of demobilized former combatants or facilitating their reintegration, while the government alleged the FARC had not met its full commitments to cooperate on counternarcotics efforts and other peace accord commitments. Following the signing of the 2016 peace accord, three transitional justice mechanisms were established and were operational throughout the year: the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Nonrepetition; the Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons; and the JEP.

The ELN, a leftist guerilla force that NGOs estimated at 2,400 members, continued to commit crimes and acts of terror throughout the country, including bombings, violence against civilian populations, and violent attacks against military and police facilities. Armed groups and drug gangs, such as the Gulf Clan, also continued to operate. For example, on June 15, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at a military base housing the army’s 30th brigade in Cucuta, Norte de Santander. At least 44 persons were injured in the explosion, including military officials. President Duque’s helicopter was hit with gunfire in the same region on June 25. The Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of 10 alleged members of a FARC dissident group in connection with both attacks. On August 30, an improvised explosive device detonated at a police station in Cucuta, injuring at least 13 persons. The ELN took credit for the attack. The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other NGOs considered some of these armed groups to be composed of former paramilitary groups. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in armed groups but noted these illegal groups lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Killings: The military was accused of some killings, some of which military officials stated were “military mistakes” (see section 1.a.). In other cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of an armed group, while community members stated the victim was not a combatant. On March 2, the army bombed a FARC dissident site in Guaviare and reported killing 13 FARC dissidents. According to press reports, some of those killed may have been children. Officials acknowledged minors were present at the site, describing them as young combatants recruited by the FARC dissident group, and claimed the attack on the site fell within the bounds of international law.

Armed groups, notably the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the Gulf Clan, committed unlawful killings, primarily in areas with illicit economic activities and without a strong government presence. The government reported that between January and July 28, there were 109 killings of state security force members, including 53 police officers, allegedly committed by armed groups. Government officials assessed that most of the violence was related to narcotics trafficking enterprises.

Independent observers raised concerns that inadequate security guarantees facilitated the killing of former FARC militants. According to the UN Verification Mission, as of September 24, a total of 291 FARC former combatants had been killed since the signing of the 2016 peace accord. The Attorney General’s Office reported 34 homicide cases with convictions, 37 in the trial stage, 17 under investigation, and 42 with pending arrest warrants. The United Nations also reported the government began to implement additional steps to strengthen security guarantees for former FARC combatants, including deploying additional judicial police officers and attorneys to prioritized departments, promoting initiatives for prevention of stigmatization against former combatants, and establishing a roadmap for the protection of political candidates, including the FARC political party.

Abductions: Organized-crime gangs, FARC dissidents, the ELN, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons. According to the Ministry of Defense, from January 1 to June 30, there were 81 kidnappings, six attributed to the ELN and the remainder attributed to other organized armed groups. On April 18 in Arauca, FARC dissidents kidnapped army lieutenant colonel Pedro Enrique Perez. According to press reports, the FARC dissidents were holding the military officer in Venezuela and released a proof-of-life video in September.

Between January and June, the Ministry of Defense reported five civilians and one member of the military remained in captivity. The Attorney General’s Office reported two convictions as of July 31 for the crime of kidnapping.

The Special Unit for the Search for Disappeared Persons provided for in the peace accord is mandated to account for those who disappeared in the context of the armed conflict and, when possible, locate and return remains to families. According to the Observatory of Memory and Conflict, more than 80,000 persons were reported missing because of the armed conflict, including 1,214 military and police personnel who were kidnapped by the FARC and ELN.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: From January through August, CINEP reported ELN and organized-crime gangs were responsible for four documented cases of serious abuse that included seven victims.

The ELN, FARC dissidents, and other groups continued to lay land mines. According to the High Commissioner for Peace, 10 persons were killed and 104 wounded as the result of improvised explosive devices and land mines between January 1 and September 12.

Child Soldiers: There were reports the ELN, FARC dissident groups, the Gulf Clan, and other armed groups recruited persons younger than age 18. According to the Child and Family Welfare Department, 7,023 children separated from armed groups between November 16, 1999, and June 30. Government and NGO officials confirmed rates of child recruitment increased with the appearance of COVID-19 and related confinement measures. The government continued efforts to combat child recruitment via the Intersectoral Committee for the Prevention of Recruitment and Utilization of Children and the “Join Me” program, which focused on high-risk areas.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Reports of other human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking. Drug traffickers and armed groups continued to displace predominantly poor and rural populations (see section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). Armed groups, particularly in the departments of Cauca, Choco, Cordoba, Narino, and Norte de Santander, forcibly recruited children, including Venezuelan, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian youth, to serve as combatants and informants, harvest illicit crops, and be exploited in sex trafficking.

Honduras

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The reported killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to criminal activity by government agents. The Ministry of Security’s Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs investigated members of the Honduran National Police accused of human rights abuses. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated and arrested members of the military accused of human rights abuses.

The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) reported 15 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces as of August. The Public Ministry reported two such cases in judicial processing and five other cases under investigation as of September.

On April 27, the Public Ministry filed an indictment against police officer Jarol Rolando Perdomo Sarmiento for the February 6 murder of Keyla Martinez in La Esperanza, Intibuca Department. Perdomo allegedly killed Keyla Martinez after she was detained for violating the country’s COVID-19 curfew.

The government continued to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On July 5, the National Tribunal Court found Roberto David Castillo Mejia guilty for his role as one of the alleged intellectual authors of her murder.

There were reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity. On July 6, unknown assailants shot and killed land rights defender Juan Manuel Moncada in Tocoa, Colon Department. Authorities continued to investigate the incident.

Organized criminal groups, such as drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs including MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, human rights defenders, and others. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced the highest rates of violence.

On July 25, media reported individuals shot and killed Liberal Party congressional candidate and former congresswoman Carolina Echeverria Haylock in Tegucigalpa. In September police arrested Denis Abel Ordonez, Michael Andre Mejia, and Walter Antonio Matute Raudales in connection with her murder. Media linked her killing to organized criminal groups and drug trafficking organizations.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuses by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers.

CONADEH reported 69 cases of alleged torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by security forces through August, while the Public Ministry received 18 such reports. The quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) received 18 complaints of the use of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment through August.

Corruption along with a lack of investigative resources and judicial delays led to widespread impunity, including in security forces. The Directorate of Disciplinary Police Affairs investigated abuses by police forces. The directorate issued 1,379 recommendations to the Ministry of Security for disciplinary actions as of September following internal investigations of national police members. The Office of the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and the Humanitarian Law Directorate investigated abuses by the military. CONADEH received complaints involving human rights abuses and referred them to the Public Ministry for investigation. The Secretariat of Human Rights provided training to security forces to reinforce respect for human rights. Through September the secretariat trained 2,626 law enforcement officials in human rights and international humanitarian law.

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. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

Although the law generally prohibits such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of another emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of September CONADEH had received 33 complaints.

Mexico

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that government entities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is responsible for independently investigating security force abuses, including killings, and can issue nonbinding recommendations for prosecution. State human rights commissions investigate state and municipal police forces and can issue similar recommendations. State and federal prosecutors are independent of the executive branch and have the final authority to investigate and prosecute security force abuses.

In February authorities arrested 12 state police officers in Camargo, Tamaulipas, on homicide charges in connection with the massacre and burning of the bodies of three smugglers and 16 Guatemalan migrants en route to the United States. As of August 16, the suspects remained in detention awaiting trial. In March police officers broke the neck of Salvadoran refugee Victoria Salazar. The Quintana Roo prosecutor general confirmed police officers used disproportionate force during the arrest. Authorities arrested four police officers and charged them with femicide (killing a woman because of her gender). As of August 27, the suspects were awaiting trial.

Human rights and environmental activists, many from indigenous communities, continued to be targets of violence. The CNDH reported that assailants killed 12 human rights defenders from January to July.

As of September 13, three municipal police officers from Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, remained in pretrial detention for the killing of Giovanni Lopez. The Jalisco government disarmed the municipal police force of Ixtlahuacan and turned over public security duties to the National Guard and the Jalisco Secretariat for Public Security.

In July the army provided reparations to two of the three families of persons killed in July 2020 by soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, during an encounter with suspected cartel members. On October 7, the army relieved Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola, accused of ordering the killings, of his posting, but as of October prosecutors had not taken action against the soldiers.

On October 1, a judge sentenced Fidel Figueroa, mayor of Zacualpan, state of Mexico, to 236 years in prison for murder. Figueroa collaborated with criminal organizations to kidnap the prosecutor general of Ixtapan de la Sal, state of Mexico, and others in 2019, resulting in the death of one of the prosecutor general’s bodyguards.

Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in collusion with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. On June 19, a dispute between factions of the Gulf cartel killed 15 persons in the state of Tamaulipas. Security forces responded by killing four suspects and arresting 25.

Disappearances remained a persistent problem throughout the country, especially in areas with high levels of cartel or gang-related violence. There were reports of numerous forced disappearances by organized crime groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion with authorities. Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare.

Federal and state databases were incomplete and had data-crossing problems; forensic systems were highly fragmented between the local, state, and federal levels; and the sheer volume of unsolved cases was far greater than the forensic systems were capable of handling. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office reported a total of 2,041 federal investigations underway into disappearances involving approximately 3,400 persons. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and family members of disappeared persons alleged the prosecutors undercounted the actual number of cases.

Through a nationwide assessment process, the National Search Commission (CNB) revised the government’s official number of missing or disappeared persons repeatedly as additional data became available. As of July the CNB reported that there were 89,572 missing or disappeared persons in the country. Some cases dated back to the 1960s, but the vast majority occurred since 2006. The year 2020 had the second-highest number of cases on record, with 8,626 reported missing or disappeared, down from 9,185 cases reported in 2019. The states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas, plus Mexico City, accounted for 76 percent of reported disappearances from 2018 to June 30.

The federal government and states continued to implement the law on forced disappearances. On August 30, the Extraordinary Mechanism for Forensic Identification became fully operational. It was created in 2019 to bring together national and international forensic experts to help identify 37,000 unidentified remains held in government facilities, coordinate implementation of the general law on forced disappearances, and allocate resources to state search commissions. In July 2020 the CNB launched a public version of the National Registry of Disappeared and Missing Persons. Between January 1 and August 4, it received 4,119 reports of missing persons and located 3,805 alive and 277 deceased.

In July the CNB reported it had recovered more than 1,100 pounds of charred human remains from La Bartolina, Tamaulipas, a clandestine cremation site found in 2017. Nationwide the CNB reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 3,025 persons in 1,749 clandestine graves between December 1, 2018, and June 30. The CNB reported that during that period, of the 3,025 bodies exhumed, authorities identified 1,153 and returned 822 to their families.

