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Namibia

Executive Summary

Namibia is a constitutional multiparty democracy. In the presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2019 President Hage Geingob won a second five-year term, and the South West African People’s Organization retained its parliamentary majority, winning 63 of 96 National Assembly seats. International observers characterized the 2019 election as generally free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Namibian Police Force reports to the Ministry of Safety and Security. The Namibian Defense Force reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces allegedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues were limited to acts of official corruption.

The government took steps to prosecute or administratively punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

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

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

There was one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Namibian Police Force (NamPol) conducts internal investigations of police misconduct and presents its findings to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, which determines whether to pursue charges.

On March 17, the government instituted COVID-19 state-of-emergency measures, including travel restrictions, a curfew, restrictions on public gatherings and business activity, and mandatory supervised quarantines for confirmed COVID-19 cases, known contacts, and for travelers returning from abroad. There was one case of police using excessive force that led to a fatality. Media reported that two police officers beat to death street vendor David Tuhafeni at Oyongo village in a dispute that escalated during enforcement of a COVID-19 state-of-emergency measure closing informal markets. The two unidentified officers were charged with murder, arraigned at Ohangwena Magistrate’s Court, and released on bail. A trial date had yet to be set by year’s end.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the law does not define “torture” or separately classify it as a crime. Torture is prosecuted as a crime under legal provisions such as assault or homicide. The Office of the Ombudsman received one report of police mistreatment of detainees. The report alleged that the denial of visitation rights during the COVID-19 state of emergency constituted mistreatment. There were two reports of Namibian Defense Force (NDF) members beating suspects. Additionally, images showing NamPol officers beating detained illegal immigrants were released online by local newspaper The Namibian Sun.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces; however, delays in investigation of allegations of misconduct and in the filing of charges and adjudication of cases meriting prosecution contributed to a perception of impunity. Most cases cited by civil society advocates were pending trial at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in detention centers and police holding cells remained poor. Conditions were often worse in pretrial holding cells than in prisons. Human rights bodies and government officials reported overcrowding in holding cells. Most prisons, however, were not overcrowded.

In pretrial holding cells, sanitation and medical assistance were inadequate. Tuberculosis was prevalent.

Prison and holding-cell conditions for women were generally better than for men. Authorities permitted female prisoners to keep their infants with them until age two and provided food and clothing for the infants.

There were limited programs to prevent HIV transmission in prisons.

The law does not permit holding juvenile offenders with adults. Prison authorities reported they generally confined juvenile offenders separately, but police occasionally held juveniles with adults in rural detention facilities due to a lack of separate facilities for juveniles.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent authority, investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, and the office reported close cooperation with police in resolving complaints and responding promptly to inquiries.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to prisons and prisoners. Representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman visited prisons and pretrial detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Arrest warrants are not required in all cases, including when authorities apprehend a suspect in the course of committing a crime. Authorities must inform detained persons of the reason for their arrest, and police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must arraign arrested persons within 48 hours of their detention. The government did not always meet this requirement, especially in rural areas far from courts. The constitution stipulates the accused are entitled to defense by legal counsel of their choice, and authorities respected this right.

There was a functioning bail system. Officials generally allowed detainees prompt access to family members. The constitution permits detention without trial during a state of emergency but requires publication of the names of detainees in the government’s gazette within 14 days of their apprehension. An advisory board appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (the constitutional body that recommends judges to the president for appointment) must review cases within one month of detention and every three months thereafter. The constitution requires such advisory boards to have no more than five members, at least three of whom must be “judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court or qualified to be such.” The advisory board has the power to order the release of anyone detained without trial during an emergency.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to the Namibian Correctional Service, approximately 3 percent of the inmate population is in pretrial detention, and the average length of time inmates are held before trial is four years. A shortage of qualified magistrates and other court officials, the inability of many defendants to afford bail, the lack of a plea-bargaining system, slow or incomplete police investigations, the frequency of appeals, and procedural postponements resulted in a large backlog in prosecuting criminal cases. Delays between arrest and trial could last for years. There were lengthy delays in criminal appeals as well. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, however, pretrial detention did not exceed the maximum sentence for conviction of an alleged crime. Defendants found guilty of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment are credited with time served in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.

The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts may hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law by members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in civil or criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Nevertheless, long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial.

All defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of choice in a timely manner. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary starting with their first court appearance through all appeals. Indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases; however, this sometimes did not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the state-funded Legal Aid Directorate did not accept the application for representation from a defendant. The Legal Aid Directorate provided free legal assistance to indigent defendants in criminal cases and, depending on resource availability, in civil matters.

Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provided defendants with adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or be forced to confess guilt. Convicted individuals have the right to appeal adverse decisions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for access to a court for lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures and judicial remedies to redress wrongs. Civil and criminal court orders were mostly well enforced.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports journalists working for state-owned media practiced self-censorship in favor of the government or the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO). SWAPO led Namibia’s independence movement and transformed into a political party when Namibia won its independence in 1990. SWAPO candidates have won both the presidency and a parliamentary majority in every election since independence.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

The government did not permit refugees to move freely within the country. Refugees were required to live at the government’s Osire refugee settlement. The government maintained strict control over public access to the settlement but provided regular, unrestricted access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR, and UNHCR’s NGO partners. The government cooperated with UNHCR and the NGO Komeho Namibia to provide food, shelter, water, and sanitation at the settlement. The government issued identification cards and exit permits allowing refugees to leave the settlement to travel to specified locations for defined periods.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential and parliamentary elections take place every five years. In November 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted. SWAPO candidate Hage Geingob was re-elected president with 56 percent of the vote. SWAPO candidates won 63 of the 96 elected seats–there are also eight appointed seats–in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. Opposition parties increased their share from 19 to 33 seats. Voting proceeded in an orderly and effective manner with no reports of politically motivated violence or voter intimidation. International observers characterized the 2019 election as generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Virtually all the country’s ethnic minorities had representatives in parliament. The president is from the minority Damara ethnic group. Historic economic and educational disadvantages, however, limited participation in politics by the San, Himba, and some other ethnic groups.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: There were several abuses similar to the following example. On February 17, former chief executive officer of the public National Fishing Corporation of Namibia Mike Nghipunya was arrested and charged with corruption, fraud, and money laundering for his alleged role in the “Fishrot” scandal that involved bribery in exchange for fishing rights to be granted to the Icelandic fishing company Samherji. Nghipunya remained in prison at year’s end along with alleged coconspirators, including the former ministers of justice and of fisheries and marine resources arrested in 2019. They had yet to be tried by year’s end.

A July 15 al-Jazeera article alleged that a Windhoek city council member, Brunhilde Cornelius, stated that Windhoek city employee Nicanor Ndjoze offered her a bribe to support awarding the Chinese company Huawei a contract to build a 5G telecommunication network in Windhoek. As of November 30, the alleged bribery attempt was under Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation, and the 5G telecommunications contract had not been awarded.

Financial Disclosure: The parliamentary code of conduct requires members to make annual declarations of financial interests. The declaration form includes a confidential portion for information not released to the public. Compliance was inconsistent and not strictly enforced.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views and were tolerant of NGO reports provided to the United Nations highlighting issues not raised by the government or pointing out misleading government statements. The Office of the Ombudsman, local human rights NGOs, and the ACC reported NamPol cooperated and assisted in human rights investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an autonomous ombudsman with whom government agencies cooperated. Observers considered him effective in addressing human rights problems.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. The law defines rape as the commission of any sexual act under coercive circumstances. The courts tried numerous cases of rape during the year. The government generally enforced court sentences of those convicted, which ranged between five and 45 years’ imprisonment. Factors hampering rape prosecutions included limited police capacity and the withdrawal of allegations by victims after filing charges. Survivors often withdrew charges because they received compensation from the accused; succumbed to family pressure, shame, or threats; or became discouraged by the length of time involved in prosecuting a case.

Traditional authorities may adjudicate civil claims for compensation in cases of rape, but criminal trials for rape are held in courts.

Gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, was a widespread problem. The government and media focused national attention on gender-based violence. The president and first lady spoke out publicly against gender-based violence; the Office of the First Lady actively promoted gender-based violence awareness and remedies in every region. In October activists protested against government inaction to prevent gender-based violence. Protesters submitted a petition to the government that demanded establishment of a sexual offender register, a review of sentencing laws for sexual offenses and gender-based violence (including murder), hastening the investigation of all reported sexual offense and gender-based violence cases, institution of armed neighborhood patrols, and an evaluation of school practices that promote victim blaming.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence–including physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harassment, and serious emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse–range from a token monetary fine for simple offenses to sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both for assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The law provides for procedural safeguards such as protection orders to protect gender-based violence survivors. When authorities received reports of domestic violence, gender-based violence protection units intervened. The gender-based violence units were staffed with police officers, social workers, legal advisors, and medical personnel trained to assist victims of sexual assault. Some magistrates’ courts provided special courtrooms with a cubicle constructed of one-way glass and child-friendly waiting rooms to protect vulnerable witnesses from open testimony. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare operated shelters; however, due to staffing and funding shortfalls, the shelters operated only on an as-needed basis with social workers coordinating with volunteers to place victims and provide them with food and other services.

Sexual Harassment: The law explicitly prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. By law employers must formulate a workplace sexual harassment policy, including defined remedies. Employees who leave their jobs due to sexual harassment may be entitled to legal “remedies available to an employee who has been unfairly dismissed.”

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Supply chain challenges limited access to contraceptives through the public sector.

Gender-based-violence investigation units present at most state hospitals provided forensic examinations to survivors of sexual-violence, including postexposure prophylaxis to facilitate prompt access to medication in case of potential exposure to HIV.

According to the World Health Organization, the 2017 maternal mortality rate was 195 per 100,000 live births. A general lack of access to effective health care, including the treatment of eclampsia, resulted in prolonged labor complications and contributed to the high rate of maternal mortality. HIV/AIDS was the leading indirect cause of maternal mortality, linked to more than 4 percent of maternal deaths. According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate was 62 per 1,000 girls.

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

Discrimination: Civil law prohibits gender-based discrimination, including employment discrimination. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Nevertheless, women experienced persistent discrimination in access to credit, salary level, owning and managing businesses, education, and housing. Some elements of customary family law provide for different treatment of women. Civil law grants maternity leave to mothers but not paternity leave to fathers. The law bases marital property solely on the domicile of the husband at the time of the marriage and sets grounds for divorce and divorce procedures differently for men and women. The law protects a widow’s right to remain on the land of her deceased husband, even if she remarries. Traditional practices in certain northern regions, however, permitted family members to confiscate the property of deceased men from their widows and children.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution provides for citizenship by birth within the country to a citizen parent or a foreign parent ordinarily resident in the country, or to those born outside the country to citizen parents; however, many persons born in the country lack birth registration and are therefore unable to prove their citizenship.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem, and authorities prosecuted crimes against children, particularly rape and incest. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare employed social workers throughout the country to address cases of child abuse. It conducted public awareness campaigns aimed at preventing child abuse and publicizing services available to victims.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits civil marriage for both boys and girls younger than age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child pornography, child prostitution, and the actions of both the client and pimp in cases of sexual exploitation of children younger than age 18. NGOs reported HIV/AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children engaged in prostitution without third-party involvement due to economic pressures.

The government enforced the law; perpetrators accused of sexual exploitation of children were routinely charged and prosecuted. The penalties for conviction of soliciting a child, or more generally for commercial sexual exploitation of a child (including through pornography), are a significant monetary fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. The law makes special provisions to protect vulnerable witnesses, including individuals younger than age 18 or who have been victims of sexual offense.

An adult convicted of engaging in sexual relations with a child younger than age 16 in prostitution may be sentenced for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for a first offense and up to 45 years’ imprisonment for a repeat offense. Any person convicted of aiding and abetting trafficking in persons–including child prostitution–within the country or across the border is liable for a substantial monetary fine or up to 50 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of solicitation of a prostitute, living off the earnings of prostitution, or keeping a brothel, carries substantial monetary fines, 10 years’ imprisonment, or both.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. The penalty for conviction of statutory rape–sex with a child younger than 14 when the perpetrator is more than three years older than the victim–is a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 13 and a minimum of five years’ imprisonment if the victim is age 13. There is no minimum penalty for conviction of sexual relations with a child between ages 14 and 16. Possession of or trade in child pornography is illegal. The government trained police officers in handling child-sex-abuse cases. Centers for abused women and children worked to reduce the trauma suffered by abused children.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Media reported cases in which parents, usually young mothers, abandoned their newborns, sometimes leading to the newborn’s death. The government enforced prohibitions against this practice by investigating and prosecuting suspects.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.HYPERLINK “file://///drl.j.state.sbu/DavWWWRoot/HRR/Master HRR Library/NAMIBIA 2016 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT.docx”

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community of fewer than 100 persons in the country, most of whom lived in Windhoek. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of “all members of the human family,” which is interpreted by domestic legal experts to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in any employment decision based on several factors, including any “degree of physical or mental disability.” It makes an exception in the case of a person with a disability unable to perform the duties or functions of the job in question. Enforcement in this area was ineffective, and societal discrimination persisted.

By law official action is required to investigate and punish those accused of committing violence or abuse against persons with disabilities; authorities did so effectively.

The government requires the construction of government buildings to include ramps and other features facilitating access to persons with physical disabilities. The government, however, does not mandate retrofitting or other measures to provide such access to already constructed public buildings.

Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools. The law does not restrict the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, but lack of access to public venues hindered the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life.

The National Assembly-adopted National Policy on Disability states that the government must pursue equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities by removing barriers to full participation in all areas to allow persons with disabilities to reach a quality of life equal to that of other citizens. Nevertheless, persons with disabilities did not have equal access to health services, information and communications, and transportation. The deputy minister of disability affairs in the Office of the Vice President is responsible for matters related to persons with disabilities and oversees the National Disability Council of Namibia. The council is responsible for coordinating the implementation of policies concerning persons with disabilities with government ministries and agencies.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Despite constitutional prohibitions, societal, racial, and ethnic discrimination persisted.

Indigenous People

By law all traditional communities participate without discrimination in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources. Nevertheless, due to their nomadic lifestyle, the San, the country’s earliest known inhabitants, were unable to exercise these rights effectively because of minimal access to education, limited economic opportunities, and their relative isolation. Some San had difficulty obtaining a government identification card because they lacked birth certificates or other identification. Without a government-issued identification card, the San could not access government social programs or register to vote. A lack of access to police, prosecutors, and courts prevented San women from reporting and seeking protection from gender-based violence.

Indigenous lands were effectively demarcated but poorly managed. Many San community members lived on conservancy (communal) lands but were unable to prevent members of larger ethnic groups from using and exploiting those lands. Some San claimed regional officials failed to remove members of other ethnic groups from San lands.

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

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although Roman-Dutch common law inherited at independence criminalizes sodomy, the ban was not enforced. The law defines sodomy as intentional anal sexual relations between men. This definition excludes anal sexual relations between heterosexual persons and sexual relations between lesbians. Many citizens considered same-sex sexual activity to be taboo.

Gender discrimination law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced harassment when trying to access public services. There were isolated reports of transgender persons being harassed or assaulted. Some politicians opposed any legislation that would specifically protect the rights of LGBTI persons. The ombudsman favored abolition of the common law offense of sodomy. LGBTI groups conducted annual pride parades recognized by the government as constitutionally protected peaceful assembly.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, societal discrimination and stigmatization against persons with HIV remained problems. Some jobs in the civilian sector require a pre-employment test for HIV, but there were no reports of employment discrimination specifically based on HIV/AIDS status. According to the Namibian Employers’ Federation, discrimination based on HIV status was not a major problem in the workplace because most individuals were aware HIV is not transmissible via casual contact.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent trade unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, the law prohibits workers in certain sectors, such as police, military, and corrections, from joining unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Except for workers providing designated essential services such as public health and safety, workers may strike once mandatory conciliation procedures lasting 30 days are exhausted and 48 hours’ notice is given to the employer and the labor commissioner. Workers may take strike actions only in disputes involving specific worker interests, such as pay raises.

Worker rights disputes, including dismissals, must first be submitted to the labor commissioner for conciliation, followed by a more formal arbitration process if conciliation is unsuccessful. The parties have the right to appeal the arbitrator’s findings in labor court. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays. The law provides for conciliation and arbitration to resolve labor disputes more quickly, although both employers and unions publicly questioned the system’s effectiveness. The law prohibits unfair dismissal of workers engaged in legal strikes, specifically prohibits employer retaliation against both union organizers and striking workers, and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity provided the workers’ actions at the time were not in violation of other law.