The government increased the CNB budget 8 percent over the 2020 budget. According to NGOs, however, the state search committees often lacked the capacity to fulfill their mandate. Civil society and families of the disappeared stated the government’s actions to prevent and respond to disappearances were largely inadequate to address the scale of the problem.

The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by law, but as of August it had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank. The Prosecutor General’s Office owned a previous genetics database, which consisted of 63,000 profiles, and was responsible for the new database. The previous platform lacked interconnectivity between states and failed to connect family members effectively to the remains of their missing relatives.

In July the Supreme Court ruled that authorities at all levels must investigate enforced disappearances, search for disappeared persons, and inform victims of the process.

The government made efforts to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of disappearance involving government agents. From January to June, the CNDH received nine complaints accusing government agents of forced disappearances, including five against the army and four against the National Guard. In April authorities arrested 30 members of the navy and charged them with forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in 2018. As of October the accused were in a military prison awaiting trial. In July the secretary of the navy publicly apologized to families of the victims, marking the first time the armed forces apologized for committing forced disappearances.

Investigations continued into the 2014 disappearances of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Iguala, Guerrero. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to criticize handling of the original investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, noting there had been no convictions related to the disappearances of the 43 students. In June President Lopez Obrador announced that forensic scientists at the University of Innsbruck conclusively identified the remains of Jhosivani Guerrero, marking the third body identified of the 43 disappeared students.

As of October the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case had arrested more than 80 suspects, including army captain Jose Martinez Crespo, an Iguala municipal police officer, and the Iguala municipal police chief. The government continued to pursue the extradition of Tomas Zeron from Israel. Zeron led the investigation of the case by the former criminal investigations unit in the Attorney General’s Office at the time of the students’ disappearances. In March 2020 a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for Zeron on charges related to his conduct of the investigation, including torturing alleged perpetrators to force confessions, conducting forced disappearances, altering the crime scene, manipulating evidence, and failing to perform his duties. He fled to Israel, and the government requested that the Israeli government issue an arrest warrant and extradite him.

In addition to the outstanding Zeron arrest warrant, the Special Unit for the Investigation and Litigation of the Ayotzinapa case issued 12 warrants and made 10 arrests for investigative irregularities, such as torture and obstruction of justice. As of September no alleged perpetrators of the disappearances had been convicted, and 78 of those initially accused were released due to lack of evidence, generally due to irregularities in their detention, including confessions obtained through torture. As of October the special unit had reissued arrest warrants for 11 of the 78 released detainees, including municipal police officers, but made no arrests.

State search collectives reported being victims, at times fatal, of attacks, threats, and other acts of harassment. In June unknown assailants killed Javier Barajas Pina in the state of Guanajuato. He was a member of a search collective and the state search commission. The state search commission paused all search efforts between May and June due to increased levels of insecurity for family search collectives, according to civil society groups. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects.

In July unknown assailants abducted and killed Aranza Ramos in the state of Sonora. Ramos had been searching for her missing husband for the previous seven months as a member of two search collectives. As of August 16, authorities had not arrested any suspects. Following Ramos’ killing, Cecilia Flores, the leader of one of the search collectives in which Ramos participated, received death threats. Flores received temporary protection from the Interior Secretariat protection mechanism.

Federal law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the admission of confessions obtained through illicit means as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of security forces torturing suspects.

Between January and August, the CNDH registered 26 complaints of torture and 123 for arbitrary detention. Most of these complaints were against authorities in the Prosecutor General’s Office, National Guard, Interior Secretariat, and the armed forces. As of August, 25 of 32 states had specialized prosecutor’s offices for investigating torture, or specialized investigative units within the state attorney general’s office as called for by law. Between January and May there were an additional 20 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against the National Guard, 20 against the army, and 11 against the National Migration Institute. The CNDH did not report on the merits of the complaints.

In February the Attorney General’s Office arrested former Puebla governor Mario Marin and charged him with torturing journalist Lydia Cacho, who exposed Marin and several business leaders’ involvement in a child sex trafficking ring in 2005. As of August 23, Marin was awaiting trial. In June authorities sentenced Quintana Roo police officer Miguel Mora Olvera to five years in prison for his role in torturing Cacho.

Impunity for torture was prevalent among the security forces. NGOs stated authorities failed to investigate torture allegations adequately. As of December 2020 the Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating 3,703 torture-related inquiries under the previous inquisitorial legal system (initiated prior to the 2016 transition to an accusatorial system) and 565 investigations under the accusatorial system. According to the Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights, from 2006 to 2020, federal authorities issued 27 sentences for torture. There were accusations of sexual abuse against authorities during arrest and detention. There is no single independent oversight mechanism to review police actions, but many federal and state security and justice sector institutions have internal affairs units providing internal supervision and promoting best practices for transparency and accountability. The government’s National Council of Norms and Labor Competencies certified law enforcement internal affairs investigators and created standard internal affairs training to promote transparency and accountability. Most internal affairs units, however, were insufficiently staffed and funded. The army and the navy have human rights units to create protocols and training. The armed forces operated a military justice system to hold human rights abusers accountable.

Federal 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; however, the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and capacity to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property. By law the government collected biometric data from migrants.

According to the NGO Freedom House, “Researchers continued to document cases of journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and political figures targeted with Pegasus spy software. After denying they existed, in 2019 the Prosecutor General’s Office provided evidence of Pegasus licensing contracts in 2016 and 2017.” In July Public Safety Secretary Rosa Isela Rodriguez revealed that the Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto administrations signed 31 contracts for $61 million to buy Pegasus spy software. In July a joint investigation by media outlets reported a leaked Pegasus list of more than 15,000 individuals as possible targets for surveillance in 2016 and 2017. The list named at least 50 persons linked to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, politicians from every party, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, prosecutors, diplomats, judges, and academics.

Nigeria

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities investigated and held accountable police, military, or other security force personnel responsible for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. Instances of unlawful or extrajudicial killings in the army, air force, and navy are initially investigated by commanding officers who decide whether an accusation merits low-level discipline or the initiation of court-martial proceedings, which are subject to appeal before military councils and the civilian Court of Appeals. The army used a human rights desk in Maiduguri to investigate allegations of abuse during military operations in the North East. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards, judicial panels of inquiry, or internal complaint mechanisms to investigate abuses by security forces. When warranted, these bodies made recommendations of proposed disciplinary measures to the state or federal government. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not always make their findings public.

The national police, army, and other security services sometimes used force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects. Police forces engaging in crowd-control operations generally attempted to disperse crowds using nonlethal tactics, such as firing tear gas, before escalating their use of force.

On August 13, the Osun State Police Command announced the dismissal of Sergeant Adamu Garba, who shot and killed a motorcycle rider on July 27. Police reportedly dismissed the officer while judicial authorities prosecuted him, although no further information on the judicial process to hold the officer accountable was available.

The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the alleged role of the Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police Force in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020. The panel’s 309-page report was leaked to the press on November 15 and was subsequently released by the Lagos State government on December 5, although both the state government and federal government disputed some of its findings.

The report implicated both the army and the Nigeria Police Force, stating that both participated in “a massacre in context” by opening fire on peaceful protesters with live ammunition. The report stated that coroners verified that three protesters died at the Lekki Toll Gate but suggested that the number of deaths might have been higher based on information from other sources. The report noted that the on-scene army commanders did not respond to multiple summons from the panel to testify, and the Nigeria Police Force claimed it had no personnel at the toll gate at the time despite contrary evidence. The panel stated it considered the army’s limited participation a “calculated attempt to conceal material evidence from the panel,” according to page 301 of the report. The report also alleged that security forces attempted to cover up the shooting by preventing ambulances from accessing the injured as well as removing evidence from the scene, including bullets. The report made 32 recommendations, including: prosecution of members of the army and police who were at the scene; establishment of a tribunal to address future security agency abuses; compensation of injured protesters; and issuance of a public apology to #EndSARS protesters.

On November 30, the press received a leaked copy of a “white paper” issued by a committee set up by the Lagos State governor to respond to the panel’s report. The white paper delineated the recommendations within Lagos State’s jurisdiction and referred others, including that of legal action against the security forces, to the federal government for action. The white paper also identified “inconsistencies” in the panel’s report, especially regarding the number of alleged deaths, and called its conclusions “totally unreliable and therefore unacceptable.” The federal minister of information and culture reiterated the government’s claim that no massacre occurred, pointing instead to the previous government acknowledgement that two persons had died during the protest at the Lekki Toll Gate.

On October 19, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Nigeria: A Year On, No Justice for #EndSARS Crackdown. The report stated at least one man was shot by the military in the chest and died on the way to the hospital. While Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain the total number of individuals killed, the report noted, “witnesses said that they saw what appeared to be at least 15 lifeless bodies and that military officers had taken away at least 11. Witnesses also reported that the police shot at least two protesters and took their lifeless bodies away.”

In February the Edo State High Court convicted a former Nigeria Police Force officer of the now-defunct SARS on conspiracy, murder, and grand theft charges for his role in the 2015 detainment, torture, and eventual death of Benin City car dealer Benson Obode. Of the five officers implicated in the crime, only Officer Joseph Omotosho was present in court. He was sentenced to death for his role in the killing. The other officers had their cases suspended pending their appearance in court.

On March 23, the Kogi State High Court sentenced Ocholi Edicha to 12 years’ and six months’ imprisonment on charges of criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, “mischief by fire,” and culpable homicide for his role in the death of Salome Abuh, a local People’s Democratic Party organizer who was killed by political supporters of Kogi governor Yahya Bello in 2019.

There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the North East and other areas (see section 1.g.).

Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year (see section 1.b.).

On August 20, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that more than 24,000 persons were registered as missing in the country, with the majority from the conflict area in the North East. There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. According to Amnesty International, the whereabouts of at least 50 suspected supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra group arrested in Rivers State between October and November 2020 remained unknown at year’s end. Human Rights Watch stated that one person last seen at the Lekki Toll Gate protests in October 2020 remained missing as of October.

Criminal groups abducted civilians throughout much of the country, especially in the remote areas of the North Central and North West regions. School children and vulnerable populations were prime targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, local government leaders, police officers, university students, and laborers, among others. The Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria road axis remained a major target for kidnappers, forcing many travelers to transit by air or rail.

In March the Kaduna State government released its inaugural security report, which confirmed the killing of 937 residents and the abduction of 1,972 persons by local criminals in 2020. Kaduna State had the greatest number of kidnapping victims nationwide, according to several independent observers. The Kaduna State local government areas of Igabi, Birnin Gwari, Chikun, Zangon Kataf, and Kajuru experienced the majority of the abductions.

On April 20, gunmen attacked the Greenfield University in Kasamari Village in the Chikun (local government) Council of Kaduna State, abducted 20 students and two staff, and demanded a ransom of approximately $2 million. Three of the students were killed on April 23, while the remaining were released on May 29 after parents of the victims reportedly paid a ransom of $370,000.

On May 30, kidnappers abducted more than 100 students from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State. Six students died in captivity, and 15 escaped in June. The remaining students were confirmed released in late August.

On July 5, kidnappers abducted approximately 121 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State. While most children were released following ransom payments, as of October 31, four students remained missing.

Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants in the Niger Delta engaged in piracy and related crimes. In February a fishing trawler was hijacked off the coast of Gabon. The crew was brought to Nigeria and freed after a reported ransom payment of $300,000. In 2020 the Gulf of Guinea accounted for more than 95 percent of global kidnappings at sea.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) conducted large-scale attacks and abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States (see section 1.g.).

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A 2017 law defines and specifically criminalizes torture. The law prescribes offenses and penalties for any person, including law enforcement officers, who commits torture or aids, abets, or by act or omission is an accessory to torture. It also provides a basis for victims of torture to seek civil damages. A 2015 law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees but fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the legislation compliant with the 2015 law for the legislation to apply beyond the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and federal agencies. As of September more than three-quarters of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Ebonyi, Imo, Katsina, Sokoto, and Rivers) had adopted compliant legislation.

The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture. Lack of legal and operational independence and limited funding hindered the committee from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not always respect this prohibition. Of the 36 states, 29 as well as the Federal Capital Territory established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS. The panels consisted of a diverse group of civil society representatives, government officials, lawyers, youth, and protesters with the task of reviewing complaints submitted by the public and making recommendations to their respective state government on sanctions for human rights abuses and proposed compensation for victims. Nearly all judicial panels completed their investigations and reported their findings to state governors, but most reports were not made public by year’s end.

The Lagos State government established a judicial panel in October 2020 to investigate alleged abuses committed by SARS and Nigerian security services’ alleged role in shooting at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in October 2020.

The Lagos State judicial panel extended its work beyond its initial mandate to obtain comprehensive evidence and testimony from the army and Lagos State government officials. The Lagos panel had received 235 petitions and awarded 410 million naira ($1.02 million) in reparations to 71 victims of police brutality. The panel completed its work in October. The panel’s report was leaked to the press on November 15 and subsequently made available on the Lagos State government website (see section 1.a).

Human Rights Watch reported on October 19 the findings of 54 interviews with victims, witnesses, family members of victims, medical professionals, and others affected by the October 2020 Lekki Toll Gate shooting. A doctor who treated victims of the Lekki shooting confirmed three persons brought to the hospital where he worked had limbs amputated due to injuries sustained during the shooting.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners.

Amnesty International carried out investigations into human rights abuses in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, and Abia States. The organization documented 62 cases of arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and torture. It also reportedly reviewed video and audio recordings that showed security forces using excessive force and “other unlawful means to address the rising violence.”

Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces which subjected them to public ridicule. Bystanders sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees. In August the Lagos governor signed a bill banning police from “parading” suspects before media.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings; state laws do not compel participation by non-Muslims or Muslims in sharia courts. Sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments, such as caning, amputation, flogging, and death by stoning, although civil courts overturned these sentences on appeal. There were reports of canings during the year in Kaduna and Kano States.

In February a laborer from Kaduna State was sentenced to 12 lashes for allegedly stealing a cell phone. In June, six men from Kano State were sentenced to canings and jail time for possessing stolen cell phones. In October a man from Kaduna State was sentenced to 80 lashes for denying paternity for his sixth child. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.

In February and June at least three defendants convicted of fornication and caned sued the state for assault or other human rights abuses, causing the state to pay damages of between 10 million and 60 million naira ($24,800 and $149,000).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from the country who were deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were still three open allegations, including one from 2018 involving exploitative relationships and rape and two from 2017 – one involving transactional sex and one involving 53 peacekeepers in exploitative relationships with 62 adults and three peacekeepers involved in the rape of three children. As of September the United Nations had substantiated the 2017 allegation involving transactional sex, repatriated the perpetrator, and accountability measures by the government were pending. The government substantiated two allegations, one from 2017 and one from 2019. In those cases the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, and the government took actions against them including imposing demotion, jail time, and fines. The government continued to investigate the other allegations.

Impunity, exacerbated by corruption and a weak judiciary, remained a significant problem in the security forces, especially in police, military, and the Department of State Services. Police, the military, and the Department of State Services reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government regularly utilized disciplinary boards and mechanisms to investigate security force members and hold them accountable for crimes committed on duty, but the results of these accountability mechanisms were not always made public. The Nigeria Police Force’s Complaint Response Unit worked to rebuild trust in police among citizens by holding police malefactors accountable. The revamped Complaints Response Unit was largely perceived to be a credible albeit nascent effort in the government’s effort to gather and respond to citizens’ complaints of police misconduct. Additionally, the minister of police inaugurated a Police Public Complaints Committee in April to allow citizens to register official complaints of abuses or misconduct by police officers. Police established a radio station to increase its communication with and get feedback from the public.

The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the National Human Rights Commission and Nigerian Bar Association to receive and investigate complaints, although their capacity and ability to investigate complaints outside major population centers remained limited. The court-martial in Maiduguri convicted soldiers for rape, murder, and abduction of civilians. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.

In January the Imo State Police Command arrested four officers who were observed on a video striking two women and three men. The Nigeria Police Force condemned the officers’ actions as “inhuman” and “unacceptable.”

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services at times employed these practices. The law also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but detainees often found such protections ineffective, largely due to lengthy court delays.

Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the National Human Rights Commission. Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to a court.

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. There were reports political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There were no continuing education requirements for attorneys, and police officers were often assigned to serve as prosecutors. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition, the salaries of court officials were low, and officials often lacked proper equipment and training.

There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed, and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Many citizens encountered long delays and reported receiving requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate that the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made to maintain their autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments.

Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts, the impetus to use them over civil courts stemmed in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

Sharia charges are only applicable to Muslims. Sharia courts operate under similar rules as common law courts including requirements for mens rea and other due process considerations.

According to the chief registrar of the Kano sharia court, defendants by law have the right to legal representation in all cases, and certain high crimes require the testimonies of at least four witnesses to be considered as admissible, corroborative evidence. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the sharia panel of the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in sharia, often do, and they may seek advice from sharia experts.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal sentences through common law appellate courts, and these courts have sometimes found for the plaintiff in cases where they have sued individual states for assault for penalties, such as flogging, imposed by sharia courts. Apostacy or heresy are not crimes in any state’s sharia.

Sharia courts can hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for hudood offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning, although civil courts uniformly overturned these sentences on appeal.

Many in the north preferred sharia courts to their secular counterparts, especially concerning civil matters, since they were faster, less expensive, and conducted in the Hausa language.

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on this right during the year, and at times police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies allegedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.

The government blocked websites, including Twitter (see section 2.a, Censorship and Content Restrictions). In January the news website Peoples Gazette was blocked by several mobile internet services. The editor of the website alleged the government had ordered the blocking after the website in October 2020 criticized the competence of the government. The website remained blocked at year’s end.

The NGO Freedom House reported that several government agencies purchased spyware that allowed them to monitor cell phone calls, texts, and geolocation.

The insurgency in the North East by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the ISIS-WA continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction of property, internal displacement of more than three million persons, and external displacement of more than 327,000 Nigerian refugees as of the year’s end. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers, security personnel, and international organization and NGO personnel and facilities in Borno State. These groups targeted persons perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. ISIS-WA terrorists demonstrated increased ability to conduct complex attacks against military outposts and formations. During the year ISIS-WA terrorists took over significant territory formerly held by Boko Haram. ISIS-WA expanded efforts to implement shadow governance structures in large swaths of Borno State.

Killings: On September 15, the air force reportedly killed 10 civilians during an errant aerial strike against ISIA-WA and Boko Haram militants in Yobe State. The air force launched an investigation into the strike and subsequently took responsibility for errantly killing civilians. The local government announced it would provide monetary compensation to victims’ families and medical care to those wounded during the strike.

Violence surged in the South East following the Indigenous People of Biafra’s launch of its military wing, the Eastern Security Network, in December 2020. In the first quarter of the year, local media reported 54 violent attacks on civilians and security forces and 222 deaths, representing a 59 percent and 344 percent increase, respectively, compared with the quarter prior to the Eastern Security Network’s establishment. On August 5, Amnesty International issued a statement alleging security forces including the military, police, and Department of State Services killed at least 115 persons in the South East between March and June as part of security operations against the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra movement and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network.

According to Attorney General Malami’s public announcement on October 22, the Indigenous People of Biafra movement together with its militant wing, the Eastern Security Network, were responsible for the deaths of more than 175 security personnel and attacks on 164 police stations in the South East. The Eastern Security Network/Indigenous People of Biafra have consistently denied responsibility for the attacks and South East-based government officials raised the possibility that some of the attacks were politically motivated or perpetrated by criminals seeking to take advantage of a state of insecurity in the region.

On May 19, ISIS-WA fighters attacked Boko Haram strongholds in the Sambisa Forest, leading to the death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.

On September 24, ISIS-WA militants killed at least eight Nigerian soldiers and wounded at least eight others during a rocket attack as the soldiers traveled between Dikwa and Marte in Borno State.

Abductions: While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown as towns repeatedly changed hands, and many families were still on the run or dispersed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many abductees managed to escape captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.

Approximately 110 girls abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. In August two more Chibok girls returned with the men they were forced to marry in captivity and their children as part of a group of Boko Haram fighters who surrendered. Leah Sharibu remained the only student from the 2018 kidnapping in Dapchi in ISIS-WA captivity, reportedly because she refused to convert to Islam from Christianity.

In the North West region, militia groups and criminal networks caused systemic degradation of security across vulnerable communities in the region. Their tactics included large scale kidnapping for ransom operations targeting youth at boarding schools (see section 1.b.).

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports that security services used excessive force in the pursuit of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA suspects, at times resulting in arbitrary arrest, detention, or torture.

Arbitrary arrests reportedly continued in the North East, and authorities held many individuals in poor conditions. There were reports some of the arrested and detained included children believed to be associated with Boko Haram, some of whom may have been forcibly recruited.

Amnesty International reported security forces in the South East also tortured and arbitrarily arrested scores of persons. The report cited eyewitness accounts of security agencies using “excessive force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion….and extrajudicial executions of suspects.” Police and army spokesmen did not comment on the information set out in the report.