The law provides employees with the right to bargain individually or collectively and provides for recognition of the exclusive collective bargaining power of a union when more than half of workers are members of that union. The law covers all formal-sector workers, including migrants, nonessential public-sector workers, domestic workers, and those in export-processing zones. The law on collective bargaining does not cover the informal sector.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor law in the formal sector, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspection was insufficient to enforce compliance in the informal sector. Aside from mediation efforts, the government was not directly involved in union activities. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association, and workers exercised this right. Employers also did not appear to interfere in union activities.

Collective bargaining was practiced widely in the mining, construction, agriculture, and public sectors. Almost all collective bargaining was at the workplace and company level. Employers respected the collective bargaining process. Employees exercised their legal rights. For example, employees of the Chinese-owned Rossing Uranium Mine threatened to strike during the year because of wage disputes and allegations that management jobs were unlawfully filled by foreigners.

Employers may apply to the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation for an exemption from certain provisions if they are able to prove workers’ rights are protected, but very few employers pursued this option.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The government effectively enforced the law in the formal sector, and criminal penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The government investigated allegations of forced or compulsory labor and found no prosecutable cases. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for conviction of violations have not been applied under the trafficking act.

By law seamen may be sentenced to imprisonment with labor for breaches of discipline, a provision that the International Labor Organization criticized as forced labor. The Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union confirmed that the law has never been applied.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 14. Children younger than age 18 may not engage in hazardous work, including work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., underground work, mining, construction work, in facilities where goods are manufactured or electricity is generated, transformed, or distributed, or where machinery is installed or dismantled. Prohibitions on hazardous work by children in agriculture are not comprehensive. Children ages 16 and 17 may perform hazardous work subject to approval by the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation and restrictions outlined in the law. Criminal penalties are commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government effectively enforced the law. Gender-based violence protection units enforced child labor law in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation. The ministry made special provisions in its labor inspections to look for underage workers, although budget constraints limited the number of inspectors. The government trained all inspectors to identify the worst forms of child labor. Where child labor was reported, labor inspections were conducted regularly.

Children worked herding goats and sheep on communal farms owned by their families. Children also worked as child minders or domestic servants and in family businesses, including informal “businesses” such as begging or street hawking. NGOs reported rising commercial sexual exploitation of girls, particularly in cities and in transit corridors (see section 6).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, pregnancy, family responsibility, disability, age, language, social status, and HIV-positive status. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The law does not specifically address employment discrimination based on sexual or gender orientation.

Refugees and legal immigrants with work permits enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

The Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation and the Employment Equity Commission are both responsible for addressing complaints of employment discrimination.

The government inconsistently enforced the law. Penalties are commensurate with those of similar laws but were seldom applied. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, most frequently in the mining and construction industries. Men occupied approximately two-thirds of upper management positions in both the private and public sectors. Indigenous and marginalized groups sometimes faced discrimination in employment involving unskilled labor. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and access to the workspace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although various sectors have a minimum wage, there is no national minimum wage law that applies across all sectors. Nevertheless, all sector-specific minimum wage rates are applied nationally and were above the poverty line. Unions and employers negotiated industry-specific minimum wages under Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation mediation.

The standard legal workweek was 45 hours, with at least 36 consecutive hours of rest between workweeks. By law an employer may not require more than 10 hours’ overtime work per week and must pay premium pay for overtime work. The law mandates 20 workdays of annual leave per year for those working a five-day workweek and 24 workdays of annual leave per year for those working a six-day workweek. The law also requires employees receive paid time off for government holidays, five days of compassionate leave per year, at least 30 workdays of sick leave during a three-year period, and three months of maternity leave paid by the employer and the Social Security Commission.

The Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, and Employment Creation mandates occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, and the law empowers authorities to enforce these standards through unannounced inspections and criminal prosecution. The law requires employers to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their employees; the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the worker. The law covers all employers and employees in the country, including the informal sector and individuals placed by a private employment agency (labor hire), except independent contractors and members of the NDF, the Namibia Central Intelligence Service, the Namibian Correctional Service, and police. By law employees have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and authorities effectively protected employees in such situations.

The government enforced wage, hour, and safety standards laws in the formal sector but did not consistently enforce labor law in the informal sector, which included an estimated 57 percent of workers. Penalties are commensurate with those for similar violations, but they were seldom applied in the informal sector. Resources to enforce the law were limited, and the number of inspectors was insufficient to address violations. Inspections occurred proactively, reactively, and at random. Due to the ministry’s resource constraints in vehicles, budget, and personnel, as well as difficulty in gaining access to some large communal and commercial farms and private households, labor inspectors sometimes found it difficult to investigate possible violations. The Namibian Employers’ Federation reported that the most prominent offenses concerning employee rights and working conditions were in the informal sector, including for domestic workers, street hawkers, and employees in the common informal bars known as shebeens.

Workers in the construction, agriculture, and mining sectors faced hazardous working conditions. There was one report of a fatal industrial accident. On November 19, an employee of Dundee Precious Metals Inc. was killed while conducting maintenance activities.

Allegations persisted that, in addition to not adhering to the law on hiring and firing, Chinese firms failed to pay sector-established minimum wages and benefits in certain industries, failed to respect work-hour regulations for public holidays and Sundays, and ignored OSH standards, for example, by requiring construction workers to sleep on site.

Nauru

Executive Summary

Nauru is a constitutional republic. International observers deemed the August 2019 parliamentary election to be generally free and fair. Parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.

The police force, under the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, maintains internal security and, as necessary, external security. The country has no military force. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

Significant human rights issues included censorship and criminal libel laws, although there were no such cases during the year.

There were no reports that government officials committed egregious human rights abuses, and impunity was not a problem. The government has mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or prisoner abuse.

Administration: There were no reports that authorities failed to conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison and detention center monitoring visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports that such visits occurred before COVID-related travel restrictions were implemented in March.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities made arrests based either on warrants issued by authorized officials or for proximate cause by a police officer witnessing a crime. Police may hold a person for a maximum of 24 hours without a hearing before a magistrate. Authorities informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The bail system functioned properly. The law provides for accused persons to have access to legal assistance, but qualified assistance was not always readily available.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

English common law provides the basis for procedural safeguards, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be present at one’s own trial, adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and prohibitions on double jeopardy and forced self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges and consult with an attorney or have one provided at public expense as necessary “in the interest of justice.” Defendants also have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and appeal convictions. The law extends these rights to all suspects. There was no legal provision for traditional reconciliation mechanisms; however, as a mitigating factor in sentencing, apologies and reconciliation frequently played an informal role in criminal proceedings. This was sometimes due to communal pressure.

A law passed in June 2019 limited defendants’ access to overseas lawyers; the law barred overseas lawyers from participating in local cases unless specifically instructed by a local lawyer or pleader with 10 years of legal experience in Nauruan law. International human rights groups and critics of the government asserted that the law impeded 12 persons, convicted in December 2019 for “rioting” and related actions at a 2015 protest outside parliament, from engaging overseas lawyers and noted that only one public defender was appointed to represent all 12 defendants (see section 2.b.).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The judiciary generally functioned in an independent and impartial manner in civil matters. Individuals or organizations have access to the court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, the government owned all media and exercised some editorial control over content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government owned all media, giving it significant control over published and broadcast content.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law “unlawful vilification” and “criminal defamation” are punishable by a maximum three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of arrests for breach of the law.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In 2018 the government lifted restrictions it had used previously to block Facebook.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. International human rights and civil society groups, however, said that the December 2019 conviction of 12 defendants for “rioting” and related offenses at a largely peaceful 2015 protest outside parliament amounted to “an unlawful restriction on the right to peaceful assembly” (see section 1.e.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Neither the constitution nor the law specifically provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights for its citizens.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: As of July 31, a total of 180 individuals formerly housed at the Australian government’s Regional Processing Center in the country (used to house individuals seeking refuge or asylum in Australia), a site criticized for its poor conditions, remained on Nauru.

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

Durable Solutions: The government grants five-year visas to asylum seekers after they receive refugee determination.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers considered the most recent parliamentary election, held in August 2019, to be generally free and fair. There were accusations, however, that late changes to the election law by the government of then president Baron Waqa allegedly to disadvantage nongovernment candidates, that substantial payments by Waqa’s government to persons affected by the 2006 collapse of the Bank of Nauru, and that the approval of citizenship for 118 individuals in the weeks before the election, were done to improve the government’s electoral prospects.

The resulting 19-member parliament elected Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and second-term member of parliament, as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although political parties have the legal right to operate without outside interference, there were no formal parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate; however, participation by women was significantly less than by men. Two of the five women who ran in the August 2019 general election were elected to the 19-person parliament.

The country has a small and almost entirely homogenous Micronesian population. There were no members of minority groups in parliament or the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: There were no new reports of government corruption.

Financial Disclosure: There are no income and asset disclosure laws for appointed or elected officials.

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

The government did not restrict the establishment or operation of local human rights organizations, but no such groups existed. No international human rights organizations maintained offices in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Department of Justice had a Human Rights Section staffed by a human rights adviser, two human rights officers, and a liaison officer from the secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Regional Rights Resource Team. The section was generally effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women is a crime and carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment. The law specifically applies penalties for rape of married and de facto partners. Police are required to investigate all reported rape cases. They generally did so, and the courts prosecuted cases. Observers said many instances of rape and sexual abuse went unreported. The law does not address domestic violence specifically, but authorities prosecuted domestic-violence cases under laws against common assault. The maximum penalty for simple assault is one year’s imprisonment. The maximum penalty for assault involving bodily harm is three years’ imprisonment.

Both police and judiciary treated major incidents and unresolved family disputes seriously.

The government did not maintain statistics on the physical or domestic abuse of women, but police officials stated they received frequent complaints of domestic violence. Families normally sought to reconcile such problems informally and, if necessary, communally.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law against sexual harassment, but authorities could and did prosecute harassment involving physical assault under assault laws.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The government medical system provided access to contraception and prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care free of charge. A 2017 Asian Development Bank report indicated the contraceptive prevalence rate was 25 percent, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported there was a high unmet need for family-planning commodities. The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Such access, however, was limited by social stigma, cultural practices, and popularly accepted misconceptions. According to the UNFPA, access to adolescent reproductive health services and information was limited, and the 2010-16 adolescent birth rate for those 15-19 years old was 94 per 1,000.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under family, religious, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Discrimination in employment and wages occurred with respect to women (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship if one of their parents is a citizen. The constitution also provides for acquisition of citizenship by birth in the country in cases in which the person would otherwise be stateless. The law requires registration of births within 21 days to receive citizenship, and families generally complied with the law.

Child Abuse: The government does not maintain data on child abuse, but it remained a problem, according to civil society groups. The law establishes comprehensive measures, including mandatory reporting, to protect children from child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage by persons younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. There are standardized penalties for sexual exploitation of children; intentional sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 16 is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment. Sexual intercourse with a child younger than 13 carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

The law establishes penalties for taking images of children’s private acts and genitalia. If the child is younger than age 16, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment, and if younger than 13, it is 15 years’ imprisonment. The same law prescribes even tougher penalties for involving children to produce pornographic material. The maximum penalty if the child is younger than 16 is 15 years’ imprisonment and 20 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The cybercrime law outlaws the electronic publication and transmission of child pornography.

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

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Nauru was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. No legislation mandates services for persons with disabilities or access to public buildings. Although the government has installed mobility ramps in some public buildings, many buildings were not accessible. The Department of Education has a special education adviser who is responsible for education for students with disabilities and teachers provided classes for a small group of students with disabilities.

The Department of Justice is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law grants some legal protections for persons with mental disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, but social stigma likely led to decreased opportunities for employment.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law does not specifically cite sexual orientation, but it could be used to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. There were isolated reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent trade unions or other associations. It restricts freedom of association for police. While the right to strike is neither protected nor prohibited by law, a civil servant may not foment or take part in a strike and may be summarily dismissed if found guilty of organizing a strike. The law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to bargain collectively, but it does not prohibit it. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, and there is no legal requirement to reinstate workers dismissed due to union activity; however, workers may seek redress through the civil court system.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations include fines, which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The country lacks formal trade unions. The transient nature of the mostly foreign workforce hampered efforts to organize trade unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not stipulate penalties. Civil courts handle cases of forced labor. There were no reports of forced labor or of government prosecution or removal of victims of forced labor.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The worst forms of child labor were not prohibited. The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16. No regulations govern type of work, occupation, or hours for workers younger than age 18, nor do they identify hazardous occupations. The Department of Human Resources and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law. The government effectively enforced the law in the public sector but did not conduct any workplace inspections of private businesses. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The only two significant employers–the government and the phosphate industry–respected minimum age restrictions.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The law requires that public servants receive equal pay for work of equal value. Women working in the private sector do not have a similar entitlement.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination against women in employment and wages occurred. Societal pressures, lower wages, and the country’s general poverty limited opportunities for women. While women headed approximately one-third of all households, less than one-quarter of heads of households engaged in paid work were female. There were no reports the government took any specific action to prevent employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum starting salary for public-sector employees is above the poverty level. There is no minimum salary for the private sector; approximately 26 percent of the population lived at the subsistence level. The law outlines a standard eight-hour workday and one-hour meal break for permanent and contract employees; workers are not required to work longer than nine hours. The law stipulates that, “For each year of service, an employee is entitled to four weeks of recreation leave on full salary,” and that it can be accumulated for up to three years, at which time the employee must take leave to reduce the balance or “cash out” an amount of recreation leave to reduce the total leave balance accrued.

Public-service regulations govern salaries, working hours, vacation periods, and other employment matters for government workers, who constituted more than 90 percent of salaried workers. The government has a graduated salary system for public-service officers and employees. The law provides for maternity leave after a woman has completed six months of employment.

There is no limit to the maximum number of accumulated overtime hours and no prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime for workers in the public sector. No specific regulations govern overtime or overtime pay for private-sector workers.

Although the government sets some health and safety standards, they do not have the force of law. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

The Department of Human Resources and Labor effectively enforced labor laws in the public sector. Enforcement was more lax in the private sector, but no violations of labor regulations were reported. The law allows the ministry the right to inspect a workplace without prior notification. Authorities can charge an employer with a criminal offense if found to be in violation of the labor law or the provisions of an employment contract, which was sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to monitor compliance fully.

With the decline of the phosphate industry, enforcement of workplace health and safety requirements continued to be lax.

Nepal

Executive Summary

Nepal is a federal democratic republic. The 2015 constitution established the political system, including the framework for a prime minister as the chief executive, a bicameral parliament, and seven provinces. In 2017 the country held national elections for the lower house of parliament and the newly created provincial assemblies. Domestic and international observers characterized the national elections as “generally well conducted,” although some noted a lack of transparency in the work of the Election Commission of Nepal.

The Nepal Police are responsible for enforcing law and order across the country. The Armed Police Force is responsible for combating terrorism, providing security during riots and public disturbances, assisting in natural disasters, and protecting vital infrastructure, public officials, and the borders. The Nepal Police and Armed Police Force report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Nepali Army is responsible for external security and international peacekeeping, but also has some domestic security responsibilities such as disaster relief operations and nature conservation efforts. The Nepali Army reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective authority over the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Army. Human rights organizations documented some abuses by members of the security forces.

Significant reported human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary detention; serious restrictions on free expression, the press and the internet, including site blocking and criminal defamation laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; restrictions on freedom of movement for refugees, notably resident Tibetans; and significant acts of corruption.

The government investigated but did not routinely hold accountable those officials and security forces accused of committing violations of the law. Security personnel accused of using excessive force in controlling protests in recent years did not face notable accountability nor did most conflict-era human rights violators.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Ministry of Home Affairs are authorized to examine and investigate whether security force killings were justified. NHRC has the authority to recommend action and to record the name and agency of those who do not comply with its recommendations. The Attorney General has the authority to pursue prosecutions. According to a report by the human rights group Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA), 12 of 18 custodial deaths they reported from 2015-20 occurred among members of the Dalit, Madhesi, or other marginalized communities.

On June 10, Shambhu Sada, a member of the Dalit community, died in police custody in Dhanusha District. Sada, a truck driver, turned himself in to police after a traffic accident where he hit and killed a woman. Police reported the cause of death as suicide; however, Sada’s family and community believe police killed Sada or drove him to suicide through physical and emotional torture. Sada’s mother-in-law visited three days before his death and stated that Sada looked scared and told her that he feared for his life.