Sexual exploitation and abuse were a concern in IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the North East. A 2020 UN secretary-general report stated that nine girls were reportedly raped by terrorists and one girl by a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force between 2017 and 2019. There was no additional information on investigations or prosecutions of the cases.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including rape and forced marriage. Those who escaped, or whom security services or vigilante groups rescued, faced ostracism by their communities and had difficulty obtaining appropriate medical and psychosocial treatment and care.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the military used child soldiers during the year.

Reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the Civilian Joint Task Force. The Civilian Joint Task Force and United Nations continued work to implement a 2017 action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. As of September, according to international organizations, there were no verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by the Civilian Joint Task Force during the year, and the United Nations delisted the Civilian Joint Task Force as an armed group recruiting and using children in October. Some demobilized former child soldiers were awaiting formal reintegration into communities. The government did not officially adopt the handover protocol to refer children identified in armed conflict to civilian care providers, although observers reported authorities implemented key aspects of the handover protocol during the year.

Children (younger than 18) participated in Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The group paid, forcibly conscripted, or otherwise coerced young boys and girls to serve in its ranks and conduct attacks and raids, plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs), serve as spies, and carry out IED bombings, often under the influence of drugs. Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Attacks by ISIS-WA on humanitarian assistance convoys and aid workers reduced the provision of assistance to IDPs and local communities in the North East. In January Borno State’s capital of Maiduguri lost electrical power due to a series of ISIS-WA attacks on power transmission lines; power had not been restored as of year’s end.

Philippines

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Various government bodies conducted a limited number of investigations into whether security force killings were justifiable, such as the national police Internal Affairs Service, the armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict (formerly Human Rights Office), and the National Bureau of Investigation. Impunity remained a problem, however. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by government allies, antigovernment insurgents, and unknown assailants also continued.

In March, nine human rights activists were killed and six arrested in an operation conducted by security forces in Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas Provinces, dubbed afterwards by the media as “Bloody Sunday.” The crackdown happened two days after public remarks by President Duterte encouraged law enforcement authorities to kill communist rebels, saying, “If there’s an encounter and you see them armed, kill, kill them, don’t mind human rights, I will be the one to go to prison, I don’t have qualms.” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced that investigating the operation would be a priority for the government’s Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons (also known as the AO35 committee). As of July, however, human rights organizations reported no significant developments in the case and the completion of one crime scene investigation related to the AO35 committee’s work.

Law enforcement authorities conducted approximately 20,000 antidrug operations from January to August 1, according to government data. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, one of the lead agencies implementing the government’s drug war alongside the Philippine National Police (PNP), reported on the government’s official drug war tracker (#RealNumbersPH) 180 suspects killed and 34,507 arrested during drug operations conducted from January to August.

The reported number of extrajudicial killings varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an independent government agency responsible for investigating possible human rights violations, investigated 100 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings as of August. The cases involved 130 victims and allegedly were perpetrated by 39 PNP and eight Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel, five insurgents, three local government officials, and 45 unidentified persons. The commission also investigated 49 specifically drug-related extrajudicial killings with 53 victims, and suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involvement in 45 of these new complaints and unidentified persons in four cases.

In July media reported on a study on extrajudicial killings by the Violence, Democracy, and Human Rights in the Philippines project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. The study assessed state violence in the country, noting that drug-related killings “remained persistent across the years,” with 2016, 2018, and 2021 recognized as the “bloodiest years,” averaging two to three persons killed a day. The study also highlighted that drug war hotspots remained consistent: Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, and Nueva Ecija Provinces. During the year there were notably intensified operations in West Mindanao, particularly in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato Provinces. From January to June, the NGO Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center documented 18 deaths of minors in antidrug operations.

Media reported continued attacks on human rights defenders. In July, hours before President Duterte’s State of the Nation address, two activists, Marlon Napire and Jaymar Palero, who were spray painting Duterte Ibagsak (Oust Duterte) on a bridge in Albay, Bicol Province, were shot and killed by police. Police asserted that Palero, a member of a farmer’s organization in Albay, and Napire, a member of human rights organization Karapatan’s Bicol chapter, were armed, which led police to shoot them. Karapatan condemned the killing, asserting that the two activists were unarmed and carrying only cans of paint. Witnesses claimed not hearing any gunshots when the police officers left the area with Palero and Napire in custody. Palero’s mother questioned police claims of a shootout and, having recovered the body hours later, insisted her son’s battered face, removed nails, and gunshot wounds showed signs of torture.

Local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described widespread impunity for killings. There were no prosecutions or convictions for extrajudicial killings in the year to October and three since the start of the drug war in 2016. In June 2020 the Department of Justice formed a committee to investigate drug-related deaths from police operations. As of October, the committee investigated and established administrative liability in 52 of the 61 cases the PNP opened for the committee’s review. The departmental investigation, while being conducted just for show according to many in civil society, released information pushing back against the PNP self-defense narrative, as the early investigation results uncovered incomplete police records and that many victims tested negative for gunpowder residue. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service investigated killings of 463 suspects from 400 antidrug operations from January to July.

Civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings. In April, seven police officers from the Valencia City, Bukidnon Province police drug enforcement unit were relieved from duty for allegedly planting evidence on a suspect killed in a buy-bust operation; all were under investigation as of October. The PNP Northern Mindanao Regional Internal Affairs Service also recommended the relief of the Valencia City police chief over the incident. On March 10, a video circulated online showing a man, said to be a police officer, putting a revolver beside a corpse. The Regional Internal Affairs Service stated the person who uploaded the video reported the incident happened on February 20 in Barangay Batangan in Valencia City.

President Duterte continued to maintain lists (“narco-lists”) of persons he claimed were suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military, and judicial officials. In June a former Maguindanao town mayor, who was on a government narco-list, was killed after allegedly grabbing his police escort’s service firearm while enroute to the Philippine National Police headquarters after his arrest in Batangas City.

The armed forces’ Center for Law of Armed Conflict, formerly the Human Rights Office but with the same functions, reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating the armed forces from January to July. The CHR, however, reported eight persons were victims of abduction and forced disappearance from January to August. Armed forces members perpetrated two of these cases; communist insurgents, another two; national police members, one; alleged members of the National Bureau of Investigation, one; and those responsible for the remaining cases were unidentified.

In September, Karapatan confirmed the body of farmers’ group organizer Elena Tijamo was found in Manila. In June 2020 unidentified individuals in civilian clothing removed Tijamo from her home on Bantayan Island. Tijamo was an executive with an agricultural organization that the military in 2019 had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army (NPA). Tijamo’s family said they were still able to communicate with her after her abduction and that she said her abductors would release her after the pandemic lockdowns ended.

Kidnappings were common and predominantly for criminal purposes (i.e., ransom); in the past they were carried out for both pro- and antigovernment political motives as well. Terrorist groups were implicated in many Mindanao kidnappings. In July the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group reported that seven men, later identified as five policemen and two civilians, kidnapped and burned to death Muslim businesswoman Nadia Casar. Her body was found 11 days after the kidnapping. The involved policemen were dismissed and as of October were in police custody along with one of the civilian suspects. The other civilian remained at large.

The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know about the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient.

The law prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the CHR, however, members of the security forces and police were accused of routinely abusing and sometimes torturing suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of August, the CHR had investigated 21 cases of alleged torture involving 25 victims; it suspected police involvement in 17 of the cases. The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines monitored one torture case as of October, which happened in 2012 but was reported to the task force in early 2021.

In July the CHR investigated the death and alleged torture of Carlo Layaoag, a person with a mental disability who was accused of stealing cable wires in Barangay 3, Coron, Palawan Province. In a video shared by police, two men, one reportedly a town councilor, were seen publicly harassing Layaoag. Another video showed a man trying to use a handsaw to cut Layaoag, who was brought to the police station afterwards. Police noticed Layaoag’s condition and took him to the hospital where he died the next day. Torture charges were filed against the town councilor and the others involved after the results of the report were released.

NGOs and media reported local governments and law enforcement authorities used physical and psychological abuse, including shaming, as punishment for community quarantine curfew violators. Under the torture statutes, the public parading or shaming of a person is illegal when used to undermine a person’s dignity and morale. In April village officials in General Trias, Cavite Province, detained 28-year-old Darren Penaredondo for curfew violations. According to media reports, Penaredondo and others were taken to the local municipal plaza by police, made to do 100 push-ups, and then forced to repeat the exercise because they were not in sync, ultimately completing 300 repetitions. Penaredondo then reportedly struggled to walk home, where he lost consciousness and died hours later.

Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. On April 5, authorities accused 11 Cebu City police officers of robbery, extortion, and the rape of two women detained separately at the Cebu City police station for alleged possession of firearms and illegal drugs. One woman claimed that the officers searched her house without a warrant, took her belongings and, after not finding any firearms, arrested her, and brought her into a secret room, instead of a detention cell. She was later forced by one of the police officers, Staff Sergeant Celso Colita, to withdraw money. Colita took the cash from her and allegedly brought her to a motel where she was raped. The second woman claimed she was physically tortured by officers who attempted to submerge her head in a pail of water to force her to confess where she kept her “drug money.” The PNP Central Visayas Unit and the CHR began investigating the complaints, and the police station chief was relieved from duty. On April 19, however, the woman allegedly raped by Sergeant Colita was shot and killed. The CHR Central Visayas office revealed she had been receiving threats from Colita. Police stated Colita took his own life while being questioned about the complainant’s death.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the PNP. Human rights groups continued to express concern about abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported that, from January to October, no member of the military was under investigation for alleged extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, or other rights abuses.

In April the Office of the Ombudsman cleared officers from the Manila Police District’s Raxabago Station 1 of involvement in a 2017 incident in which 12 individuals were found detained in a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf, citing “not enough proof of bad faith.” The CHR insisted, however, that the Manila police clearly violated human rights standards, as well as the PNP mandate to “serve and protect,” and characterized the decision as a setback in the efforts to stop police abuse and improve accountability.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the PNP and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations.

The national police’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service remained largely ineffective. The PNP, however, reported that its internal cleansing program led to 166 persons facing disciplinary sanctions between March and August; 75 of the 166 were dismissed from service, 48 penalized with one rank demotion, and 43 suspended.

In October the Quezon City Regional Trial Court acquitted 19 police officers, led by Police Superintendent Marvin Marcos, allegedly involved in the 2016 killing of former Albuera, Leyte, mayor Roland Espinosa while the mayor was in police custody. Media and other observers widely criticized the decision as unjust and corrupt. The 19 officers were charged with killing Espinosa in his cell after President Duterte tagged him as a drug criminal along with many other government, police, and judicial officials. Marcos, the former chief of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Region 8, was promoted to chief of the 12th Region group 15 months after the Espinosa killing.

To try to ensure dismissed personnel would not be rehired, in August, PNP chief Eleazar ordered the Directorate for Personnel and Records Management to create a database of officers removed from service and that all appeals filed by dismissed personnel be immediately resolved. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the national police through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the police Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing. Several NGOs suggested that national police training courses should have a follow-up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.

The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict, internal human rights training was conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercises annually. From January to August, various military service units conducted human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the CHR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other NGOs.

The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the CHR and other agencies through background investigations. The congressional commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Witnesses to abuses were often unable to obtain protection. The CHR operated a small witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the drug war. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward or to cooperate in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, as of September the government continued to investigate two cases of child rape involving Philippine peacekeepers in Liberia in 2017 and Haiti in 2020.

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court; however, the government and its agents frequently disregarded these requirements. As of August the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, did not receive any complaints of arbitrary detention committed by law enforcement agencies or the armed forces.

The law provides for an independent judiciary; although the government generally respected judicial independence, pressure, threats, and intimidation directed at the judiciary from various sources were reported by NGOs. In July the Integrated Bar of the Philippines condemned attacks on lawyers in the Duterte administration. Six lawyers were killed in the year to July; there have been few indictments for these killings.

Media reported a March request by the Calbayog City, Samar Province, police that the Calbayog Regional Trial Court provide it with a list of lawyers representing persons affiliated with the communist party. The request raised concerns among human rights groups such as the National Union of People’s Lawyers that, if granted, it would facilitate attacks on human rights lawyers.

Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays also hindered the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. As of June 2020, approximately one-third of authorized bench positions (563 positions) were unfilled. Sharia court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because applicants must be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. The 56 authorized district and circuit sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Training for sharia court prosecutors was brief and considered inadequate.

The government generally respected citizens’ privacy, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs complained of routine surveillance and harassment. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.

For decades the country has contended with armed Muslim separatist movements represented by groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front; a communist insurgency supported by a nationwide NPA presence; and violence by smaller transnational terrorist organizations, such as ISIS-East Asia, the Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (hereafter Bangsamoro Front), and other terrorist groups and criminal syndicates. Additionally, interclan rido (feuds) violence continued in Mindanao, causing civilian deaths and displacement. Government agencies, often with support from UN agencies and other international donors, assisted those displaced by internal conflict (see section 2.e.). The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict reported that 166 international humanitarian law violations by communist terrorist groups were endorsed to the AO35 committee for further investigation from January to June.

Killings: Armed clashes between government and insurgent, separatist, and terrorist forces frequently led to deaths on both sides. For example on August 20, security forces clashed with members of the NPA. Two rebels and one soldier died. One of the rebels killed was Kerima Tariman, a poet, activist, and former managing editor of the official student publication of the University of the Philippines. In another case on August 26, NPA rebels killed two unarmed Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary members in San Isidro, Northern Samar. The two were on their way to a military Community Support Program activity conducting development social work for villagers.

NGOs sometimes linked the killing of activists to counterinsurgency operations by government security forces, particularly the military (see section 6, Indigenous Peoples). The NGO Front Line Defenders documented 25 killings of human rights defenders in 2020, of whom 21 were environmental, land, and indigenous peoples’ rights activists.

The NPA, ISIS-East Asia, Abu Sayaf Group, Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa, Bangsamoro Front, and other violent extremist groups used roadside bombs, ambushes, suicide bombings, and other means to kill political figures and other civilians, including persons suspected of being military and police informers. On September 18, alleged Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters terrorists wounded eight persons when an improvised bomb exploded in a town plaza in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. Datu Piang mayor Victor Samama told the press he was convinced the bombing was perpetrated by the same Bangsamoro Front members who stormed the town in December 2020 and burned a police car while firing at the police station.

Abductions: Armed criminal and terrorist groups kidnapped civilians for ransom. The NPA and some separatist groups were also responsible for kidnappings. Authorities reportedly facilitated ransom payments on behalf of victims’ families and employers through unofficial channels. The security forces at times attempted to rescue victims. From January to August, the AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict recorded three cases of hostages by terrorist organizations involving four civilians, with two of the cases filed at the courts. Three Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped by the Abu Sayaf Group on the border with Malaysia and taken to Sulu Province. The PNP rescued the victims and arrested one of the captors when their boat capsized as they were fleeing a government rescue operation.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Leftist and human rights activists reported abuse of detained insurgents, separatists, and terrorists by police and prison officials. In March the Communist Party of the Philippines accused state forces of torturing and killing former NPA leader Antonio Cabanatan and his wife Florenda Yap, who were abducted in Oton town, Iloilo Province, in December 2020, the 52nd anniversary of the NPA’s founding. Cabanatan, along with Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, were the two remaining names on a Department of Justice list of 600 individuals it intended to designate as terrorists, but which was eventually trimmed down to the two. Activists Randy Malayao, Randy Echanis, and Zara Alvarez, all on the original list of 600, were killed in 2019-20.

Multiple sources reported the NPA sought to intimidate government officials and attacked or threatened businesses, power stations, farms, and private communication facilities to enforce collection of extortion payments, or so-called revolutionary taxes.

Child Soldiers: The use of child soldiers, particularly by terrorist and antigovernment organizations, remained a problem, especially in some parts of Mindanao affected by low-level violence. In the year to July, the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center rescued seven child soldiers from armed antigovernment groups. The AFP’s Center for Law of Armed Conflict recorded 10 children used as soldiers by communist terrorist groups from January to June. There was no evidence of use or recruitment of child soldiers by government units. During the year the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict verified the recruitment and use of 12 children by armed groups, including Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Front, and the NPA. UNICEF monitored the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts and the release of child soldiers. Government reporting mechanisms on child soldiers provided inconsistent data across agencies and regions, especially in conflict-affected areas, which made it difficult to evaluate the problem’s scale. The NPA continued to claim it did not recruit children as combatants but admitted that it recruited, trained, and used them for noncombat purposes, such as cooking.

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

South Africa

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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. In July more than 300 persons died during riots in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Most of the victims died due to a stampede, but there were allegations of police brutality and intelligence failures. Authorities arrested no officials. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate investigates allegations of police brutality.

Police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). According to Human Rights Watch, on March 10, security forces fired rubber bullets at close range into a crowd of reportedly peaceful student protesters in Johannesburg, killing Mthokozisi Ntumba, who was apparently a bystander. Authorities announced they had opened an investigation. Authorities arrested four security force members, and as of December they were out on bail. The suspects were expected back in court for pretrial hearings at a date yet to be confirmed.

Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of subsequent medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.). According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Report 2020/2021, deaths in police custody (217 cases) decreased by 8 percent from 2019/2020. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) 2020-21 annual report stated, “A particularly disturbing feature was a sharp rise in cases where the use of force caused the deaths of inmates.”

NGOs criticized the use of excessive force by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to enforce lockdown measures that began in March 2020. Following 2020 rioting and clashes with police, three officers were arrested and charged with murder. All three officers were released on bail, and their trials began in October. The trial continued as of year’s end.

Courts convicted few perpetrators of political violence. In September, three women were shot and killed while participating in a community meeting to nominate a ward councilor candidate for a township of Durban. Media and NGOs claimed most killings resulted from local-level intraparty African National Congress (ANC) disputes, often in the context of competition for resources or as revenge against whistleblowers who uncovered corruption. In 2018 the Moerane Commission, which then KwaZulu-Natal Province premier Willies Mchunu established to investigate political killings, published a report that identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of political killings. There were numerous reported political killings at a local level such as the following example: in May, Mzwandile Shandu, an ANC ward councilor in Mkhambathini Mid Illovo in KwaZulu-Natal survived a suspected attempted killing.

In August, Babita Deokaran was killed by gunfire. A whistleblower, she worked as chief director of financial accounting and also acted as the chief financial officer in the Gauteng Department of Health, where she discovered and exposed personal protective equipment tender corruption in the Gauteng premier’s office. At year’s end six suspects were in custody pending their next bail hearing. The case launched a debate concerning inadequate protections for whistleblowers. In November a whistleblower who testified in the State Capture Commission (aka Zondo Commission) issued a highly publicized statement on his reasons for leaving the country to seek safety from threats of retribution.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports of police and SANDF use of torture and physical abuse during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, some of which resulted in death. The NGO Sonke Gender Justice reported in 2020 that almost one-third of sex workers interviewed stated police officers had raped or sexually assaulted them. The 2020/21 IPID report cited 80 reported inmate rapes by police officers, 256 reports of torture, as well as reports of assault.

In April police reportedly assaulted and arrested several individuals for contravening COVID-19 lockdown regulations in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.  According to the IPID, all the arrested persons were “detained with injuries.”  Later, during a cell visit, police found that one of the detainees had died.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. In June the national police commissioner admitted that SAPS needed to improve its “discipline management” for police officers accused of violence. The lack of police accountability for thousands of annually registered police-brutality complaints was documented by the police watchdog organization IPID. The factors contributing to widespread police brutality were a lack of accountability and training.

As of October 30, the United Nations reported one allegation of attempted sexual exploitation of an adult against the country’s personnel deployed to peacekeeping operations. During the year there were two allegations (for incidents occurring during the year and in 2013) against the country’s peacekeepers, down from three total allegations in 2020. According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, since 2015 there have been 39 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against 45 peacekeepers: six of the victims were children, 33 were adults. Of the 39 allegations, the government took accountability measures for 22 substantiated allegations. According to the United Nations, the country’s authorities continued to investigate the other seven open cases. In June the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations issued a statement concerning its efforts to facilitate paternity and maintenance support claims of victims of peacekeepers’ sexual abuse and exploitation.

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. The government generally observed these requirements; however, there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were numerous reports of lost trial documents, often when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem.

Government agencies sometimes ignored orders from provincial high courts and the Constitutional Court.

The constitution and law prohibit such actions. The NGO Freedom House reported that government agencies employed spyware, social media analytics, and surveilled journalists, usually to identify their confidential sources. Most of these activities required court orders, but it was reportedly easy for agencies to obtain court orders. On February 4, the Constitutional Court ruled the law does not allow authorities to engage in bulk interception of communications in a case brought by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Civil society organizations raised concerns government management of the COVID-19 pandemic employed telephonic contact tracing that violated privacy rights. In April 2020 the government issued amended disaster management regulations. While the regulations recognized the right to privacy, the government urged citizens to make concessions until pandemic emergency measures were no longer necessary.

Syria

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), more than 227,400 civilians were killed in the conflict from 2011 to March. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its first estimated death toll since 2014; they documented more than 350,000 deaths since the beginning of the conflict but noted this was likely an “under-count of the actual number of killings.” Other groups estimated this number exceeded 550,000. This discrepancy was due in part to the vast number of disappeared, many of whom remained missing.