On July 16, the Nepali Army detained 24-year-old Raj Kumar Chepang and six friends for foraging in Chitwan National Park. They were released later in the day, but Chepang complained of physical discomfort when he arrived home. His health deteriorated and he died on July 22 from injuries that his family and the community stated were sustained while in custody. The army was investigating the incident and an autopsy was conducted.

In June 2019 police in Sarlahi killed a local leader of the Maoist splinter party Biplav. Police reported that they shot Kumar Paudel after he fired at them. The human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Advocacy Forum-Nepal (AF) reported the encounter was likely staged and the NHRC recommended the government suspend the three police officers involved in the incident and conduct a fresh and impartial investigation. In February, Paudel’s family tried to file a report with the Sarlahi police and then the District Attorney’s office. Both offices refused to register the case. A human rights NGO helped the family submit the report by mail. As of September, the NHRC’s recommendation to suspend the three officials involved had not been implemented.

b. Disappearance

The law formally criminalizes enforced disappearance. There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.

The fate of most of those who disappeared during the 1996-2006 civil conflict remained unknown. According to the NHRC, 802 cases of disappearances remain unresolved, most of which the NHRC says may have involved state actors. One new conflict-era case was registered in 2020. As of September, the government did not prosecute any government officials, sitting or former, for involvement in conflict-era disappearances, nor had it released information on the whereabouts of the 606 persons the NHRC identified as having been disappeared by state actors. The NHRC reported that Maoists were believed to be involved in 150 unresolved disappearances during the conflict. As of early September, the government had not prosecuted any Maoists or state actors for involvement in disappearances.

In 2017 the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) formed five teams to begin investigating complaints of disappearances filed by conflict-era victims. The commission had before it 3,197 registered cases and ultimately pursued 2,512 cases under its first commissioner, whose tenure expired in 2019. A new commissioner was appointed in January. As of August, the CIEDP reported 2,503 cases completed.

Human rights organizations continued to express concern over flaws related to the CIEDP. According to the International Commission of Jurists, CIEDP investigations suffered from inadequate human and financial resources to handle the large number of cases, opaque appointment processes of investigators, and a lack of measures to provide confidentiality and security of victims and witnesses.

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

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law criminalizes torture, enumerates punishment for torture, and provides for compensation for victims of torture.

According to human rights activists and legal experts, police resorted to severe abuse, primarily beatings, to force confessions. The Nepal human rights group AF also reported that law enforcement personnel subjected violators of the COVID-19 lockdown to inhuman and degrading treatment. Violators were detained for hours in the sun, forced to do sit-ups, frog jumps, and crawl on the road. AF and THRDA reported annual decreases of torture and mistreatment, although THRDA noted that this trend did not hold in the southern portion of the country. AF stated that police increasingly complied with the courts’ demand for preliminary medical checks of detainees.

AF reported that 19 percent of the 1,005 detainees interviewed in 2019 reported some form of torture or ill treatment. These numbers were even higher among women (26.3 percent) and juvenile detainees (24.5 percent).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in April 2018 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nepalese peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. The allegation is against one military contingent member deployed to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, allegedly involving sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of two children in April 2018. As of September, the Nepalese government was still investigating the allegation and the case was still pending, including identification of the alleged perpetrator.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Both AF and THRDA stated that torture victims were often hesitant to file complaints due to intimidation by police or other officials and fear of retribution. In some cases, victims settled out of court under pressure from the perpetrators. AF and THRDA noted the courts ultimately dismissed many cases of alleged torture due to a lack of credible supporting evidence, especially medical documentation. In cases where courts awarded compensation or ordered disciplinary action against police, the decisions were rarely implemented. There have been no cases brought to the criminal justice system regarding torture committed during the civil conflict.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions, especially those in pretrial detention centers, were poor and did not meet international standards, according to human rights groups.

Physical Conditions: There was overcrowding in the prison system. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reported that in its nationwide assessment of prisons, facilities held 150 percent of the designed capacity of inmates. AF stated that overcrowding and poor sanitation remained a serious problem in detention centers. According to the OAG report, most prisons and detention centers had sufficient windows, daylight, and ventilation, with a few exceptions.

Some facilities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of adequate juvenile detention facilities, authorities sometimes incarcerated pretrial child detainees with adults or allowed children to remain in jails with their incarcerated parents.

The OAG reported that prisoners in the 31 prisons it monitored had a junior health official available to them, but none of the 42 detention centers or juvenile reform homes had designated health officials for medical treatment. Under the law children should be kept only in juvenile reform homes and not in prison. According to AF juveniles were sometimes observed with adult detainees. There were no separate facilities for persons with disabilities. Women were kept in separate facilities, but the facilities lacked the basic amenities.

According to AF, medical examinations for detainees generally were perfunctory and medical care was poor for detainees with serious conditions. AF reported that some detainees slept on the floor due to lack of beds and had access only to unfiltered and dirty water and inadequate food, and that many detention centers had poor ventilation, lighting, heating, and bedding.

Human rights groups reported that many COVID-19 quarantine facilities did not meet Ministry of Health and Population guidelines. Human rights groups reported deaths due to poor sanitation, lack of medical care, transport, and fear of infection. An NGO that works with marginalized groups reported that a Dalit migrant worker returning from India developed diarrhea in a quarantine center. When his condition continued to deteriorate, he was taken to the Provincial Hospital, but he did not receive proper treatment until his COVID-19 test came back negative.

Administration: Authorities including the OAG conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment. Detainees have the legal right to receive visits by family members, but family access to prisoners varied from prison to prison.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prison and pretrial detention center visits by the OAG, NHRC, as well as by lawyers of the accused. THRDA and AF reported that they and some other NGOs often were prevented from meeting with detainees or accessing detention facilities, although some independent human rights observers, including the United Nations and international organizations, were given such access. Media had no access to prisons or detention centers. The NHRC could request government action, but authorities often denied such requests.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces reportedly conducted arbitrary arrests during the year. Human rights groups contended that police abused their 24-hour detention authority by holding persons unlawfully, in some cases without proper access to counsel, food, and medicine, or in inadequate facilities. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates that, except in cases involving suspected security and narcotics violations, or when the crime’s punishment would be more than three years’ imprisonment, authorities must obtain an arrest warrant and present the suspect to a court within 24 hours of arrest (not including travel time).

If the court upholds a detention, the law generally authorizes police to hold the suspect for up to 25 days to complete an investigation and file a criminal charge sheet. In special cases, that timeframe is extended. For narcotics violations, a suspect can be held for up to three months; for suspected acts of organized crime, 60 days; and for suspected acts of corruption, six months. Human rights monitors expressed concern that the law vests too much discretionary power in local authorities. The constitution provides for detainees’ access to a state-appointed lawyer or one of the detainee’s choice, even if charges have not been filed. Few detainees could afford their own lawyer, and the justice system did not receive sufficient funding to provide free and competent counsel to indigent defendants. There were, however, independent organizations providing free legal services to a limited number of detainees accused of criminal violations.

Authorities routinely denied defense attorneys access to defendants in custody. A functioning bail system exists; the accused have the option of posting bail in cash or mortgaging their property to the court. Unless prisoners are released on recognizance (no bail), no alternatives to the bail system exist to assure a defendant’s appearance in court.

Arbitrary Arrest: The human rights NGO Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) documented 119 incidents of arbitrary arrest (without timely warrant presentation) since January. INSEC noted that the decrease from the previous year’s 234 incidents might be due to COVID-19.

Pretrial Detention: Time served is credited to a prisoner’s sentence and no person may be held in detention for a period exceeding the term of imprisonment that could be imposed on him if he were found guilty of the offense.

Under the law security forces may detain persons who allegedly threaten domestic security and tranquility, amicable relations with other countries, or relations between citizens of different castes or religious groups. The government may detain persons in preventive detention for as long as 12 months without charging them with a crime as long as the detention complies with the act’s requirements. The courts do not have any substantive legal role in preventive detentions under the act.

According to human rights groups, in some cases detainees appeared before judicial authorities well after the legally mandated 24-hour limit, allegedly to allow injuries from police mistreatment to heal. AF estimated in 2018 that 14 percent of detainees did not appear before judicial authorities within 24 hours of their arrests, down from 41 percent in 2015. THRDA stated police frequently circumvented the 24-hour requirement by registering the detainee’s name only when they were ready to produce the detainee before the court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but courts remained vulnerable to political pressure, bribery, and intimidation.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to counsel, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, protection from retroactive application of the law, public trials, and the right to be present at one’s own trial. These rights are largely honored, except for the right to counsel and the right to be present at one’s own trial, which were sometimes ignored. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence, except in some cases, such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, where the burden of proof is on the defendant once the charge sheet establishes a prima facie criminal violation. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and a court-appointed lawyer, a government lawyer, or access to private attorneys. The government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees only upon request. Persons who were unaware of their rights, in particular “lower-caste” individuals and members of some ethnic groups, were thus at risk of being deprived of legal representation. Defense lawyers reported having insufficient time to prepare their defense. A 2016 Supreme Court directive ordered that the courts must provide free interpretation services to those who do not speak Nepali, and interpreters were made available to interpret a variety of languages. Defense lawyers may cross-examine accusers. All lower-court decisions, including acquittals, are subject to appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort.

Military courts adjudicate cases concerning military personnel under the military code, which provides military personnel the same basic rights as civilians. The law requires that soldiers accused of rape or homicide be transferred to civilian authorities for prosecution. Under normal circumstances the army prosecutes all other criminal cases raised against soldiers under the military justice system. Nevertheless, the Nepali Army has told the government it was willing to cooperate with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and CIEDP. Military courts cannot try civilians for crimes, even if the crimes involve the military services; civilian courts handle these cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations could seek remedies for human rights abuses in national courts.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these provisions.

The law allows police to conduct searches and seizures without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, in which case a search may be conducted as long as two or more persons of “good character” are present. If a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a suspect may possess material evidence, the officer must submit a written request to another officer to conduct a search, and there must be another official present who holds at least the rank of assistant subinspector. Some legal experts claimed that by excluding prosecutors and judges from the warrant procedure, there were relatively few checks against police abuse of discretionary authority.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although journalists, NGOs, and political activists stated the government restricted media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the government. Human rights lawyers and some journalists stated that both the constitution and law enable the government to restrict freedom of speech and press in ways they considered vague and open to abuse. For example, the constitution lists several circumstances under which laws curtailing freedom of speech and press may be formulated. These include acts that “jeopardize harmonious relations between federal units” and acts that assist a foreign state or organization to jeopardize national security. The constitution prohibits any acts “contrary to public health, decency, and morality” or that “disturb the public law and order situation.”

Freedom of Speech: Citizens generally believed they could express their opinions freely and often expressed critical opinions in print and electronic media without restriction. The government continued to limit freedom of expression for members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community through its attempts to stop Tibetans from celebrating culturally important events (see section 2.b.).

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but the number of journalists arrested and charged with cybercrime, reportedly over news articles published online, has posed a new challenge. Under the law any person who makes harsh comments on social media or another online site against a senior government official can be charged with a “cybercrime.” Several editors and journalists reported they faced intimidation by police and government officials and that vague provisions in laws and regulations prompted an increase in self-censorship by journalists.

Journalists claimed to have been targeted by the former minister for communication and information technology, Gokul Prasad Baskota, who resigned in February amid reports of soliciting bribes from a foreign company, and who frequently criticized journalists and supported legislation that would restrict freedom of speech.

Violence and Harassment: According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), despite the government’s commitment for better policy and legal restrictions, there were a number of press freedom abuses, and the government did not make sufficient efforts to preserve the safety and independence of media. On April 27, journalists Binod Babu Rijyal from Kayakairan Media and Arjun Adhikari from Radio Triveni were detained by Traffic Police while capturing pictures for the news during the COVID-19 lockdown. Police confiscated the journalists’ mobile phones and both were detained in quarantine facilities for one hour.

The government attempted to stifle news reports that revealed financial irregularities. Journalists stated that they continued to receive vague threats from officials in response to their investigative reporting on corruption. There were also incidents of attacks on journalists. In February, Ajayababu Shiwakoti, editor in chief of Hamrakura.com, who broke the news of Minister Baskota’s involvement in corruption (see section 4), was threatened and his residence surveilled by unidentified individuals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The constitution prohibits prior censorship of material for printing, publication, or broadcasting, including electronically. The constitution also provides that the government cannot revoke media licenses, close media houses, or seize material based on the content of what is printed, published, or broadcast. The constitution, however, also provides for “reasonable restrictions” of these rights for acts or incitement that “may undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality of Nepal, or harmonious relations between the federal units or harmonious relations between the various castes, tribes, religions, or communities.” Speech amounting to treason, defamation, or contempt of court is also prohibited.

Journalists and NGOs stated the law criminalizes normal media activity, such as reporting on public figures, and triggered a significant increase in self-censorship by media. Media professionals expressed concern regarding an additional provision in the constitution that allows the government to formulate laws to regulate media. The law, for example, extends the scope of limitation on freedom of expression compared to the language in the constitution for national security and for maintaining public order, and defines defamation as a criminal offense. The FNJ argued that such laws could be used to close media houses or cancel their registration. The constitution also includes publication and dissemination of false materials as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on press freedom. Media experts reported, however, that these provisions were not enforced against any media houses.

Although by law all media outlets, including government-owned stations, operate independently from direct government control, indirect political influence sometimes led to self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: On April 22, Nepal Police arrested former government secretary Bhim Upadhyay and accused him of defaming the government and its ministers through his social media posts; he was later released on bail. On April 30, Dipak Pathak, a journalist and board member of Radio Nepal, was arrested for reportedly criticizing former prime minister and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal on social media. Pathak was jailed for defamation and later released on bail.

Internet Freedom

There were several incidents in which authorities took action under the law in response to material posted on social media. The law prohibits publication in electronic form of material that may be “contrary to the public morality or decent behavior,” may “spread hate or jealousy,” or may “jeopardize harmonious relations.” In 2017 the government issued an amended online media operation directive, which requires all domestically based online news and opinion websites to be registered. The directive gives the government the authority to block websites based on content if it lacks an “authoritative source,” creates “a misconception,” or negatively affects international relationships. The government also has the authority to block content that threatens the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, nationality, or harmonious relations. Online sedition, defamation, contempt of court, or indecent and immoral content may also be blocked. The new directive makes the registration, license renewal, and content production provisions for online platforms more complicated, including by requiring a copy of a site’s value added tax or permanent account number registration certificate. Renewals require online platforms to provide updated human resource and payroll records annually. The FNJ expressed concern that the directive’s vague language gives the government power to censor online content.

In April the Press Council Nepal, an autonomous and independent media regulatory body, asked for clarification from 37 online media outlets regarding the spread of disinformation on the coronavirus, which reportedly created public panic.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The law provides for the freedom to hold cultural events. There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, with the exception of events in the Tibetan community, which faced restrictions (see section 2.b.).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association; however, the government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Freedom of assembly generally was respected for citizens and legal residents, but there were some restrictions. Government permits are required to hold large public events. The law authorizes chief district officers to impose curfews when there is a possibility that demonstrations or riots could disturb the peace.

The government continued to limit freedom of association and peaceful assembly for members of Kathmandu’s Tibetan community, including by denying requests to celebrate publicly certain culturally important events, such as the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and deploying large numbers of police offices to Tibetan settlements to monitor private celebrations of this and other culturally important events, including Tibetan Uprising Day and Tibetan Democracy Day. The government cited pandemic-related restrictions on mass gatherings in justifying these actions.

During June and July, an independent youth group staged a series of protests in Kathmandu against the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Named the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, protesters demonstrated through physically distanced sit-ins and hunger strikes, demanding effective management of the pandemic. Police used force, including batons and water cannons, to disperse protesters and arrested several of them.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs, however, stated the existing legal framework does not adequately recognize the independence of civil society and opens the door to the exercise of excessive discretion by the government. They added that the registration process for civil society organizations (CSOs) was restrictive and cumbersome, the government had wide discretion to deny registration, and requirements varied among various registration authorities, with some entities requiring documents not mentioned in existing laws on an ad hoc basis.

Additionally, the law empowers the government to give directions to associations and to terminate associations if they refuse to follow these directions. To receive foreign or government resources, CSOs must seek separate and additional approval from the Social Welfare Council, the government entity responsible for overseeing CSOs. The Council requires that CSOs allocate at least 80 percent of their budgets for hardware or tangible development outputs, which places undue restrictions on CSOs that focus on advocacy matters.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, except for most refugees, whose freedom of movement within the country is limited by law. Constraints on refugee movements were enforced unevenly.