During the year the SNHR reported 1,116 civilians were killed, including at least 266 children and 119 women through November. According to the SNHR, the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies killed 295 civilians, including 91 children and 35 women. Most deaths occurred in the second half of the year during military operations led by the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies in Daraa Governate and Idlib.

The regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and to cause the death of large numbers of civilians throughout regime-controlled territories. For example, human rights groups and other international organizations reported that in June the Fourth Division of the Syrian Arab Army and other regime forces surrounded and attacked the city of Daraa, breaking the Russian-brokered cease-fire and conducting heavy and indiscriminate shelling. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria (COI) and numerous human rights groups reported the regime continued to torture and kill persons in detention facilities. According to the SNHR, more than 14,580 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and November, including 181 children and 93 women; the SNHR attributed approximately 99 percent of all cases to regime forces during the year (see section 1.c.). The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted that the United Nations verified 4,724 grave violations against children during the year, affecting at least 4,470 children, including the killing and maiming of more than 2,700 children.

Despite a cease-fire agreement in March 2020, the regime maintained its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling in Idlib. The SNHR documented the killing of 216 civilians in the Idlib region from the beginning of the year until November. According to the SNHR, the regime was responsible for the deaths of 78 of these civilians, including 25 children and 15 women. In February the COI determined there were reasonable grounds to believe Russian forces were guilty of the war crime of “launching indiscriminate attacks” and that there were reasonable grounds to believe “progovernment forces, on multiple occasions, have committed crimes against humanity in the conduct of their use of air strikes and artillery shelling of civilian areas.” It also noted that progovernment forces’ attacks amounted to the war crime of intentionally targeting medical personnel. In attacking hospitals, medical units, and health-care personnel, regime and progovernment forces violated binding international humanitarian law to care for the sick and wounded.

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

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances by or on behalf of regime authorities, and the vast majority of those disappeared since the start of the conflict remained missing. Human rights groups’ estimates of the number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a common practice. The SNHR documented at least 2,210 cases of arrests of which 1,750 were categorized as cases of enforced disappearances. The SNHR also reported that at least 150,000 Syrians remained arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared as of November, with the regime responsible for at least 88 percent of those detentions. The regime targeted medical personnel and critics, including journalists and protesters, as well as their families and associates. Most disappearances reported by domestic and international human rights documentation groups appeared to be politically motivated, and a number of prominent political prisoners detained in previous years remained missing (see section 1.e.).

In its March report, the COI determined that “widespread enforced disappearance was deliberately perpetrated by government security forces throughout the decade on a massive scale, to spread fear, stifle dissent and as punishment.” The Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison alleged that regime and nonstate actors used enforced disappearance and arrests as a tactic to accumulate wealth and gain influence. Between May and July, the regime released 81 individuals under the latest amnesty decree issued in May. The regime had issued 18 amnesty decrees since 2011, although the amnesty decree issued in May did not include political detainees. The decree excluded the vast majority of detainees who were never formally convicted of a crime in any court of law and were classified by human rights groups as unacknowledged detainees or forcibly disappeared.

During its February session the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) transmitted 33 newly reported cases of enforced disappearance to the regime. The UNWGEID received no response from the regime on these or other outstanding cases. The UNWGEID also received reports of disappearances, including women and children, perpetrated by various armed groups, including those affiliated with the Turkish armed forces. The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted the abduction of 70 children from 2018 to 2020. The SNHR reported at least 5,000 children were still detained or forcibly disappeared as of November, with at least 50 of those detentions having taken place since the beginning of the year.

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

For example, the SNHR reported in March the regime notified the family of Muhammad Qatlish, a military defector detained and forcibly disappeared by regime forces in 2018 after signing a reconciliation agreement, that he had died in regime custody. As was frequently the case, the regime did not provide Qatlish’s body to the family or officially inform the family of the timing or manner of his death, although the SNHR reported it was likely due to torture.

The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared approaching authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals. In January the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison reported that families had paid officials approximately $2.7 million for “information, promise to visit, or promise to release” prisoners since 2011.

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

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

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

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

The COI reported in March that the regime used 20 different methods of torture, including administering electric shocks and the extraction of nails and teeth. The SNHR documented the deaths of at least 91 individuals from torture between January and November, including two children.

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

In September Amnesty International reported that regime prison and intelligence officials subjected women, children, and men to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape. One interviewee, Alaa, said regime officials arrested her and her 25-year-old daughter at a border crossing, accusing them of “speaking against [President] Assad abroad,” and sexually assaulted her daughter while she was in the room.

In June the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), a consulting firm focused on political risk and development, reported that regime detention centers were routinely identified as sites of torture and sexual and gender-based violence for suspected members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) assessed that the regime perpetrated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the detention and torture of medical workers. In March PHR published the account of Houssam al-Nahhas, a physician who was imprisoned and tortured at the Military Intelligence Directorate in Aleppo for providing health care to injured protesters. According to al-Nahhas, he was released after signing a pledge to “not deliver health services to the government’s perceived adversaries.”

There continued to be a significant number of reports of abuse of children by the regime. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relationships, real or assumed, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. According to witnesses, authorities continued to detain children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities. The April report issued by the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Syria noted 36 cases of sexual violence against children attributed to ISIS, regime forces, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and others between 2016 and the first half of 2018. The COI reported that the regime detained boys as young as age 12 and subjected them to severe beatings, torture, and denial of food, water, sanitation, and medical care.

In late February the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, convicted and sentenced Eyad al-Gharib, a Syrian security officer, to four and one-half years in prison for “aiding and abetting a crime against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty.” The proceedings marked the first trial for regime officials who conducted state-sponsored torture in Syria. Al-Gharib had been charged with aiding and abetting in crimes against humanity and complicity in approximately 30 cases of torture. A second defendant, Anwar Raslan, a former colonel in the Syrian intelligence services, remained on trial in Germany at year’s end. Raslan was charged with crimes against humanity, rape, aggravated sexual assault, and 58 murders at Branch 251, where he allegedly oversaw the torture of at least 4,000 individuals between April 2011 and September 2012.

In July German federal prosecutors announced charges against Alla Mousa, a Syrian doctor accused of 18 counts of torture in military hospitals in Homs and Damascus. He was arrested in Germany in 2020 and charged with murder and attempted, severe, and dangerous bodily harm at military hospitals No. 608 and No. 601, where he allegedly tortured protesters transported to the hospitals between 2011 and 2012. The indictment outlined his torture of detainees injured in anti-Assad demonstrations and noted the deaths of at least two victims.

Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security and intelligence forces and elsewhere in the regime. The UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria and human rights groups reported that perpetrators often acted with a sense of impunity, and the vast majority of abuses committed since 2011 went uninvestigated. Numerous human rights organizations concluded that regime forces continued to inflict systematic, officially sanctioned torture on civilians in detention with impunity. There were no known prosecutions or convictions in the country of security force personnel for abuses and no reported regime actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but a 2011 decree allows the regime to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” or related offenses. Arbitrary arrests continued during the year, according to the COI, local news sources, and various human rights organizations, as well as prolonged or indefinite detentions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the regime did not observe this requirement.

By law persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds that authorities detained persons unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both. Few detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation for unlawful detention. In its March report, the COI found that of the more than 500 former detainees interviewed, “almost none had been afforded the opportunity to present their case before the judiciary within a reasonable time.”

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence and prosecutors and defense attorneys to intimidation and abuse. Outcomes of cases where defendants were affiliated with the opposition appeared predetermined, and defendants could sometimes bribe judicial officials and prosecutors. NGOs reported that the regime at times shared with progovernment media outlets lists of in absentia sentences targeting armed opposition groups before the sentences were issued by the court. The SNHR reported that most of the individuals detained by regime authorities between January and November were denied access to fair public trial.

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

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

Numerous reports confirmed the regime punished large numbers of family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives, such as by arbitrarily placing them on a list of alleged terrorists and freezing their assets. In March the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a report noting that family members of perceived regime opponents and political detainees “are at risk of extortion and intimidation, and, in some cases, the unlawful freeze of assets and confiscation of property as a form of collective punishment.” UNHCR also noted that family members remained at risk of “threats, harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance for the purpose of retaliation or to force real or perceived government critics to surrender.”

The regime, proregime militias such as the National Defense Forces, opposition groups, the SDF, violent extremist groups such as HTS and ISIS, foreign terrorist groups such as Hizballah, and the governments of Russia, Turkey, and Iran were all involved in armed conflict throughout the country.

The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the regime’s systemic disregard for the safety and well-being of its people. These abuses manifested themselves in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government freely and peacefully, law enforcement authorities refusing to protect the majority of individuals from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Numerous reports, such as Amnesty International’s September report, indicated that Syrian refugees who returned to Syria were subjected to torture, sexual abuse, detention, and disappearance by regime intelligence officers. Amnesty International documented violations against 79 refugees who returned to Syria from 2017 through year’s end. Attacks impacting and destroying schools, hospitals, places of worship, water and electrical stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, densely populated residential areas, and houses were common throughout the country.

As of September there were more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in neighboring countries and 6.7 million IDPs. In April the World Food Program found that 12.4 million Syrians, nearly 60 percent of the population, were food insecure.

Killings: The regime reportedly committed the majority of killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.). The SNHR attributed 91 percent of civilian deaths to regime and proregime forces.

Media sources and human rights groups varied in their estimates of how many persons had been killed since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. In September the UN high commissioner for human rights announced that from March 2011 to March, 350,209 identifiable individuals had been killed in the conflict. The commissioner noted that the figure indicated “a minimum verifiable number,” and that it “is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.” Other groups attributed more than 550,000 killings to the conflict. This discrepancy was largely due to the high number of missing and disappeared Syrians, whose fates remained unknown. Regime and proregime forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, IDP settlements, and Palestinian refugee camps throughout the year. These forces reportedly used as military tactics the deliberate killing of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted siege-like conditions that occasionally forced local surrenders.

These attacks included indiscriminate bombardment with barrel bombs. According to the SNHR, the regime has dropped approximately 81,900 barrel bombs between July 2012 and March. Aerial and ground offensives throughout the demilitarized zone destroyed or ruined civilian infrastructure, including “deconflicted” hospitals, schools, marketplaces, and farmlands. In its February report, the COI determined it had “reasonable grounds” to believe that proregime forces had committed crimes against humanity as a result of their air strikes and artillery shelling of civilian areas. The COI further stated that the Syrian Air Force deployed barrel bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on densely populated civilian areas in a manner that was “inherently indiscriminate and amounted to war crimes.” It added that proregime forces likely committed “the war crime of spreading terror among the civilian population.”

In its September report, the COI detailed a February 2020 cluster munitions attack launched by regime and Russian forces impacting three schools in Idlib. The SNHR reported the regime and Russian forces carried out 495 cluster munition attacks since 2011, comprising the majority of cluster munition attacks during that time period. The SNHR also reported that attacks launched by these forces resulted in the deaths of at least 1,030 civilians, including 386 children and 217 women, as well as injuries to approximately 4,360 civilians. The SNHR documented at least 1,600 attacks on schools between March 2011 and November, with the regime responsible for 75 percent of the attacks.

The COI’s February report noted that progovernment forces established a pattern of intentionally targeting medical personnel. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), hundreds of health-care workers had been killed during the conflict. From 2011 through November the SNHR documented the death of 861 medical personnel, including five deaths from the beginning of the year through November. In March PHR documented the killing of 930 medical personnel since the onset of the conflict, reporting the regime and Russian forces were responsible for more than 90 percent of attacks. In Idlib medical professionals continued to be injured and killed throughout the year.

In June regime forces surrounded and attacked the city of Daraa, breaking the Russian-brokered cease-fire and leading to a surge in heavy shelling. In its September report, the COI found that targeted killings increased in Daraa and noted that it was investigating 18 incidents that occurred between July 2020 and February, although it had received reports of hundreds more. Victims included medical workers, local political leaders, judges, and former members of armed groups, some of whom had reconciled with the regime. The COI reported that in April armed men killed Ahmed al-Hasheesh, a former paramedic who had reportedly resisted reconciliation.

Although no use of prohibited chemical weapons was reported during the year, in April the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe the regime carried out a chemical weapons attack in Saraqib in 2018. The IIT also concluded in its April 2020 report that the regime was responsible for three chemical weapons attacks on Ltamenah in 2017. These attacks preceded the more deadly sarin attack in nearby Khan Shaykhun less than two weeks later and were alleged to be part of the same concerted campaign of terror perpetrated by the Assad regime. In April the OPCW Conference of the State Parties adopted a decision condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. The organization suspended certain rights and privileges of the regime under the Chemical Weapons Convention, including voting rights, until the OPCW director general reported that the government had completed the measures requested in the executive council’s July 2020 decision.

Additionally, PHR, the SNHR, and other NGOs reported that the regime and Russia targeted humanitarian workers such as the Syria Civil Defense (known as the White Helmets) as they attempted to save victims in affected communities. In June the SNHR reported that regime and Russian forces were suspected of shelling and destroying a Syria Civil Defense center in Hama, killing one rescue worker and injuring three others. The SNHR recorded at least 470 incidents of attacks on Syria Civil Defense facilities between March 2013, the date the Syria Civil Defense was established, and November; it attributed 320 attacks to the regime and 125 attacks to Russian forces.

In March Reuters reported accounts of Russian aerial strikes hitting a gas facility, cement factory, and several towns in the northwest. According to the COI’s September report, drawn from investigations into incidents occurring between July 2020 and June, Russian forces conducted at least 82 air strikes in support of the regime.

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

Violent extremist groups were also responsible for killings during the year. The SNHR attributed 17 civilian deaths, including five children, to HTS from January to November. In its March report, the COI found that some detainees in HTS detention facilities died of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care. The COI also reported that HTS carried out executions without due process and noted that it had gathered 83 individual accounts, including from former detainees, about the executions.

The COI reported that ISIS also carried out executions of civilians and forced local residents, including children, to witness the killings. According to the COI, unauthorized “courts” handed down the sentences. In August the SNHR documented the killing of eight civilians at al-Hol camp by individuals believed to be affiliated with ISIS cells.

During the year armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings.  In March the COI reported the SNA had conducted extrajudicial and summary executions of captured fighters.  For example, the SNHR reported the SNA Suqour al-Shamal Brigade unlawfully detained Hekmat Khalil al-De’ar on September 16 for alleged dealings with the SDF.  The family received al-De’ar’s body the next day.  The autopsy report by Ras al-Ayn Health Directorate confirmed he had been subjected to torture, an assessment corroborated by photographs and videos received by the SNHR.  Human rights monitors also reported several instances of individuals dying under torture in Firqat al-Hamza and SNA military police detention.  The Syrian Interim Government, to whom the SNA nominally reports, established a commission within its Ministry of Defense to investigate serious allegations of abuses in 2020.  Since 2016 the Syrian Interim Government and the armed groups in the SNA had detained 2,390 soldiers on offenses ranging from vehicle theft to murder, but the commission did not announce any new investigations during the year.  In its September report, the COI said that the SNA leadership stated it was investigating SNA elements involved in violations and that “it was committed to improving the conditions of detainees, respecting human rights in places of detention, and providing fair trial guarantees.”  In September the Syrian Interim Government announced the creation of a human rights office.  According to the Syrian Interim Government, military courts prosecuted at least 169 cases for crimes including petty theft, property confiscation, deprivation of liberty, human trafficking, physical violence, and murder among other offenses.  The individuals belonged to various armed opposition groups, and many were prosecuted in absentia.  The Syrian Interim Government and Turkish government also reported in June and July that SNA forces were receiving human rights training.  Geneva Call – an NGO working to strengthen respect of humanitarian norms by armed nonstate actors – reported providing training on international humanitarian law and international human rights law for 33 SNA factions.  Human rights activists reported the reforms lacked credibility and did not hold perpetrators accountable.

The COI, the SNHR, and other human rights groups reported dozens of civilian deaths from multiple car bombings, other attacks involving IEDs, and fighting between armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey in areas these groups support in the north. The COI also noted the rise in such attacks during the year.

The Center for American Progress reported the YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, were likely responsible for many of the vehicle-borne IED and other attacks on the SNA and Turkish-affiliated individuals, including civilians. In September the news publication MENA Affairs reported a car bomb attack carried out by YPG in the Afrin region killed three civilians and injured six civilians, including three children. Some NGOs and media accused the YPG forces of carrying out shelling on June 12 that destroyed the UN-supported al-Shifaa Hospital in Afrin and killed 19 civilians, including health workers and children, and wounded 27 others; however, attribution for this attack was not confirmed. The attack destroyed the hospital’s surgical department and delivery room and partially damaged the outpatient room, prompting hospital staff to evacuate patients to nearby facilities.

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

Armed groups not affiliated with the regime also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected regime affiliates, journalists, and activists. In March the COI reported that HTS detained civilians “in a systematic effort to stifle political dissent.” According to the COI and human rights organizations, HTS detained political opponents, journalists, activists, and civilians perceived as critical of HTS. The SNHR reported that HTS forces had detained or forcibly disappeared approximately 2,300 individuals as of November, among them 42 children. For example the SNHR reported that in June HTS detained five civilians in Idlib, alleging they had been involved in reconciling and communicating with the regime.

Although ISIS no longer controlled significant territory, the fate of 8,648 individuals forcibly disappeared by ISIS since 2014 remained unknown, according to the SNHR. In its March report, the COI noted that 81 former detainees reported experiencing enforced disappearance or incommunicado detention by ISIS, as corroborated by 218 interviewees who had credibly witnessed such abuses. Among those abducted in northern Iraq were an estimated 6,000 women and children, mainly Yezidis, who ISIS reportedly transferred to Syria and sold into sex trafficking, forced into nominal marriage to ISIS fighters, or gave as “gifts” to ISIS commanders. The Yezidi organization Yazda reported more than 3,000 Yezidi women and children had since escaped, been liberated in SDF military operations, or been released from captivity, but more than 2,700 remained unaccounted for.

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

The COI reported the SDF continued to detain civilians, including women and children, and hold them in detention without charge. The SNHR reported that from the start of the crisis in 2011 until November, the SDF forcibly detained or disappeared more than 3,800 Syrians, including 667 children and 522 women. The SNHR and STJ reported instances of SDF fighters detaining civilians, including journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons affiliated with the SNA. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown. For example the SNHR reported the SDF detained Muhammad Suleiman in a July raid on his home in Aleppo. The SDF did not provide information on Suleiman’s status after he was transferred from a hospital in Aleppo. In October SANES set up telephone lines for persons in Hasakah and Raqqa to inquire if their relatives had been detained.

The SDF continued to allow the ICRC access to detention facilities to monitor and report on conditions. The SDF continued to investigate charges against their forces. According to the COI, in March the SDF launched an internal investigation into alleged abuses by their forces against civilians detained in a March raid of a hospital in Deir Ezzour, following an attack reportedly carried out by ISIS. The SDF also brought the members before a military tribunal. There was no update available on the results of the military tribunal at year’s end.

The COI, Amnesty International, and SNHR reported multiple first-hand accounts of kidnapping and arbitrary detention by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey. The SNHR attributed to these groups 86 unlawful detentions and abductions in August alone, including one child and 10 women. The HRW and the COI reported that SNA forces detained and unlawfully transferred Syrian nationals to Turkey. In August the Human Rights Organization of Afrin and the Missing Afrin Women Project reported that hundreds of women had been abducted in areas under Turkish control since 2018 and that nearly 300 women remained missing. For example, the Human Rights Organization of Afrin reported the August 22 kidnapping of Hivin Abedin Gharibo, a young Kurdish woman from the town of Baadina. No additional information was available at year’s end.

According to the COI, abductions and extortions were increasing in regions where hostilities between armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey and government forces had created a security vacuum. Victims of abductions by armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey were often of Kurdish or Yezidi origin or were activists openly critical of these armed groups. For example, in February Afrin Post reported that Sultan Murad, a Syrian opposition group supported by Turkey, kidnapped a Kurdish citizen, Khalil Manla, after he filed a complaint against the militant group. Sultan Murad members reportedly beat and tortured Khalil at their headquarters and later released him on a ransom of 1,000 Turkish liras ($104).

The COI reported on the frequent presence of Turkish officials in SNA detention facilities, including in interrogation sessions where torture was used. The justice system and detention network used by SNA forces reportedly featured “judges” appointed by Turkey and paid in Turkish lira, suggesting the SNA detention operations acted under the effective command of Turkish forces. The COI asserted these and other factors reflected effective Turkish control over certain areas of Syria. The Turkish government denied responsibility for conduct by Syrian opposition or armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey but broadly acknowledged the need for investigations and accountability related to reports of abuse. It claimed the Turkish-supported SNA had mechanisms in place for investigation and discipline.