In-country Movement: The government has not issued personal identification documents to Tibetan refugees in more than 20 years, leaving the majority of this refugee population without required documents to present at police checkpoints or during police stops. Some refugees reported being harassed or turned back by police at checkpoints. The government also restricted the movement of urban refugees of various nationalities whom the government considered irregular migrants (see section 2.f.).

Foreign Travel: In an attempt to protect women from being exploited in trafficking or otherwise abused in overseas employment, the government maintained a minimum age of 24 for women traveling overseas for domestic employment. NGOs and human rights activists viewed the age ban as discriminatory and counterproductive because it impelled some women to migrate through informal channels across the Indian border, rendering them more vulnerable to exploitation.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks displaced millions of individuals. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, natural disasters in 2019 led to 29,000 displacements.

Many earthquake-affected IDPs remained in camps or informal settlements because they did not hold a title to land and were occupying it illegally when the earthquake occurred. Others stayed because their homes remained vulnerable to or were destroyed by subsequent landslides. The government promoted their safe, voluntary return and had policies in place to help them.

Although the government and the Maoists agreed to support the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of conflict-displaced IDPs to their homes following the 10-year civil war, the agreement had not been fully implemented. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction estimated that 78,700 persons were displaced from 1996 to 2006, but an estimated 50,000 remained unwilling or unable to return home. The reasons included unresolved land and property matters, lack of citizenship or ownership documentation, and security concerns, since the land taken from IDPs by Maoists during the conflict was often sold or given to landless or tenant farmers.

The government provided relief packages for the rehabilitation and voluntary return of conflict-era IDPs. Many of those still displaced preferred to integrate locally and live in urban areas, mostly as illegal occupants of government land along riversides or together with the landless population. The absence of public services and lack of livelihood assistance also impeded the return of IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the determination of individual refugee or asylum claims or a comprehensive legal framework for refugee protection. The government recognized only Tibetans and Bhutanese as refugees, and regarded the approximately 700 refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities as irregular migrants. The government continued to support the resettlement to foreign countries of certain Bhutanese refugees, while requiring other refugees accepted for third country resettlement to pay substantial penalties for illegal stay before granting exit permits. The government does not recognize Tibetans who arrived in the country after 1990 as refugees. Most Tibetans who arrived since then transited to India, although an unknown number remained in the country. The government has not issued refugee cards to Tibetan refugees since 1995. UNHCR estimated three-quarters of the approximately 12,000 resident Tibetan refugees remained undocumented, including all of whom were younger than the age of 16 in 1995 or had been born since then. Government opposition to registration has prevented revisions to these estimates. UNHCR reported 578 refugees and 60 asylum seekers from other countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq, lived in the country. The government continued to deny these groups recognition as refugees, even when recognized as such by UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement: The government officially restricted freedom of movement and work for the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship residing in the two remaining refugee camps in the eastern part of the country, but those restrictions were largely unenforced for this population. After China heightened security in 2008 along its border and increased restrictions on internal freedom of movement for ethnic Tibetans, the number of Tibetans who transited through the country dropped significantly. UNHCR reported that 53 Tibetans transited the country in 2017, 37 in 2018, 23 in 2019, and 5 as of September. During the year border closures due to COVID-19 prevented transit between the country and India. While Tibetans based in the country with refugee certificates were eligible to apply for travel documents to leave the country, the legal process was often arduous, expensive, and opaque and travel documents were typically valid for one year and a single trip. A 2016 government directive authorized chief district officers to skip the verification step, which required witnesses and a police letter, for Tibetans who had previously been issued a travel document. For individuals whom the government did not recognize as refugees, even when recognized by UNHCR, the government levied fines for each day out of status and a substantial discretionary penalty to obtain an exit permit. The government maintained its policy enabling Nepali government-registered refugees destined for resettlement or repatriation to obtain exit permits without paying these fines.

Employment: Tibetan refugees were denied the right to work officially.

Access to Basic Services: Most Tibetan refugees who lived in the country, particularly those who arrived after 1990 or turned 16 after 1995, did not have documentation, nor did their locally born children. Even those with acknowledged refugee status had no legal rights beyond the ability to remain in the country. The children born in the country of Tibetans with legal status often lacked documentation. The government allowed NGOs to provide primary- and secondary-level schooling to Tibetans living in the country. Tibetan refugees had no entitlement to higher education in public or private institutions. They were unable legally to obtain business licenses, driver’s licenses, bank accounts, or to own property. Some refugees continued to experience difficulties documenting births, marriages, and deaths. Some in the Tibetan community resorted to bribery to obtain these services.

The government allowed UNHCR to provide some education, health, and livelihood services to urban refugees, but these refugees lacked legal access to public education and the right to work. In particular, the government officially does not allow the approximately 6,500 refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship to work or have access to public education or public health clinics, but it previously allowed UNHCR to provide parallel free education and health services to refugees in the camps. During the year some new local authorities allowed Bhutanese children access to public schools on an ad hoc basis.

Durable Solutions: The government does not provide for local integration as a durable solution. Since 2007 the government has permitted third-country resettlement for more than 113,000 Bhutanese refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

An estimated 6.3 million individuals lacked citizenship documentation, although the majority of these would be eligible for citizenship under local law. Citizenship documents, which are issued at age 16, are required to register to vote, register marriages or births, buy or sell land, appear for professional exams, open bank accounts, or gain access to credit and receive state social benefits.

Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship limited women’s ability to convey citizenship to their children (see section 6, Women, Discrimination), which contributed to statelessness. NGOs assisting individuals lacking citizenship documentation stated that local authorities maintained patriarchal requirements, such as attestations from a woman’s male relatives that she qualified for citizenship, a measure that impeded attempts by some individuals to obtain citizenship certificates.

Stateless persons experienced discrimination in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage and birth registration, identity documentation, access to courts and judicial procedures, migration opportunities, land and property ownership, and access to earthquake relief and reconstruction programs.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held parliamentary, provincial, and local assembly elections over five phases throughout 2017. International observers indicated that these parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were generally well conducted, despite some violent incidents, and logistical and operational challenges, including a notable lack of transparency and adequate voter education by the Election Commission of Nepal, which affected the electoral process. According to domestic observer groups, the elections were free, fair, and peaceful and saw high voter turnout. There were three reports, however, of individuals being killed by police and sporadic reports of interparty clashes or assaults, vandalism, and small explosive devices and hoax bombs.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws explicitly limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate in local, provincial, and national elections. The constitution mandates proportional inclusion of women in all state bodies and allocates one third of all federal and provincial legislative seats to women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists noted that this mandate excluded nonbinary candidates from running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were reports of government corruption during the year. Media reported many procurement irregularities and alleged instances of corruption in the government’s COVID-19 response.

Corruption: The Commission for the Investigations of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) was investigating Communications Minister Gokul Baskota after media leaked a telephone conversation of him demanding a 700-million-rupee bribe ($5.9 million) from an agent of a Swiss company for the procurement of secure printing presses in February. Baskota resigned to allow for the investigation, but he also filed a case at the Supreme Court and the CIAA against the Swiss firm’s agent, Bijay Prakash Mishra, with whom he was discussing the bribe. As of September the investigation was continuing.

The CIAA expanded its investigative scope in 2018 to include a civil engineering lab to determine the quality of materials used in public infrastructure, a common target for systemic corrupt cost cutting. During the year the CIAA conducted 59 sting operations which facilitated the arrest of 88 civil servants.

As in previous years, student and labor groups associated with political parties demanded contributions from schools and businesses. Corruption remained problematic within the Nepal Police and Armed Police Force.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws and the vast majority of civil servants complied with the requirement. Despite the required financial disclosures, the National Vigilance Center, the body mandated to monitor financial disclosures and make them publicly available, generally did not make individual government employee names and financial disclosures public. Government officials are subjected to financial disclosure if anyone files a case under the Right to Information Act.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were generally cooperative with NGO investigations, the government placed administrative burdens on some international NGOs by complicating procedures for obtaining visas and compelling them to sign asset control documents. Some NGOs, particularly those with a religious element, reported increasing bureaucratic constraints after the devolution of power to local level officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC investigated allegations of abuses, but insufficient staff (85 out of 309 positions were vacant as of August), and limitations on its mandate led some activists to view the body as ineffective and insufficiently independent. The NHRC claimed the government helped promote impunity by failing to implement its recommendations fully. The NHRC stated that from its establishment in 2000, it had made recommendations for prosecution and reparations in 1,197 cases (as of August). More than three-quarters of these involved conflict-era incidents. On October 15, the NHRC published a report listing 286 human rights abusers. It identified former top government and security officials, including former Chief of Army Staff Pyar Jung Thapa, former home secretary Narayan Gopal Malego, and former chief of Nepal Police Kuber Singh Rana, who have been implicated in serious human rights abuses over the last two decades.

The Nepal Police and Armed Police Force each have a Human Rights Cell (HRC) and the Nepali Army has a human rights directorate (HRD). The Nepali Army HRD and Nepal Police HRC have independent investigative powers. The Nepali Army’s investigations were not fully transparent according to human rights NGOs.

During the year the government and judiciary did not significantly address conflict-era human rights and humanitarian law abuses committed by the Nepali Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force, and Maoist parties.

There were significant delays in implementing and granting full independence to the country’s two transitional justice mechanisms, CIEDP and the TRC. Human rights experts continued to report that neither of the mechanisms had made significant progress on investigations or reporting. In January the government appointed commissioners for TRC and CIEDP with the mandate to complete the remaining tasks on transitional justice within two years.

Local human rights advocates cited legal shortcomings that pose obstacles to a comprehensive and credible transitional justice process in the country. For example, the law does not retroactively criminalize torture or enforced disappearance, and the statute of limitations for rape is only 180 days.

Additionally, the law does not specifically recognize war crimes or crimes against humanity, although the constitution recognizes as law treaties to which the country is a party. Critics also cited instances in which parliament failed to implement Supreme Court decisions. For example, in a 2015 ruling, the court nullified provisions of the law that would have granted the commissions discretionary power to recommend amnesty for serious crimes, because amnesty would violate the then interim constitution and international obligations. On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s petition seeking review of the 2015 decision. As of August the federal parliament had not amended the act in line with the Supreme Court verdict and international standards.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including marital rape, is illegal, with minimum prison sentences that vary between five and 15 years, depending on the victim’s age. The law also mandates five years’ additional imprisonment in the case of gang rape, rape of pregnant women, or rape of women with disabilities. The victim’s compensation depends on the degree of mental and physical abuse. Nepal’s definition of rape does not include male victims. Male victims may file a complaint under the ‘unnatural’ sexual offense penal code; the highest punishment is up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine.

Police and the courts were responsive in most cases when rape was reported, although several high-profile cases highlighted the government’s failure to secure justice for rape victims. In May, Angira Pasi, a 13-year-old Dalit girl, was raped by Birenda Bhar, a 25-year-old non-Dalit man in Rupandehi District, Devdaha Municipality. Villagers, including the ward chair, decided the girl should marry Bhar, because she would otherwise be considered unsuitable for marriage due to the rape. After the marriage, Bhar’s mother refused to let Pasi enter the house and beat her. Bhar took Pasi to a nearby stream and hours later her body was found hanging in a manner that her relatives said would have been impossible for her to carry out herself. Bhar’s family offered 200,000 rupees ($1,690) to keep the incident quiet, and police initially refused to register the case. After the NHRC and national attention focused on the case, police detained Bhar, his mother, and his aunt.

In July 2018, 13-year-old Nirmala Panta was raped and killed in Kanchanpur district. A government panel that reviewed the police response found that investigators acted with grave negligence and destroyed key evidence in the case. In March 2019 the district court charged eight police personnel for tampering with evidence. On July 30, the Kanchanpur District Court acquitted these eight personnel, including former Superintendent of Police Dilliraj Bista, of torture and incriminating evidence. Human rights groups noted irregularities leading up to the trial including that the Kathmandu-based lawyers arguing for the victim’s family requested the hearing be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions on air travel. The court cited the end of the government lockdown and continued with the hearing.

Human rights activists outside of Kathmandu expressed concern that police frequently refused to register cases of gender-based violence, including occasionally rape cases. These groups reported that police often preferred to use mediation rather than criminal investigation to resolve conflicts. In October 2019 allegations of rape against Speaker of Federal Parliament Krishna Bahadur Mahara led to his resignation at the request of Prime Minister Oli and the ruling Nepal Communist Party. On February 16, the Kathmandu District Court acquitted Mahara due to lack of evidence.

Domestic violence against women and girls remained a serious problem. NGOs reported that violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, was one of the major factors responsible for women’s relatively poor health, livelihood insecurity, and inadequate social mobilization and contributed to intergenerational poverty. The law allows for settling complaints of domestic violence through mediation with an emphasis on reconciliation. Authorities usually pursued prosecution under the act only when mediation failed.

The Nepal Police had women’s cells staffed by female officers in each of the country’s 77 districts to make it easier for women and girls to report crimes to police. According to Women, Children and Senior Citizens Service Directors, all 233 women’s cells across the country located in all 77 districts were in operation. NGOs stated that despite improvements, resources, and training to deal with victims of domestic violence and trafficking were insufficient. Although police guidelines call on officers to treat domestic violence as a criminal offense, this guidance was difficult to implement outside of the women’s cells due to entrenched discriminatory attitudes.

The government maintained service centers in 17 districts, rehabilitation centers in eight districts, and hospital-based one-stop crisis management centers in 17 districts to provide treatment, protection, and psychosocial and legal support for survivors of gender-based violence. Gender experts said the service centers have improved coordination among police, the NHRC, National Women’s Commission, chief district officers, local authorities, community mediation centers, and NGOs working to address violence against women and girls.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution criminalizes violence against or oppression of women based on religious, social, or cultural traditions and gives victims the right to compensation. The criminal code makes the practice of paying dowries illegal and imposes fines, prison sentences of up to three years, or both. The legislation also criminalizes violence committed against one’s spouse in connection to a dowry, imposing substantial fines, prison sentences of up to five years, or both. Additionally, the law stipulates that any psychological abuse of women, including asking for dowry, humiliation, physical torture, and shunning women for not providing a dowry, is punishable. Nevertheless, according to NGOs, dowries remained common, especially in the Terai region. Government agencies documented incidents of dowry-related violence and forced marriage, recommended interventions, and occasionally rescued victims and offered them rehabilitation services.

Traditional beliefs about witchcraft negatively affected rural women, especially widows, the elderly, persons of low economic status, or members of the Dalit caste, despite a law specifically criminalizing discrimination and violence against those accused of witchcraft. There were no reported prosecutions under the law. Media and NGOs reported some cases of violence against alleged witches, and civil society organizations raised public awareness of the problem.

The law criminalizes acid attacks. INSEC documented three acid attacks from January to September.

The practice of chhaupadi (expelling women and girls from their homes during menstruation and sometimes following childbirth, including forcing women and girls to reside in livestock sheds) continued to be a serious problem despite a 2005 Supreme Court decision outlawing the practice and 2008 guidelines from the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare against the practice. In 2018 a law that formally criminalized the practice went into effect; it stipulates a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment, a token fine, or both. Some local officials implemented various efforts to eliminate chhaupadi, including education campaigns and physical destruction of sheds, but stigma and tradition maintained the practice, particularly in rural western districts, where women periodically died from exposure to the elements. According to news reports, after antichhaupadi campaigns destroyed chhaupadi huts, family members, often mothers in law, still forced women and girls to remain isolated. In some cases, women and girls in rural areas resorted to sleeping in sheds, animal pens, or caves throughout both the winter and monsoon season.

Sexual Harassment: The law allows the top administrative official in a district to impose up to six months imprisonment, a fine, or both, against a perpetrator, once a series of internal workplace processes to address a complaint have been exhausted. According to women’s rights activists, the law provides adequate protective measures and compensation for victims, but the penalties are insufficiently severe and the law does not cover the informal sector, where sexual harassment is most common. AF reported an incident where three women were sexually harassed by police after being arrested for drinking and driving. According to the women, police called them prostitutes, used obscene language, and groped their breasts.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally could decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and access the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women who became pregnant outside of marriage, especially while working abroad, faced considerable social stigma. Although illegal, child marriage remained prevalent, especially in rural areas, and many girls faced social pressure to have children before being emotionally ready and before their bodies were able to bear children safely. Contraception was available to both men and women. According to the latest UNICEF-sponsored Nepal Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (NMICS) conducted in 2019, 44 percent of married women used a modern contraceptive method and 2.5 percent used a traditional method. The 2019 survey indicated that 24.7 percent of married women had an unmet need for family planning. In addition, awareness of contraception and family planning practices remained limited in remote areas.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors. Victims of sexual violence had access to sexual and reproductive health services in government hospitals and there were one-stop crisis management centers in each of the 17 districts. Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley also provide sexual and reproductive health services for victims of physical and sexual violence.

According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2017 was 186 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 236 deaths in 2015. Skilled birth attendants assisted in 77 percent of deliveries according to the NMICS compared with 56 percent in 2014. The NMICS reported 95 percent of women received antenatal care services and 89 percent were attended at least once by skilled health personnel. According to the 2015 Health Facility Survey, services for the management of sexually transmitted infections were available in 74 percent of facilities countrywide. Normal childbirth delivery services were available in about half of facilities countrywide, but in only 33 percent of facilities in the Terai region in the south of the country.

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

Discrimination: Although the law provides protection, women faced systemic discrimination, including in employment (see section 7.d.) and especially in rural areas. Dalit women in particular faced gender and caste discrimination. The law grants women equal shares of their parents’ inheritance and the right to keep their property after marriage, but many women were not aware of their rights, and others were afraid to challenge existing practice. The law also grants widows complete access and authority to the estate of their deceased husbands; the government did not take sufficient measures to enforce these provisions.

The law contains discriminatory provisions. For example, the law on property rights favors men in land tenancy and the division of family property. The constitution, however, confers rights for women that had not previously received legal protection, including rights equal to those of their spouses in property and family affairs, and special opportunities in education, health, and social security.

The constitution does not allow women to convey citizenship to their children independent of the citizenship of the child’s father and has no specific provision for naturalization of foreign husbands married to citizen wives.

For women and girls to obtain citizenship by descent for themselves, regulations require a married woman to submit a formal attestation from her husband, father, or husband’s family (if widowed) that she qualifies for citizenship and has his or their permission to receive it. This requirement makes a woman’s right to citizenship contingent on her father’s or husband’s cooperation. In many cases husbands refused to provide their wives this attestation. Preventing women from obtaining citizenship documentation precludes their access to the courts and thus their ability to make legal claims to land and other property, which permits the husband or male relatives free to stake their own claims.

Children

Birth Registration: Constitutional provisions, laws, and regulations governing citizenship discriminated by the gender of the parent, which contributed to statelessness (see section 2.g.). There was no difference in birth registration policies and procedures based on the sex of the child.

The constitution states that citizenship derives from one citizen parent, but it also stipulates that a child born to a citizen mother and a noncitizen father may obtain citizenship only through naturalization. In some cases, mothers faced extreme difficulties in securing citizenship papers for children of citizen parents, even when the mother possessed citizenship documents, except in cases in which the child’s father supported the application. These difficulties persisted despite a 2011 Supreme Court decision granting a child citizenship through the mother if the father was unknown or absent.

The constitution states that the children of unidentified fathers may obtain citizenship through their mothers, but if it is later determined that the father is a foreign citizen, the child will lose citizenship by descent but be eligible for naturalization. Many single women faced difficulties registering their children as citizens by descent. The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that government authorities must not deny the registration of birth and citizenship of children of citizen mothers and fathers who cannot be traced. According to human rights lawyers, although this provision applies to the children of single mothers, including rape and trafficking victims, it does not address situations in which the identity of a child’s father is known but he refuses to acknowledge paternity. The legal and practical restrictions on transferring citizenship imposed particular hardships on children whose fathers were deceased, had abandoned the family, or (as was increasingly common) departed the country to work abroad.

Since naturalization is not a fundamental right under the constitution, although it could be an option for those not eligible for citizenship by descent, it is subject to state discretion. Although they lacked specific data, human rights lawyers reported that the government has processed few applications for naturalization of children in recent years.

Education: The constitution makes basic primary education free and compulsory nationwide. The law divides the education system into Basic Education (Early Childhood Development and grades one to eight), which is free and compulsory, and Secondary Education (grades nine to 12), which is free but not compulsory. The government reported that during the 2019-20 school year, 96.5 percent of school-age children attended primary schools with gender parity.

Some children, particularly girls, face barriers to accessing education due to lack of sanitation facilities, geographic distance, costs associated with schooling, household chores, and lack of parental support. Countrywide, nearly a third of schools lack separate toilet facilities for girls, which can deter them from attending school, especially when they are menstruating. Barriers for attending school for school-age boys include pressure to find employment, migration to work outside the country, and problems with drugs and alcohol. Children with disabilities face additional barriers to accessing education, including denial of school admission. In addition, children are required to attend school only up to age 13. This standard makes children age 13 and older vulnerable to child labor despite not being legally permitted to work.

Medical Care: The government provided basic health care free to children and adults although quality and accessibility vary. Parental discrimination against girls often resulted in impoverished parents giving priority to their sons when seeking medical services.

Child Abuse: Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. NGOs stated that such reports have increased in part due to greater awareness, but no reliable estimates of its incidence exist. The government has some mechanisms to respond to child abuse and violence against children, such as special hotlines and the National Child Rights Council.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage for both boys and girls before the age of 20, but the country has a high rate of child marriage and child bearing among girls. According to UNICEF, nearly a third of young women aged 20-24 reported they were married by the age of 18, and 7.9 percent by age 15.

Social, economic, and cultural values promoted the practice of early and forced marriages, which was especially common in the Dalit and Madhesi communities. The law sets penalties for violations according to the age of the girls involved in child marriage. The penalty includes both a prison sentence and fine, with the fees collected going to the girl involved. The law provides that the government must act whenever a case of child marriage is filed with authorities. Additionally, the practice of early and forced marriage limited girls’ access to education and increased their susceptibility to domestic violence and sexual abuse, including sex trafficking.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem, according to NGOs. There were reports of boys and girls living on the streets and exploited in prostitution, including by tourists, and of underage girls employed in dance bars, massage parlors, and cabin restaurants (sometimes fronts for brothels). Enforcement was generally weak due to limited police investigation and capacity, and police sometimes arrested girls in commercial sexual exploitation. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years.

There is no specific law against child pornography, but the law stipulates that no person can involve or use a child for an immoral profession, and photographs cannot be taken or distributed for the purpose of engaging a child in an immoral profession. Additionally, photographs that tarnish the character of the child may not be published, exhibited, or distributed.

Displaced Children: Many children remained displaced due to the 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks (see section 2.d.). The government did not have comprehensive data on children affected by the decade-long Maoist conflict, including the original number of internally displaced and the number who remained displaced.

Institutionalized Children: Abuse, including sexual abuse, and mistreatment in orphanages and children’s homes reportedly was common. An NGO working in this field estimated that approximately one-third of registered children’s homes met the minimum legal standards of operation, but there was no reliable data on the many unregistered homes. NGOs reported some children in the institutions were forced to beg. The NGO also reported no significant change in the level or degree of abuse of children compared to previous years.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish population in the country and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on disability or physical condition and contains additional specific rights for persons with disabilities. These include the right to free higher education for all citizens with physical disabilities who are “financially poor” and the provision of accessible instructional materials and curricula for persons with vision disabilities.

The government provides services for persons with physical and mental disabilities, including a monthly stipend, building shelters, and appointing one social welfare worker in each of 753 local governments. The law provides that persons with disabilities have equal access to education, health, employment, public physical infrastructure, transportation, and information and communication services. On July 19, the government passed the Regulation on the Rights of Person with Disability (2020), which focused on the rights of individuals with “profound” disabilities. The government also formed a national level directorate for implementation of the act. Although government efforts to enforce laws and regulations to improve rights and benefits for persons with disabilities gradually improved, they still were not fully effective. For example, books printed in braille were not available for students at all grade levels, and free higher education was not uniformly available to all interested persons with disabilities.

The government provided monthly social security allowances for persons with disabilities of 3,000 rupees ($25) for those categorized as “profoundly” disabled. The 2020 Disability Rights Regulations removed the provision of providing a social allowance for those categorized as “severely disabled.” After criticism and lobbying, the government has been providing 1600 rupees ($14) for “severely” disabled persons under a temporary provision. The law states that other persons with disabilities should receive allowances based on the availability of funds and the degree of disability. Three provincial governments funded sign language interpreters in 20 districts to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing persons in obtaining government services.

The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens was responsible for the protection of persons with disabilities. The country has 380 resource classrooms for students with disabilities, 32 special education schools, and 23 integrated schools. The number of students enrolled was low compared to the number of children without disabilities. Compared with primary school attendance, relatively few children with disabilities attended higher levels of education, largely due to accessibility problems, school locations, and financial burdens on parents. Although abuse of children with disabilities reportedly occurred in schools, no reports of such incidents were filed in the courts or with the relevant agencies during the year. The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens reported that most of the 753 municipalities have allocated funding to minority and vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, under the new federal system. Most persons with disabilities had to rely almost exclusively on family members for assistance.

There are no restrictions in law on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote and participate in civic affairs or to access the judicial system. According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens, however, there were obstacles in exercising these rights, especially the lack of accessibility to public facilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The law provides that each community shall have the right “to preserve and promote its language, script, and culture” and to operate schools at the primary level in its native language. The government generally upheld these provisions. More than 125 caste and ethnic groups, some of which are considered indigenous nationalities, speak more than 120 different languages.

Discrimination against lower castes and some ethnic groups, including in employment (see section 7.d.), was widespread and especially common in the Terai region and in rural areas.

Caste-based discrimination is illegal, and the government outlawed the public shunning of Dalits and made an effort to protect the rights of other disadvantaged castes. The constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability and stipulates special legal protections for Dalits in education, health care, and housing. It also established the National Dalit Commission as a constitutional body to strengthen protections for and promote the rights of Dalits. While the government promulgated the accompanying laws to prohibit discrimination in late 2018, Dalit rights activists maintained that the laws banned discrimination too generally without explicitly protecting Dalits.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, government progress in reducing discrimination remained limited in rural areas.

On May 23, six youth, including four Dalit, were killed in what activists characterized as the most violent attack on Dalits in the modern history of the country. Nawaraj Bishwokarma and a group of friends were attacked by a mob of villagers, including the local ward chair Dambar Malla, when he tried to elope with his Chhetri caste girlfriend. According to survivors of the attack and some local officials, villagers chased the young men to a nearby riverbank, beat them to death with stones, sharp weapons, and pieces of wood, and threw their bodies in the river. Local police investigated and arrested 27 suspects including the girl’s parents and the local ward chair. The Ministry of Home Affairs and House of Representatives formed committees to investigate the incident and the NHRC sent a team to investigate.

Indigenous People

The government recognized 59 ethnic and caste groups as indigenous nationalities, comprising approximately 36 percent of the population. Although some communities were comparatively privileged, many faced unequal access to government resources and political institutions and linguistic, religious, and cultural discrimination.

On July 18, Media and NGOs reported that Chitwan National Park authority workers burned two houses and used an elephant to destroy eight others from a Chepang community within the park’s buffer zone. The Ministry of Forests and Environment began an investigation after human rights groups and media criticized the evictions, which occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown and monsoon season. The NHRC was also investigating the incident.

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

No laws criminalize same-sex sexual activity, and LGBTI persons actively advocated for their rights. The constitution contains provisions outlining protections for LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists continued to press for further legislation to increase protections for gender and sexual minorities.

According to local LGBTI advocacy groups, the government did not provide equal opportunities for LGBTI persons in education, health care, or employment (see section 7.d.). Additionally, advocacy groups stated that some LGBTI persons faced difficulties in registering for citizenship, particularly in rural areas.

Although several LGBTI candidates ran for office in local elections in recent years, LGBTI activists noted that election authorities prevented one person in 2017 who self-identified as third gender from registering as a candidate for vice mayor because electoral quotas required the individual’s party to register a “female” candidate for the position; the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. Separately, LGBTI activists stated that some transgender persons refrained from voting due to harassment or social scorn because transgender persons were forced to stand in lines reflecting the gender on their citizenship documents, regardless of whether they had changed gender in practice.

According to LGBTI rights NGOs, harassment and abuse of LGBTI persons by private citizens and government officials declined during the year, especially in urban areas, although such incidents still occurred.

LGBTI rights groups reported that gender and sexual minorities faced harassment from police during the year. The Nepal Police HRC confirmed that some low-level harassment occurred because many citizens held negative views of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no official discrimination against persons who provided HIV-prevention services or against high-risk groups that could spread HIV/AIDS.

Societal discrimination and stigma against persons with HIV and those at high risk of HIV remained common, according to NGOs.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice, except those organizations deemed by the government to be subversive or seditious. Freedom of association extends to workers in both the formal and informal sectors. Noncitizens cannot be elected as trade union officials. Local workers have the right to strike and bargain collectively, except for employees in essential services, including public transportation, banking, security, and health care. The law prohibits workers from striking in any special economic zone. The government is planning 14 special economic zones. One special economic zone in Bhairahawa is operating and one in Simara is nearing completion, both are in the portion of the country near the Indian border. Members of the armed forces, police, and government officials at the undersecretary level or higher also are prohibited from taking part in union activities. In the private sector, employees in managerial positions are not permitted to join unions.

The law stipulates that unions must represent at least 25 percent of workers in a given workplace to be considered representative. The minimum requirement does not prohibit the formation of unofficial union groups, which under certain conditions may call strikes and enter into direct negotiation with the government. Workers in the informal sector may also form unions, but many workers were not aware of these rights. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights such as discrimination. Implementation in the private and informal sectors, however, remains a challenge. On October 15, the government established a labor court to address violations of labor laws and other issues related to labor.

The law also protects union representatives from adverse legal action arising from their official union duties, including collective bargaining, and prohibits antiunion discrimination. Workers dismissed for engaging in union activities can seek reinstatement by filing a complaint in labor court or with the Department of Labor, which has semijudicial and mediation authority. Most cases are settled through mediation. By law employers can fire workers only under limited conditions and only after three instances of misconduct. The law stipulates that participation in a strike that does not meet legal requirements constitutes misconduct, for which the consequences are suspension or termination of employment.

To conduct a legal strike, 51 percent of a union’s membership must vote in favor in a secret ballot, and unions are required to give 30 days’ notice before striking. If the union is unregistered, does not have majority support, or calls a strike prior to issuing 30 days’ notice, the strike is considered illegal.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Although the government restricted strikes in essential services, workers in hospitals, education services, and the transportation sector occasionally called strikes during the year and did not face any legal penalties. Many unions had links to political parties and did not operate independently from them but worked effectively to advance the rights of workers. The government did not interfere in the functioning of workers’ organizations or threaten union leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law does not criminalize the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of persons by force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law and the country continued to be a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children who were subjected to forced labor. Kamlari is one such form of slavery outlawed in 2013 in which girls as young as four years and women across all age groups are forced to work as bonded laborers in the houses of the rich landlords. Although it is illegal, the government did not provided support for these newly freed women to reintegrate them adequately into society, such as financial assistance or educational opportunities. A number of nonprofit organizations focused on the country’s border with India, where human trafficking was still a problem, to help women and children who were at a higher risk of human trafficking and slavery.

Government enforcement of the laws against bonded labor was uneven, and social reintegration of victims remained difficult. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The government did not effectively screen for labor trafficking among abused migrant workers and handled such cases administratively in lieu of criminal investigation. In addition, despite reports of worker exploitation, including trafficking, and illegal recruitment fees charged by recruitment agencies, the government did not sufficiently investigate agencies for violations. The penalties for violating laws against bonded labor involve fines and compensation to victims, with no imprisonment, and therefore are not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Labor trafficking is prosecuted as a criminal offense under the Trafficking in Persons law and the punishments are commensurate with other serious crimes.

Forced labor, including through debt-based bondage, of adults and children existed in agriculture, brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, and domestic work. A government study documented more than 61,000 individuals–including approximately 10,000 children–in forced labor over the past five years, especially in agriculture, forestry, and construction. NGOs continued to report some children worked in brick kilns, including carrying loads, preparing bricks, and performing other tasks at kilns for extended periods.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 as the minimum age for work and 17 as the minimum age for hazardous work, and it defines and mandates acceptable working conditions for children. The minimum age for hazardous work is not consistent with international standards because it does not prohibit children age 17 from engaging in hazardous work. The types of hazardous work prohibited for children also do not include brickmaking, a sector in which there is evidence that work involves carrying heavy loads and being exposed to hazardous substances. Employers must maintain separate records of laborers between the ages of 14 and 17. The law prohibits employment of children in factories, mines, and 60 other categories of hazardous work and limits children between the ages of 16 and 17 to a 36-hour workweek (six hours a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., six days a week).