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

As of November the SNHR estimated parties of the conflict committed at least 11,520 incidents of sexual violence since March 2011. Regime forces and affiliated militias were reported to be responsible for the vast majority of these offenses – more than 8,000 incidents in total – including more than 880 incidents inside detention centers and more than 440 against girls younger than 18. The SNHR also reported almost 3,490 incidents of sexual violence by ISIS and 12 incidents by the SDF. Numerous NGOs reported that persons in areas retaken by regime forces remained reluctant to discuss events occurring in these areas due to fear of reprisals. In its February report, the COI found that regime forces and affiliated militias perpetrated rape and sexual abuse against women and girls, and occasionally men, during ground operations and house raids targeting opposition activists and perceived opposition supporters (see section 1.d.).

There were also reports of armed opposition groups engaging in physical abuse, punishment, and treatment equivalent to torture, primarily targeting suspected regime agents and collaborators, proregime militias, and rival armed groups. Between 2011 and November, the SNHR attributed 50 deaths from torture, including one child and two women, to armed opposition groups; 30 to HTS, including two children; and 32 to ISIS, including one child and 14 women. In its March report, the COI noted numerous reports of mistreatment and torture of detainees in HTS and ISIS detention facilities, including electrical shocks, stress positions, beatings, and suspension by their limbs.

The SDF was also implicated in several instances of torture, with the SNHR reporting the group used torture as a means of extracting confessions during interrogations. The SNHR attributed 73 deaths from torture to the SDF from 2011 to November, 12 of which occurred during the year. In June the SNHR reported that Amin Aisa al-Ali died in SDF custody after being detained and tortured by the SDF. According to the COI’s March report, 10 percent of former SDF detainees interviewed reported experiencing torture. The SDF reported it continued to implement protocols to ensure torture was not used as an interrogation technique and initiated two investigations into specific incidents of torture presented by the COI. There was no update available on the results of the investigation at year’s end.

According to the SNHR’s March report, HTS continued to torture and abuse perceived political opponents, activists, and journalists. In August an HTS “court” sentenced Hassan al-Sheikh and Khaled al-Jajah to death on charges of collaborating with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The families of both individuals denied the accusations, and al-Sheikh’s family reported that HTS extracted a confession from him under torture. Human rights groups continued to report that HTS, which officially denounces secularism, routinely detained and tortured journalists, activists, and other civilians in territory it controlled who were deemed to have violated the group’s stringent interpretation of sharia. HTS reportedly permitted confessions obtained through torture in its sharia “courts,” denied detainees the opportunity to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.

The COI, OHCHR, and human rights groups reported that since 2018, armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey had allegedly participated in the torture and killings of civilians in Afrin and, since 2019, in the areas entered during Turkish Operation Peace Spring. The COI reported in September that it had reasonable grounds to believe that members of armed groups under the umbrella of the SNA committed “torture, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, which constitute war crimes.” The COI in March reported the torture and rape of minors in SNA detention, stating “the Syrian National Army attempted to systematize its detention practices through its vast network of detention facilities in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn.” The SNHR reported SNA fighters detained and tortured Ali al-Sultan al-Faraj in September, filming themselves beating him with a whip and a club while he was stripped naked.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat.

The UN General Assembly’s annual Children and Armed Conflict Report of the Secretary-General, published in May, reported the recruitment and use of 813 children (777 boys and 36 girls) in the conflict between January and December 2020.  According to the report, 805 of the children served in combat roles.  The report attributed 119 verified cases to SDF-affiliated groups, 390 to HTS, 170 to Free Syria Army-affiliated groups, 31 to Ahrar al-Sham, four to ISIS, three to Jaysh al-Islam, three to Nur al-Din al-Zanki, and two to regime forces.

The United Nations continued to receive reports of children being recruited by HTS. According to the Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic Report of the Secretary-General published in April, HTS recruited boys as young as 10 years of age in districts across Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama. In the period covering July 2018 to June 2020, the United Nations observed a “significant increase” in HTS’ recruitment and use of children, noting 61 cases in 2018 and 187 cases in the first half of 2020. The report cited the case of two boys who were 16 and 17 years of age who served as guards at camp in Idlib after six weeks of training.

The STJ reported in August that SNA forces, including the Sultan Murad Division, continued to use more than 55 child soldiers.

The UN continued to receive reports of children being recruited by the SDF and YPG-affiliated groups like the Revolutionary Youth Union (RYU). The STJ reported in June that the RYU recruited seven minors in the first quarter of the year. According to the UN report, the SDF continued to implement an action plan with the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, resulting in the “disengagement of 150 children from SDF ranks” during the year. The SDF continued to implement an order banning the recruitment and use in combat of anyone younger than 18, ordering the military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted, requiring the release of any conscripted children to their families or to educational authorities in the northeast, and ending salary payments. The SDF order also prohibited using children to spy, act as guards, or deliver supplies to combatants. The order makes military commanders responsible for appointing ombudsmen to receive complaints of child recruitment and ordered punitive measures against commanders who failed to comply with the ban on child recruitment. During the year the SDF identified 908 minors seeking to join its ranks and continued to develop and refine an age screening mechanism in coordination with the United Nations. According to the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, the SDF also established an age assessment committee, as well as a child protection committee and office, to provide parents a single SANES and SDF point of contact to inquire about, identify, and demobilize minors from the SDF. According to the SDF, the child protection office addressed 313 complaints between January 1 and August 31. In October the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the SDF child protection office returned 54 minors to their families. In June the STJ called for stricter monitoring of the protection office in receiving complaints and taking punitive measures against those implicated in child recruitment, including the RYU and Young Women’s Union, the parallel all-women structure of the RYU.

Additionally, reports and evidence from human rights groups and international bodies indicate the Turkish government provided operational, material, and financial support to an armed opposition group in Syria that recruited child soldiers.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: In cities where the regime regained control, the COI reported the regime imposed blockades and restricted residents’ movement and access to health care and food. Human rights groups reported the regime and its allies frequently imposed these and other collective measures to punish communities, including by restricting humanitarian access; looting and pillaging; expropriating property; extorting funds; engaging in arbitrary detentions and widespread conscription; detaining, disappearing, or forcibly displacing individuals; engaging in repressive measures aimed at silencing media activists; and destroying evidence of potential war crimes.

In Daraa, Amnesty International alleged in August the regime was resorting to “surrender or starve” tactics, involving “a combination of unlawful siege and indiscriminate bombardment of areas packed with civilians,” to punish them for their association with the opposition and compel surrender. In its September report, the COI found that proregime forces’ use of siege-like tactics may amount to the war crime of collective punishment. In August UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen called for an end to the “siege-like situation” in Daraa. Reports from NGOs also indicated that hostilities in Idlib continued to take place despite the cease-fire brokered between Turkey and Russia in March 2020.

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

The regime frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilians, particularly areas held by opposition groups. In July the Wilson Center reported that the regime had weaponized humanitarian assistance, withholding aid to punish opposition areas and channeling aid to reward “strategically significant” areas.

In February the COI reported that repeated attacks on schools, growing poverty rates amidst economic crisis, recruitment of boys for military roles, and violent treatment of children in detention centers continued to hamper the ability of children to receive an education and had a disproportionate impact on girls as well as on all displaced children.

NGOs and media outlets documented repeated and continuing attacks on health facilities and other infrastructure in northwest Syria perpetrated by regime and Russian forces. According to UNOCHA, more than half of all health facilities in the country were closed or partially functioning. From 2011 through March, the SNHR documented at least 868 attacks on medical facilities between March 2011 and November, whereas PHR reported 598 attacks on at least 350 separate health facilities and documented the killing of 930 medical personnel since the onset of the conflict. PHR reported regime and Russian forces perpetrated 90 percent of the attacks. In March the Syrian American Medical Society reported the artillery shelling of the al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in Aleppo, whose coordinates had been shared with the UN-led deconfliction mechanism. According to the COI, at least eight civilian patients, including two boys, were killed and 13 others were wounded, including five medical workers. In Idlib medical professionals continued to be injured and killed throughout the year; on September 7, artillery shelling struck a medical center in southern Idlib. The COI concluded this pattern of attack strongly suggested “the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, hospitals and medical workers by government forces” and that such attacks “deprived countless civilians of access to health care and amounted to the war crimes.”

The COI and human rights organizations detailed the practice in which, after hostilities ceased and local truces were implemented, regime and proregime forces required certain individuals to undergo a reconciliation process as a condition to remain in their homes. The option to reconcile reportedly often was not offered to health-care personnel, local council members, relief workers, activists, dissidents, and family members of fighters. In effect the COI assessed the “reconciliation process” induced displacement in the form of organized evacuations of those deemed insufficiently loyal to the regime and served as a regime strategy for punishing those individuals. Various sources continued to report cases during the year in which the regime targeted persons who agreed to reconciliation agreements (see sections 1.b., 1.d., and 1.e.). The SNHR documented the arrest of at least 3,530 individuals, including 71 children and 36 women, in areas undergoing reconciliation agreements between 2015 and November.

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

NGOs such as the SNHR alleged that, taken together with steps such as the law allowing for the confiscation of unregistered properties, the forcible displacements fit into a wider plan to strip those displaced of their property rights, transfer populations, and enrich the regime and its closest allies (see section 1.e.).

While the government pushed forward to recapture areas around Idlib, armed groups such as HTS reportedly launched counterattacks against government positions. These attacks, although much fewer and smaller in scale than those by the regime and proregime forces, reportedly caused some civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure. The NGO Assessment Capacities Project and STJ reported in March that armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey had engaged in the systematic and repeated looting and seizure of civilian homes and property, particularly those of Kurds, resulting in civilian displacement. According to the Syrian Interim Government, however, in August these armed groups also reportedly began to enable some families to return to their properties in the north. The SJAC confirmed in May that SNA militias continued to profit from their control over real estate and agricultural exports seized from the local population. The group reported that the construction of settlements with foreign investment in these areas hindered the return of the original inhabitants and contributed to the processes of demographic change.

Armed Syrian opposition groups supported by Turkey reportedly continued to interfere with and disrupt water access to parts of the northeast. UNICEF reported in July that damage from hostilities to the Alouk water station, continued to disrupt water supplies, affecting access to water for up to one million individuals al-Hassakeh governorate and surrounding areas. Another factor contributing to the water shortage was lack of electricity to operate the pumps, which was generated by the aging Rumelan gas power plant. UNICEF reported the lack of access to clean water exacerbated threats to public health posed by COVID-19. According to NGOs, Alouk Station was offline for periods of time between October 2019 and August. Turkish authorities alleged the frequent shutdowns resulted from inadequate power being provided to the Derbassiyah plant powering Alouk, which in turn received power from the Rumelan gas station in SDF-controlled areas, a claim disputed by the United Nations and NGOs present in the northeast.

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