There was little progress in the devolution of power of the labor inspectorate. Labor law enforcement remained centralized and the number of labor inspectors at the provincial levels remained inadequate. The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and practices, did not effectively do so. The Department of Labor conducted most of its labor inspections in the formal sector while nearly all child labor occurred in the informal sector. The Department had 14 factory inspector positions in district labor offices and two senior factory inspector positions in Kathmandu. Chronic vacancies in these positions, however, limited the department’s effectiveness. Some of these positions were vacant due to regular rotation of civil servants, and resources devoted to enforcement were limited. Although labor inspectors periodically received training on child labor laws and inspection, this training did not necessarily adhere to any formal schedule. A broad range of laws and policies were designed to combat and eventually eliminate child labor. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations and were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

COVID-19 had a serious impact on child poverty where children have been bearing the burden of poverty disproportionately. The number of children living in poverty rose from an estimated 1.3 million before the pandemic to approximately seven million in August. A lack of education and healthcare resources led to increases in child labor. Paternal disability or death, among the strongest observable predictors of engagement in the worst forms of child labor, increased during the pandemic.

Child labor, including forced child labor, occurred in agriculture, domestic service, portering, recycling, and transportation; the worst abuses were reported in brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, the carpet sector, embroidery factories, and the entertainment sector. In the informal sector, children worked long hours in unhealthy environments, carried heavy loads, were at risk of sexual exploitation, and at times suffered from numerous health problems (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, geographical or social origin, language, marital status, physical or health condition, disability, or ideological conviction. Labor regulations prohibit discrimination in payment or remuneration based on gender. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights.

There are no provisions in the constitution, law, or regulations prohibiting discrimination, including labor discrimination, or discrimination based on color, age, national origin or citizenship, HIV-positive status, or other communicable disease. The 2017 ban on domestic work in Gulf countries for Nepali women under 30 was intended to protect them from exploitation and violence; however, the ban caused many young women to seek illegal routes, which placed them at higher risk of trafficking and violence.

Despite constitutional and legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, caste, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, disability, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Such discrimination was most common in the informal sector, where monitoring by the government and human rights organizations was weak or absent and those in disadvantaged categories had little leverage or recourse. In the formal sector, labor discrimination generally took the form of upper-caste men without disabilities being favored in hiring, promotions, and transfers.

To be eligible for government jobs, Nepali national origin or citizenship is mandatory.

According to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens and to disability rights advocates, the overall rate of employment of persons with disabilities did not increase significantly. In the private sector, large numbers of persons with disabilities claimed they were denied work opportunities or dismissed due to their conditions. In all sectors employees with disabilities reported other forms of discriminatory treatment.

According to the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization, the government made little progress in implementing antidiscrimination legal provisions to assure employment opportunities for lower-caste individuals in both the public and private sectors. There was no comprehensive data on this abuse.

Structural barriers and discrimination forced Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves, or making leather products.

For every 100 employed men, there were only 59 employed women, and the average monthly income for women was 5,834 rupees ($49) less than what men earn. The unequal gender division of labor has long been identified as a factor causing inequality with direct links to lower income, education, and access to medical services for women. A heavy domestic workload aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis could leave women and girls further behind.

Reliable data on discrimination against LGBTI persons in various sectors was not available, but activists reported it was common for gender and sexual minorities to be denied promotions and competitive opportunities within the security services and athletics.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage exceeded the official poverty line but it was minimally sufficient to meet subsistence needs.

Minimum-wage laws apply to both the formal sector (which accounted for approximately 10 percent of the workforce) and the informal sector, but implementation was stronger in the formal sector.

The law stipulates a 48-hour workweek, with one day off per week and one-half hour of rest per five hours worked. The law limits overtime to no more than four hours in a day and 20 hours per week, with a 50 percent overtime premium per hour. Excessive compulsory overtime is prohibited. Employees are also entitled to paid public holiday leave, sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, bereavement leave, and other special leave. The law provides adequate occupational health and safety standards and establishes other benefits, such as a provident fund, housing facilities, day-care arrangements for establishments with more than 50 female workers, and maternity benefits.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security reported that most factories in the formal sector complied with laws on minimum wage and hours of work, but implementation varied in the informal sector, including in agriculture and domestic servitude. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce the wage and hour laws or the occupational health and safety laws. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Implementation and enforcement of occupational health and safety standards were minimal, and the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security considered it the most neglected area of labor law enforcement. The ministry found violations across sectors, including in construction, mining, transportation, agriculture, and factory work.

The government had not created the necessary regulatory or administrative structures to enforce occupational safety and health provisions. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security did not have a specific office dedicated to occupational safety and health, nor did it have inspectors specifically trained in this area. Although the law authorizes factory inspectors to order employers to rectify unsafe conditions, enforcement of safety standards remained minimal, and monitoring was weak. Accurate data on workplace fatalities and accidents was not available. Labor law and regulations do not specify that workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The government regulated labor contracting, or “manpower,” agencies recruiting workers for overseas jobs, and penalized fraudulent recruitment practices. The government declared it remained committed to the free-visa, free-ticket scheme introduced in 2015, but according to migrant rights NGOs, the government failed to implement the policy effectively. Some government officials were complicit in falsifying travel documents and overlooking recruiting violations by labor contractors. The Department of Foreign Employment introduced measures to reduce the number of registered manpower agencies and more closely scrutinize their activities. The myriad unregistered and unregulated labor “brokers” and intermediaries, who were often trusted members of the community, complicated effective monitoring of recruitment practices. Workers were also encouraged to register and pay a fee to the Foreign Employment Board, which tracked migrant workers and provided some compensation for workers whose rights were violated. The suspension of international flights and the economic impact of COVID-19 prevented workers from traveling for a significant portion of the year and made it difficult to evaluate the impact of any measures.

The government required contracts for workers going abroad to be translated into Nepali and instituted provisions whereby workers must attend a predeparture orientation program. During the orientation workers are made aware of their rights and legal recourse, should their rights be violated. The effectiveness of the initiatives remained questionable since workers who went overseas often skipped the mandatory training, and many companies issued predeparture orientation certificates for a small fee and failed to deliver the training. Migrant workers heading abroad often continued to face exploitive conditions.

According to the International Labor Organization, more than 70 percent of the economically active population was involved in the informal economy.

The law provides for protection of workers from work situations that endanger their health and safety, but in small and cottage industries located in small towns and villages, employers sometimes forced workers to work in such situations or risk losing their jobs. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce.

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of the Netherlands, a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, consists of four equal autonomous countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom retains responsibility for foreign policy, defense, and other “kingdom issues.” The Netherlands includes the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, which are special municipalities. The six Caribbean entities collectively are known as the Dutch Caribbean. The Netherlands has a bicameral parliament. The country’s 12 provincial councils elect the First Chamber, and the Second Chamber is elected by popular vote. A prime minister and a cabinet representing the governing political parties exercise executive authority. Second Chamber elections in 2017 were considered free and fair. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten have unicameral parliamentary systems, and each island country has one minister plenipotentiary representing them in the kingdom’s Council of Ministers. Ultimate responsibility for safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms in all kingdom territories lies with the kingdom’s ministerial council, which includes the Dutch government and the plenipotentiary ministers of Curacao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten. (Note: The adjective “Dutch” throughout this report refers to “the Netherlands.”) Sint Maarten’s January 9 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair. Elections for seats in the Netherlands’ First Chamber in May 2019 were considered free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security in the Netherlands and report to the Ministry of Justice and Security, which oversees law enforcement organizations, as do the justice ministries in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom’s armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The military police (Marechaussee) are responsible for border control in the Netherlands. Each country’s Border Protection Service (immigration), police, and the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard share responsibility for border control on Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao, respectively. Civilian authorities throughout the entire kingdom maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed few abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: anti-Semitic incidents; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Authorities in the kingdom identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed abuses.

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

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

There were no reports the governments or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the Netherlands, separate bodies investigate whether security force killings were justifiable and pursue prosecutions when found not to be so. The Military Chamber of the Gelderland Provincial Court in Arnhem dispenses military justice to members of the Dutch armed forces. The National Police Investigative Department, under the Ministry of Justice and Security, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office perform these functions regarding possible crimes committed by police. In the Dutch Caribbean, the islands’ Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Court of Justice perform these functions.

The Netherlands does not allow involuntary euthanasia, but has statutory rules and procedures for the termination of life upon request by a patient. By law approval of a patient’s request for euthanasia requires all of the following conditions be met: the patient’s suffering must be unbearable with no prospect of improvement; the patient’s request must be voluntary and persistent over time; the patient must be fully aware of his or her condition, prospects, and options; at least one other independent doctor must confirm the condition; and the patient must be at least 12 years old (those between 12 and 16 years of age require consent of their parents) and suffering from a terminal illness.

On October 13, Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge announced the government had approved plans to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children between the ages of one and 12 with mandatory parental consent, in addition to the standard euthanasia requirements. He stated the government would draft new regulations for this practice.

Some organizations expressed concern regarding possible problems with the procedures in place based on a 2017 government report, which outlined 18 cases in 2015 in which the patient’s “explicit consent” was not obtained. The report found that in these 18 cases, other additional procedures were taken and the euthanasia was carried out properly under the law. An independent review committee monitored cases for compliance and occasionally presented complicated cases for review by the Prosecutor’s Office. Prosecutor’s Office reviews found all the procedures were followed correctly.

Euthanasia is punishable by law in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there was one report that asserted government officials employed them.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International in its 2019 report criticized the Netherlands’ use of special high-security detention units for persons arrested on terrorism charges and awaiting trial or convicted of terrorism, based on findings in a 2017 joint report with the Open Society Initiative. The NGO specifically noted that persons were detained in these units without individual assessments, and claimed that some security measures employed in these units, such as invasive body searches, isolation, and constant monitoring, could be considered cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Amnesty International acknowledged the government had implemented reforms for the improved treatment of such detainees since 2017, including establishing a personalized regimen for a detainee based on a risk-based assessment of the individual. The NGO, however, maintained this assessment should occur before the detainee’s placement in these detention units, not afterward.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no reports regarding prison or detention center conditions in the Netherlands that raised human rights concerns. According to human rights organizations, prison conditions in Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao did not meet minimum international standards.

Physical Conditions: In the Netherlands, there were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse. In a 2015 report on its visit to the Dutch Caribbean–the most recent report available–the Council of Europe’s Committee of the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted poor physical conditions in Curacao and Aruba, in some cases serious enough to be considered inhuman and degrading treatment, and reports of inmate mistreatment and interprisoner violence in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten.

On Aruba and Curacao, some undocumented Venezuelans who were scheduled to be deported remained in immigration detention longer than expected in a location that is intended for short stay only, because Venezuela only infrequently allowed repatriation flights from Aruba and Curacao.

The Sint Maarten Public Prosecutor reported that some suspects were in custody for longer than the permitted 10 days at the Sint Maarten police station because of a lack of prison cells elsewhere. Such practices ceased after a European Court for Human Rights ruling in December 2019. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that Venezuelan refugees were held in detention in Curacao for more than six months, which is a violation of local immigration policy. During the year, a criminal investigation of this matter continued in Curacao.

Administration: Agencies that make up the national preventive mechanism addressing allegations of mistreatment throughout the entire kingdom conducted investigations of credible allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The kingdom’s governments permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers such as human rights groups, media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as by international bodies such as the CPT, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, and the UN Working Group for People of African Descent.

Improvements: In response to the 2015 CPT report, Sint Maarten added staff, daytime activities, rehabilitation programs, and electronic surveillance. On Curacao, improvements included Dutch government-funded renovations of the detention center and prison, based on CPT standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law throughout the kingdom 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 governments generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

A prosecutor or senior police officer must order the arrest of any person, unless the person is apprehended at the site of an alleged crime. Arrested persons have the right to appear, usually within a day, before a judge, and authorities generally respected this right. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The kingdom’s laws also allow persons to be detained on a court order pending investigation.

In terrorism-related cases in the Netherlands, the examining magistrate may initially order detention for 14 days on the lesser charge of “reasonable suspicion” rather than the “serious suspicion” required for other crimes.

There is no bail system. Detainees can request to be released claiming there are no grounds to detain them. Authorities frequently grant such requests. In all parts of the kingdom, the law provides suspects the right to consult an attorney. The Netherlands’ law grants all criminal suspects the right to have their lawyers present at police interrogation. In Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, a criminal suspect is only entitled to consult his or her lawyer prior to the first interview on the substance of the case. Immigration detainees in Curacao do not always have access to legal counsel, nor do they have visitation rights. In the Netherlands and Curacao, in the case of a minor, the lawyer can be present during interviews but cannot actively participate.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

In all parts of the kingdom, the law provides for an independent judiciary, and the governments generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial throughout the kingdom, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly of the charges. Trials must be fair and take place without undue delay in the presence of the accused. The law provides for prompt access of defendants to attorneys of their choice, including at public expense if the defendant is unable to pay. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. If required, the court provides interpreters free of charge throughout the judicial process. The defendant is not present when the examining magistrate examines witnesses, but an attorney for the accused has the right to question them.

In most instances defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and evidence for the defense. The judge has the discretion to decide which witnesses and evidence are relevant to the case; if the defendant disagrees with the judge’s decision, there is a procedure to address the grievance. In certain cases involving national security, the defense has the right to submit written questions to witnesses whose identity is kept confidential. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees anywhere in the kingdom.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals throughout the kingdom may bring lawsuits for damages for human rights abuses in the regular court system or specific appeal boards. If all domestic means of redress are exhausted, individuals may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Citizens of Sint Maarten and Curacao may also seek redress from the government through the Office of the Ombudsperson.

Property Restitution

The Netherlands has laws or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government has made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The government seeks to meet the goals of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues. A legal process exists for claimants to request the return of property looted during the Holocaust, although some advocates say that bureaucratic procedures and poor record keeping have been barriers to restitution efforts. There are no active restitution cases on Curacao, Aruba, or Sint Maarten.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act report to Congress, released on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The law throughout the kingdom prohibits such actions, but there was one report raising concern regarding the government’s respect for these prohibitions. In a September 29 report, Amnesty International criticized a predictive policing pilot project in the city of Roermond. Using cameras and other sensors, police monitored persons driving around the city, collecting information about vehicles and movement patterns. An algorithm then calculated a risk score for each vehicle to assess whether the driver and passengers were likely to commit a property crime. Amnesty charged that one indicator used was whether persons in the vehicle were from Eastern Europe. Amnesty criticized both the mass surveillance used in such projects and the fact that the systems discriminated specifically against East Europeans. On October 1 and 2, members of parliament from opposition parties submitted parliamentary questions to the government based on Amnesty’s report. As of December the minister of justice had not responded other than to inform parliament the government’s responses would be delayed.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Speech: It is a crime to “verbally or in writing or image deliberately offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute in the Netherlands does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In the Dutch Caribbean, the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a monetary fine. In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism.

On September 4, an appellate court upheld Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders’ 2016 conviction for “group insult” against Moroccans at a 2014 political rally. The appeals court threw out the charges of inciting hatred and discrimination, finding that Wilders made the remarks for political purposes, rather than to inspire discrimination. The court upheld his conviction, however, for “group insult,” a crime of deliberately insulting a group of persons because of their race, religion, or conviction. As was the case in the original 2016 conviction, Wilders did not receive a punishment. Wilders asserted the conviction violated his right to freedom of expression and stated he would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on “hate speech” applied to media outlets but were only occasionally enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.

Nongovernmental Impact: Several crime reporters and media outlets in the Netherlands faced threats, violence, and intimidation from criminal gangs. If required by circumstances, reporters receive temporary police protection. On February 2, two assailants punched and threatened to kill Pakistani blogger Ahmad Waqass Goraya outside his Rotterdam home.

Internet Freedom

Kingdom governments did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the governments monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued, however, to pursue policies to prevent what they considered incitement to discrimination on the internet. They operated a hotline for persons to report discriminatory phrases and hate speech with the principal aim of having them removed.

It is Dutch government policy to allow the online community to regulate and check itself, except for the removal of illegal content. The government advocated a common European approach for dealing with online hate speech. The government supported independent legal review by the government-sponsored but editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MiND Nederland).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The laws in the kingdom provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the governments generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The laws in the kingdom provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the governments generally respected these rights.

Beginning in March kingdom authorities established temporary restrictions on internal movement and foreign travel to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Citizenship: Some human rights organizations questioned the law which allows revocation of the Dutch citizenship of dual nationals suspected of being a foreign terrorist fighter. During the year the government did not revoke any dual citizen’s citizenship on the basis of terrorism.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The governments of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten, and Aruba cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Curacao expelled UNHCR in 2017 and has allowed UNHCR neither to establish an office nor to interview refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights organizations criticized the government of Curacao for failing to provide temporary status to Venezuelan refugees and other displaced Venezuelans. They found that many migrants and displaced Venezuelans without legal status ended up living on the fringes of society, with no protection against abuse from neighbors or from employers in the informal sector.

The LGBT Asylum Support Foundation reported more than 60 cases of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in asylum centers in the Netherlands between June and August and urged for the creation of separate living quarters in asylum centers for LGBTI asylum seekers. Most of the violence was instigated by asylum seekers who discriminated against LGBTI individuals.

Refoulement: On Curacao and Sint Maarten, there is no legal protection from returning a person to their country of origin who faces a well founded fear of persecution there. Curacao and Sint Maarten may have a legal basis, however, to prevent returning a person to a country where they would face torture or degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment, based on the European Convention on Human Rights. Both governments developed corresponding national procedures but did not amend their immigration statutes. The Netherlands and Aruba have legal protections to prevent refoulement. In Aruba, however, authorities deported Venezuelans, who had stated to human rights organizations that they would face abuse if returned to Venezuela, without adjudicating their asylum claim.

There were disagreements between the government of the Netherlands and human rights organizations on the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bahrain. The courts agreed with the government that conditions in these countries were safe enough to deport these individuals. One case concerned the 2018 deportation of Ali Mohamed al-Showaikh, a rejected asylum seeker from Bahrain, who was immediately arrested upon his deportation to his home country. The government was reproached by human rights organizations for ignoring pertinent information that al-Showaikh would be at risk if deported.

Access to Asylum: The laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In the Netherlands, the law generally provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.

The laws in Sint Maarten and Curacao do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Foreigners requesting asylum are processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian residence permit. If an individual is unable to obtain a humanitarian residence permit, authorities deport the person to their country of origin or a country that agreed to accept them. Curacao requested and received guidance and training from the Netherlands on asylum-processing procedures. Curacao established an asylum policy based on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Most asylum seekers in the Dutch Caribbean were from Venezuela. Authorities in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten generally considered most Venezuelan asylum seekers to be economic migrants ineligible for protection. There were an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers each in Aruba and Curacao and another 1,000 in Sint Maarten. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao deported undocumented displaced Venezuelans throughout the year. Local and international human rights organizations urged the governments of Aruba and Curacao to refrain from deporting Venezuelan asylum seekers back to their home country. Local human rights organizations reported that Aruba and Curacao deported asylum seekers who had presented credible facts suggesting that they would face abuse for their political beliefs if returned to Venezuela.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.

Under the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, the Netherlands did not return third-country asylum seekers arriving from Hungary back to Hungary, due to discrepancies between Hungary’s asylum laws and EU migration law.

Freedom of Movement: Government guidelines allow those whose asylum application has been denied and are to be deported to be detained for up to six months, during which a judge monthly examines the legitimacy of the detention. If the authorities cannot deport the detained individual within this time period, he or she is released. Authorities can, however, detain the individual for up to a maximum of 18 months on exceptional grounds, such as security concerns, with approval from the court. Detainees have access to a lawyer and can appeal the detention at any time. The Ministry of Justice estimated the average detention span is two months. In the Netherlands, Amnesty International, the Dutch Refugee Council, and other NGOs asserted that persons denied asylum and irregular migrants were regularly subjected to lengthy detention before deportation even when no clear prospect of actual deportation existed.

Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands, the government accepted up to 500 refugees per year for resettlement through UNHCR, and the governments of the Dutch Caribbean accepted up to 250 each. In 2019 the government also relocated up to 350 Syrians from refugee camps in Turkey under the terms of the EU agreement with Turkey. Most of the persons granted residency permits on Curacao and Aruba were from Venezuela. The governments provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees or asylum seekers who sought to return to their home country voluntarily. Sint Maarten does not receive a significant number of applications from refugees or asylum seekers for residency permits; of those, most were from the northern Caribbean, not Venezuela. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch persons to gain citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The government of the Netherlands provided temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, in 2019 it provided subsidiary protection to 2,355 persons and humanitarian status to 680 others.

g. Stateless Persons

During the year, Statistics Netherlands reported the registration of 45,947 persons under “nationality unknown,” which also included stateless persons. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for stateless persons to gain citizenship.

Some newborns of undocumented Venezuelan parents on Curacao risked becoming stateless, because neither the local government nor the Venezuelan consulate issues birth certificates to undocumented persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the January 9 parliamentary elections on Sint Maarten free and fair. Observers also considered the 2017 parliamentary elections for seats in the Second Chamber of the Netherlands free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process in the kingdom, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The laws in the entire kingdom provide criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the governments generally implemented the laws effectively. There were isolated reports of corruption in the kingdom’s governments during the year.

Corruption: On May 15, Theo Heyliger, a former member of Sint Maarten’s parliament, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for accepting bribes related to construction projects. Two other defendants received lesser sentences in the same case.

A large-scale investigation of 23 million intercepted messages among criminals on the encrypted Encrochat chat service brought to light corruption among police in the Netherlands, such as officers allegedly leaking police information to organized criminals via the chat service. The chief of the National Police announced September 16 the establishment of a special team in the National Investigation Service to investigate the matter. He anticipated this would result in criminal investigations and stated that, if necessary, police would intensify efforts to combat internal corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The laws throughout the kingdom do not require income and asset disclosure by officials. In 2019 the evaluation of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption noted that prospective cabinet ministers are expected to discuss potential conflicts of interest with their future prime minister during the formation of a new government, but these declarations are not made public and do not cover holdings or offices held by the candidate minister’s family members. For most senior government positions, each ministry has its own regulations governing conflicts of interest.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A citizen of the Netherlands may bring any complaint before the national ombudsperson, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), the Commercial Code Council, or the Council of Journalism, depending on circumstances. The NIHR acted as an independent primary contact between the Dutch government and domestic and international human rights organizations.

Citizens of Curacao and Sint Maarten may bring any complaint before their national ombudsperson. All citizens of the Dutch Caribbean islands can direct complaints to their public prosecutors or to NGOs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law in all parts of the kingdom criminalizes rape for both men and women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The penalty in the Netherlands for rape is imprisonment not exceeding 12 years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. In the case of violence against a spouse, the penalty for various forms of abuse can be increased by one-third. In Aruba the penalty for rape is imprisonment not exceeding 12 years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. Authorities effectively prosecuted such crimes.

The government estimated that every year approximately 200,000 persons are confronted with serious and repeated domestic violence. It used various tools to tackle and prevent domestic violence, including providing information, restraining orders for offenders, and protection of victims. Reliable crime statistics were not available for the islands.

In April the government budgeted 59.1 million euros ($71 million) available in 2021 to tackle domestic violence and child abuse. It continued funding for Safe Home, a knowledge hub and reporting center for domestic abuse with 26 regional branches, as the national platform to prevent domestic violence and support victims. The center operated a national 24/7 hotline for persons affected by domestic violence. The government supported the organization Movisie, which assisted survivors of domestic and sexual violence, trained police and first responders, and maintained a website on preventing domestic violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The government published in February a new action agenda to combat harmful practices against women, including FGM/C, forced marriage, and honor-related violence. No FGM/C cases have been reported to have occurred within the Netherlands. The action agenda outlines ways to identify and prevent girls from being taken to other countries to undergo FGM/C and to assist Dutch national victims abroad.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Honor-related violence is treated as regular violence for the purposes of prosecution and does not constitute a separate offense category. Laws against violence were enforced effectively in honor-related violence cases, and victims were permitted to enter a specialized shelter.

Sexual Harassment: The law penalizes acts of sexual harassment throughout the kingdom and was enforced effectively. The penalty in the Netherlands is imprisonment not exceeding eight years, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The law requires employers to protect employees against aggression, violence, and sexual intimidation. In the Netherlands complaints against employers who failed to provide sufficient protection can be submitted to the NIHR. Victims of sexual assault or rape in the workplace can report the incidents to police as criminal offenses.

In Curacao the Victims Assistance Foundation assists survivors. In Sint Maarten no central institution handles sexual harassment cases. According to the law, substantive civil servant law integrity counselors must be appointed for each ministry. These integrity counselors advise civil servants on integrity matters, and the responsible minister must act on the complaint. Aruban law states the employer shall ensure the employee is not sexually harassed in the workplace. Employers are required to keep the workplace free from harassment by introducing policies and enforcing them. Sint Maarten and Curacao also have laws prohibiting stalking.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Some religious and cultural communities discouraged premarital sex, the use of contraception, or both. Although no government policies or legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affect access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth in the Dutch Caribbean islands, in Aruba and Curacao, there are legal barriers for the large population of undocumented migrants that do not have access to the public health insurance system.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: Under the law women throughout the kingdom have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The governments enforced the law effectively, although there were some reports of discrimination in employment.

Children

Birth Registration: Throughout the kingdom citizenship can be derived from either the mother or the father, but not through birth on the country’s territory. Births are registered promptly.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse throughout the kingdom. The penalties depend on the details and context of the case and can reach up to 12 years in prison. A multidisciplinary task force in the Netherlands acts as a knowledge hub and facilitates interagency cooperation in combatting child abuse and sexual violence. The children’s ombudsman headed an independent bureau that safeguards children’s rights and calls attention to abuse. Physicians are required to report child abuse to authorities.

Aruba has a child abuse reporting center. In Curacao physicians are not required to report to authorities instances of abuse they encounter, but hospital officials reported indications of child abuse to authorities. In Sint Maarten the law addresses serious offenses against public morality, abandonment of dependent persons, serious offenses against human life, and assault that apply to child abuse cases.

The Public Prosecutor Offices in the Dutch Caribbean provide information to victims of child abuse concerning their rights and obligations in the juvenile criminal law system.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 in all parts of the kingdom. In the Netherlands and Aruba, there are two exceptions: if the persons concerned are older than 16 and the girl is pregnant or has given birth, or if the minister of justice and security in the Netherlands or the minister of justice in Aruba grants a dispensation based on the parties’ request.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Throughout the kingdom, the law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children as well as production, possession, and distribution of child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age of consent is 16 in the Netherlands, Curacao, and Aruba and 15 in Sint Maarten. The Netherlands is a source country of child sex tourists. The government continued to implement a national plan against child sex tourism and screened for potential child sex tourists at airports in cooperation with foreign governments. An offender can be tried in the Netherlands even if the offense takes place abroad.

International Child Abductions: The kingdom is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Liberal Jewish Community, the largest Jewish community in the Netherlands, estimated the Jewish population in the Netherlands at 40,000 to 50,000.

In February the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), the main chronicler of anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, reported 182 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, an increase of 34 percent over 2018, as well as 127 incidents online. Most occurred within the victims’ regular life routine, such as at school or work or in the company of persons the victims knew. Common incidents included vandalism, physical abuse, verbal abuse, and hate emails. The most common form of vandalism was swastikas scratched or painted on cars, walls, or buildings, sometimes in combination with a Star of David or texts such as “Heil Hitler.” Persons recognized as Jewish because of their religious attire were targeted occasionally in direct confrontations. A significant percentage of anti-Semitic incidents concerned calling somebody a “Jew” as a common derogatory term. In one case, the Royal Dutch Football Association suspended a youth soccer coach in Amsterdam for harassing an 11-year-old Jewish player over the boy’s religion, including referring to him as “cancer Jew.”

CIDI claimed the registered incidents were likely only a small portion of the number of all incidents and pointed to research by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in 2018 that concluded only 25 percent of Jews who were victims of anti-Semitism in the past five years reported incidents or filed complaints to police.

Three-quarters of anti-Semitic incidents reviewed by the Prosecutor’s Office’s National Expertise Center for Discrimination and police in 2019 related to anti-Semitic statements and chants by soccer fans, mostly concerning the Amsterdam soccer team Ajax, whose fans and players are nicknamed “Jews.”

In 2019 MiND Nederland reported it received 75 complaints of Dutch-language anti-Semitic expressions on the internet, which constituted 11 percent of all reported discriminatory expressions it received that year but were fewer than in the previous year. The organization gave no explanation for the decrease. CIDI reported an increase in complaints of anti-Semitic expressions on the internet it received from 95 in 2018 to 127 in 2019. At the request of CIDI, Kantar, a data analytics consultancy, analyzed approximately 750 Dutch-language anti-Semitic tweets and 300 websites from the year 2019. It found that two-thirds of anti-Semitic messages on Twitter were posted under the guise of criticism of Israel or Zionism, but they often displayed classic anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Dutch government ministers regularly met with the Jewish community to discuss appropriate measures to counter anti-Semitism. Government efforts included raising the issue of anti-Semitism within the Turkish-Dutch community, setting up a national help desk, organizing roundtables with teachers, reaching out to social media groups, promoting an interreligious dialogue, and conducting a public information campaign against discrimination and anti-Semitism.

In July the Second Chamber adopted a plan of action with the aim to counter anti-Semitism more effectively which included appointing a National Coordinator to Combat Anti-Semitism, setting up a pilot program to deploy specialized detectives to investigate anti-Semitic incidents, and increasing attention to the problem of anti-Semitism in training of teachers and youth care.

In 2019 the Dutch railway announced it would pay individual compensation for damages to approximately 5,000-6,000 Holocaust survivors and their surviving spouses and children for the company’s role in transporting victims to the Westerbork transit camp during the war. The application deadline for the Netherlands national railway’s individual compensation program for Holocaust victims was August 5. On June 26, the railway announced it would donate five million euros ($6 million) to Holocaust remembrance sites as a “collective expression of recognition” of all 102,000 victims. The Jewish community criticized the railway for not consulting with them on the decision.

The government, in consultations with stakeholders, also established measures to counter harassing and anti-Semitic chanting during soccer matches. The Anne Frank Foundation continued to manage government-sponsored projects, such as the Fan Coach project to counter anti-Semitic chanting and the Fair Play project to promote discussion on discrimination.

The government assisted local organizations with projects to combat anti-Semitism by providing information and encouraging exchange of best practices among key figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The Jewish populations in the Dutch Caribbean are small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts there.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Laws throughout the kingdom ban discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. In the Netherlands the law requires equal access to employment, education, transportation, housing, and goods and services. It requires that persons with disabilities have access to public buildings, information, and communications, and it prohibits making a distinction in supplying goods and services. The law provides criminal penalties for discrimination and administrative sanctions for failure to provide access.

Government enforcement of rules governing access was inadequate. Public buildings and public transport were not always accessible, sometimes lacking access ramps.

In the Dutch Caribbean, a wide-ranging law prohibiting discrimination was applied to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, health care, transportation, and the provision of other government services. Some public buildings and public transport were not accessible to persons with physical disabilities.

Human rights observers from UNICEF noted that in Curacao, persons with disabilities had to rely on improvised measures to access buildings and parking areas, as well as to obtain information.

Not all schools in Sint Maarten were equipped for children with a range of physical disabilities, even though the government reported that all children with physical disabilities had access to public and subsidized schools.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The laws throughout the kingdom prohibit racial, national, or ethnic discrimination.

Various monitoring bodies in the Netherlands reported that the largest percentage (39 percent) of incidents of discrimination registered with police in 2019 had to do with a person’s origin, including color and ethnicity. Almost all of these incidents concerned persons of non-Western backgrounds, including Turks and Moroccans. Police reported that of these incidents, 15 percent involved physical violence, although in most cases this did not go beyond pushing and shoving. According to the NIHR, discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds occurred in virtually every sphere (see also Other Societal Violence or Discrimination in this section).

Following the global and domestic outbreaks of COVID-19 in the spring, members of the Dutch Asian community reported increased discrimination in the form of insults, jokes, threats, violence, and vandalism, linking Asian ethnicity with the spread of coronavirus. In early February the local radio channel Radio 10 played the song, “Prevention is Better than Chinese,” the lyrics of which linked COVID-19 infections with Chinese persons and eating Chinese food. After an outcry against the song, the radio station apologized for playing it; the Public Prosecutor’s Office found no criminal offense was committed in playing the song. A group of youth attacked a Dutch woman of Chinese descent in Tilburg February 22 after she requested the group to stop singing the Radio 10 song. The woman told media she received a concussion and several cuts from the attack. Over 57,000 individuals signed the online petition, “We are not the Virus,” which called for the end of COVID-related racial discrimination in the country. In an April 14 letter to parliament, Health Minister De Jonge stated the cabinet found discrimination along these lines unacceptable.

During the summer, demonstrations against police brutality and racism abroad triggered numerous antiracism demonstrations throughout the Netherlands and heated debate among politicians and in media. During a June 3 parliamentary debate, Prime Minister Mark Rutte admitted that racism is a major problem in the Netherlands and spoke of “systemic racism,” particularly in the labor market and in education, but also within institutions like police and the tax authority. The government reached out to the domestic Black Lives Matter group and other diversity and ethnic-based organizations to discuss how to counter racism more effectively.

Another source of debate on racism was the traditional figure of Black Pete, the assistant to St. Nicholas during the annual celebration for children on December 5. For years antiracism campaigners protested the Black Pete tradition of blackface as an offensive relic of colonial times. In June Prime Minister Mark Rutte conceded that he realized the tradition has offended many persons of color. He stated it was not up to the government to abolish Black Pete, predicting that Black Pete would no longer be part of festivities in a few years on its own because local municipalities were increasingly opting not to include a blackface Black Pete or opting for substitutes such as Rainbow Black Pete. Meanwhile, more communities discontinued blackface Black Pete in the traditional St. Nicholas parades; major department stores and online retailers stopped selling products showing the blackface Black Pete image, while Facebook and Instagram announced a ban on blackface images in August. According to a survey issued on December 2 by I&O Research, a research consultancy, 39 percent of respondents said blackface Black Pete should remain part of St. Nicholas festivities, down from 65 percent of respondents surveyed four years ago.

In the Netherlands police received training on avoiding ethnic or racial profiling, although Amnesty International continued to criticize the lack of monitoring to assess the training’s effectiveness. The government put into place more effective procedures to process reports of discrimination and assist victims, including an independent complaints committee.

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

Throughout the kingdom the laws prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The governments generally enforced those laws.

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex characteristics, gender identity, and gender expression. The government urged institutions and companies to stop unnecessary registration of gender.

The law allows for higher penalties for violence motivated by anti-LGBTI bias. There were hundreds of reports of anti-LGBTI discrimination. In 2019, 29 percent of incidents of discrimination registered by police concerned sexual orientation. Of those incidents, 62 percent concerned verbal abuse, 17 percent physical abuse, and 16 percent threats of violence. It continued to be common practice for police to be insulted with the use of LGBTI slurs. Prosecutions were rare; many incidents were not reported allegedly because victims often believed that nothing would be done with their complaint (see also section 2.f.).

The Dutch government apologized December 1 for the now-defunct Transgender Act, which from 1985 to 2014 forced transgender individuals to undergo sterilization or gender reassignment if they wished to change their sex on their birth certificate legally. In a letter to parliament, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Legal Protection Minister Sander Dekker acknowledged the law led to serious suffering. They also presented a financial compensation program of 5,000 euros ($6,000) for each of the estimated 2,000 persons affected by the law. Transgender and human rights advocates welcomed the government’s apology and recognition of those who suffered under the law.

The Transgender Network Netherlands worked with authorities and NGOs to advance the rights of transgender persons and to combat discrimination. The group continued to promote an action plan to increase labor participation of transgender persons.

Police had a Netherlands-wide network of units dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTI persons. The city of Amsterdam’s informational call center is dedicated to increasing safety for LGBTI persons. The Ministry of Justice and Security sponsored a campaign in LGBTI-oriented media to encourage victims to report incidents and file complaints with police.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In the Netherlands the Muslim community of approximately 900,000 persons faced frequent physical and verbal attacks, acts of vandalism, discrimination, and racism, as did members of other minority and immigrant groups. In 2019 police registered 225 incidents on the grounds of religion, mainly against Muslims out of a total of 5,487 discriminatory incidents. Multiple incidents concerned harassment of women on the street because they were wearing a headscarf, as well as incidents involving anti-Muslim stickers and posters. Violent incidents, however, were rare.

The Dutch government, including the Office of the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security as well as city authorities closely monitored threats directed at Islamic institutions, including approximately 500 mosques. In 2019, 12 incidents at mosques were reported. Authorities supported mosques in enhancing security and provided ad hoc security if required.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide for public- and private-sector workers to form or join independent unions of their own choosing without prior governmental authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for collective bargaining. Unions may conduct their activities without interference.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retaliation against legal strikers. It requires workers fired for union activity to be reinstated. The law restricts striking by some public-sector workers if a strike threatens the public welfare or safety. Workers must report their intention to strike to their employer at least two days in advance.

The governments effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Throughout the kingdom the government, political parties, and employers respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Authorities effectively enforced applicable laws related to the right to organize and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Throughout the kingdom the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the governments enforced it. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor ranges from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Enforcement mechanisms and effectiveness varied across the kingdom. In the Netherlands the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment investigated cases of forced or compulsory labor. The inspectorate worked with various agencies, such as police, and NGOs to identify possible cases. After completion of an investigation, cases were referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. On the islands of the Dutch Caribbean, labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected worksites and locations for vulnerable migrants and indicators of trafficking. In Sint Maarten the lack of standard procedures for frontline responders to identify forced labor victims hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons.

Isolated incidents of forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included both domestic and foreign women and men, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in, among other sectors, agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking). Refugees and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, are vulnerable to labor trafficking.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In the Netherlands the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and there were no reports of child labor. The government groups children into three age categories for purposes of employment: 13 to 14; 15; and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are allowed to work only in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. As children become older, the scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increases, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs by age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children younger than 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Aruba’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between “children” and “youngsters.” Children are boys and girls younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 13 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced child labor laws and policies with adequate inspections of possible child labor violations.

Curacao’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The island’s minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are those younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 12 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence, a fine, or both, which was adequate to deter violations.

Sint Maarten’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Sint Maarten the law prohibits children younger than 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations throughout the kingdom prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation, and the governments effectively enforced the laws. The law applies to all refugees with residency status. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The NIHR, which covers the Netherlands, Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, focused on discrimination in the labor market, such as discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, termination of labor contracts, and preferential treatment of ethnically Dutch employees. Although the NIHR’s rulings are not binding, they were usually adhered to by parties. In 2019, 49 percent of the cases addressed by the NIHR were cases of possible labor discrimination. For example, NIHR judged that an information technology company discriminated on the grounds of age by soliciting applications in the age category of 25 to 35. It also found a mental health institution guilty of discrimination for not extending a contract of an employee because she became pregnant. Plaintiffs may also take their cases to court, but the NIHR was often preferred because of a lower threshold to start a case. The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment conducted inspections to investigate whether policies were in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The law addresses requirements for employers to accommodate employees with disabilities, and the government worked to improve the position of persons with disabilities in the labor market (see section 6).

Discrimination occurred in the Netherlands, including on the basis of race and sex. The country’s nationals with migrant backgrounds faced numerous barriers when looking for work, including lack of education, lack of Dutch language skills, and racial discrimination. According to Statistics Netherlands, the unemployment rate of persons of non-Western background during 2019 was more than twice that of ethnic Dutch, while the unemployment rate among youths with a non-Western background was almost three times higher than among ethnic Dutch youth. The government continued to implement a program–Further Integration on the Labor Market–to improve the competitiveness of those with a migrant background seeking work in the Netherlands. The program set up eight different pilot projects to identify which interventions would better increase labor market participation among these populations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to race, religion, and disability. The NIHR reported in 2019 at least 37 claims of discrimination in employment related to pregnancy. Female unemployment was higher than male, and female incomes lagged behind those of male counterparts.

There were no reports of labor discrimination cases on Curacao, Aruba, or Sint Maarten.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In the Netherlands the minimum wage for an adult older than 21 was sufficient for a single-person household but inadequate for a couple with two children, according to the government. The government effectively enforced wage laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

In Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, the monthly minimum wage was considered sufficient to ensure a decent living for workers, according to the three governments.

In the Netherlands the law does not establish a specific number of hours as constituting a full workweek, but most workweeks were 36, 38, or 40 hours long. Collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts, not law, regulate overtime. The legal maximum workweek is 60 hours. During a four-week period, a worker may only work 55 hours a week on average or, during a 16-week period, an average of 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. Persons who work more than 5.5 hours a day are entitled to a 30-minute rest period.

In the Netherlands the government set occupational health and safety (OSH) standards across all sectors. OSH standards were appropriate for primary industries and frequently updated. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. In Sint Maarten the government established guidelines for acceptable conditions of work in both the public and private sectors. These guidelines covered specific concerns, such as ventilation, lighting, hours, and terms of work. The ministries of labor in the kingdom reviewed and updated the guidelines and routinely visited businesses to ensure employer compliance.

In the Netherlands the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment effectively enforced the labor laws on conditions of work across all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The inspectorate can order companies to cease operations due to safety violations or shut down fraudulent temporary employment agencies that facilitate labor exploitation.

Most violations in the Netherlands were in temporary employment agencies that mainly hired workers from Eastern Europe, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, without paying the minimum wage. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, although the underpaid workers were generally from Latin America.

New Zealand

Executive Summary

New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy. In October 17 elections, the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won an outright majority in parliament. The elections were considered free and fair.

The New Zealand Police, under the Ministry of Police, are responsible for internal security, and the armed forces, under the Ministry of Defence, are responsible for external security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces did not commit any significant abuses.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had effective mechanisms to identify and prosecute officials who commit human rights abuses; there were no reports of such abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Watchdog groups highlighted overcrowding; inadequate mental health treatment and treatment of prisoners who risked self-harm; excessive restraint, including the abuse of solitary confinement; and prisoner-on-prisoner violence as systemic problems in prisons and detention facilities. Both the government and civil society groups highlighted the disproportionate rates of incarceration of indigenous peoples (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Physical Conditions: Persons age 17 or older who are accused of a crime are tried as adults and, if convicted, sent to adult prisons. Authorities held male prisoners younger than 17 in four separate detention facilities operated by the national child and youth welfare agency, Oranga Tamariki. There was no separate facility for juvenile female prisoners because there were very few such prisoners.

Watchdog groups criticized the penal system for overcrowding and for inadequate and inconsistent health care.

Suicide and suspected suicide rates in prisons were higher than in the general population.

Due to a lack of beds in secure youth residences, at times children have been detained in police cells.

In April media reported that due to COVID-19 pandemic-related social-distancing restrictions, many prisons had longer lockdown periods for prisoners. The independent Office of the Ombudsman, which has a statutory monitoring role, reported that the Department of Corrections had “discouraged” ombudsman staff from visiting prisons because of the risk of infection (see Independent Monitoring below).

After a second COVID-19 outbreak in August that mainly affected Maori and Pacific Islander communities in South Auckland, the government required everyone who tested positive for COVID-19 to stay at a government-managed isolation facility, rather than self-isolate at home. All isolation and quarantine facilities were international-standard hotels. Responding to a Maori rights activist’s accusations that the new rules were “paternalistic” and “racist,” the government said the change was made “for public health reasons…regardless of ethnicity, to keep families together.”

Administration: Inmates could make uncensored complaints to statutory inspectors, an ombudsperson, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Office of the Ombudsman reports to parliament annually on its findings about prison conditions.

Following a June change in legislation, prisoners serving sentences of less than three years are eligible to vote in general elections.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison-monitoring visits by independent human rights observers. The law provides for specified rights of inspection, including by members of parliament and justices of the peace. Information was publicly available on complaints and investigations, subject to the provisions of privacy legislation. The Office of the Ombudsman inspects prisons and mental-health facilities to prevent cruel and inhuman treatment, in line with national standards and the law.

In April the ombudsman reported that the Department of Corrections had “discouraged” ombudsman staff from visiting prisons because of the risk of COVID-19 infection. The corrections minister ordered the department to facilitate statutory visits from the Office of the Ombudsman “where they could be done safely.” Also in April an NGO representative claimed the Corrections Department’s COVID-19 policies contravened the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, under which any lockdowns longer than 22 hours a day without meaningful human contact are considered solitary confinement. The corrections minister stated that no prison operated a policy of locking the whole jail down for 23 hours a day.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest a suspect without a warrant if there is reasonable cause; however, a court-issued warrant is usually required. Police officers may enter premises without a warrant to arrest a person if they reasonably suspect the person committed a crime on the premises or if they found the person committing an offense and are in pursuit. Police must inform arrested persons “as soon as possible” of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest.

After arresting and charging a suspect, police may release the suspect on bail until the first court appearance. Except for more serious offenses, such as assault or burglary, bail is normally granted and frequently does not require a deposit of money. Suspects have the right to appear “as soon as possible” before a judge for a determination of the legality of the arrest and detention. After the first court appearance, the judge typically grants bail unless there is a significant risk the suspect would flee, tamper with witnesses or evidence, or commit a crime while on bail. Authorities granted family members timely access to detainees and allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to a lawyer provided by the government.

Pretrial Detention: In June, 36.5 percent of prisoners held in custody were being held on remand while they awaited trial or sentencing. The number of prisoners held on remand has increased more than threefold in the past 20 years, primarily due to increased time required to complete cases and stricter bail restrictions. The median duration of prisoners’ time held in remand was between one and three months.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to have counsel (the government provides a lawyer at public expense if the defendant cannot afford counsel); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary beginning from the moment they are charged through all their appeals. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal convictions. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations, including access to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. There are also administrative remedies for alleged wrongs through the Human Rights Commission and the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The government’s chief privacy officer is responsible for supporting government agencies to meet their privacy responsibilities and improve their privacy practices.

In May media reported on two unauthorized trials of facial recognition systems by the police, using U.S. technology firm Clearview AI. The justice minister stated the trials were “not endorsed” and that neither senior police leadership nor the privacy commissioner had approved the trial. In August media reported that police, Immigration New Zealand, and the Internal Affairs Department had contracted U.S. firms DXC Technology and Dataworks Plus and Japanese company NEC on a range of automated biometric information systems.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Internet Freedom

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

After the March 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks, the government imposed an open-ended ban on publication via the internet and other means of the video footage of the attack and on the attacker’s “manifesto.”

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In August a person challenged the legality of all COVID-19 pandemic-related health orders, including travel restrictions and “lockdowns” that commenced in March. The High Court judged the restrictions to be lawful but also found there had been a technical breach of the law during the initial phase of lockdown. The oral request for individuals to stay at home only became legal once written, which did not occur until nine days after the oral request.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. Refugees can arrive in the country in three ways: 1) through the UNHCR resettlement program; 2) additional asylum seekers (also known as “protection claims,” see below) can be recognized as refugees; or 3) family members can be reunified with refugees already living in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic response affected scheduled intakes. In March, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration suspended refugee resettlement departures to resettlement countries, including New Zealand. Refugee arrivals as part of the country’s Refugee Quota Program were on hold.

Some persons claiming asylum were held in prisons because of security concerns or uncertain identity. Asylum seekers detained in prisons are subject to general prison standards. In August, NGOs Amnesty International and the Asylum Seekers Support Trust claimed many asylum seekers were detained longer than the 28 days permitted by law “as a deterrent for asylum seekers.” The government detained these asylum seekers for an average of approximately seven months, according to the Asylum Seekers Support Trust.

Durable Solutions: The country accepts refugees under the UNHCR resettlement program. Refugees who arrive through this program are granted permanent residence status. When refugees arrive they stay at a central refugee resettlement center in Auckland for six weeks, where they receive settlement support for up to 12 months including help with English, health, education, and finding work.

Temporary Protection: The country provided temporary protection to persons who did not qualify as refugees under its UN quota commitment. Asylum seekers–persons who have fled from their own country because they fear persecution or harm–were recognized as refugees. Advocacy groups were concerned that the asylum seekers outside the UN quota system did not receive the same level of governmental support as quota refugees, specifically in finding employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 17 elections seen as free and fair, the Labour Party led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won an outright majority in parliament. The election was delayed from September 19 by agreement of all political parties, due to a second COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Following the October 17 election, parliament now has 48 percent women members, up from 38 percent at the 2017 election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. The Serious Fraud Office and police investigate corruption. There were no reports of government corruption during the year. In September the Serious Fraud Office filed a charge of “Obtaining by Deception” against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation, a funding mechanism for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ New Zealand First Party, for alleged campaign finance breaches.

Allegations of corruption can be reported anonymously, and the law protects employees who make a report relating to their employers. Agencies such as the Office of the Controller, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Office of the Ombudsman independently report on and investigate state sector activities, acting as watchdogs for public sector corruption. Only parliament has the ability to remove individuals, who are known as officers of parliament, from these civil service positions.

In June a former auditor general, removed by parliament in 2017 because of a “lack of confidence” in his judgment stemming from the alleged mishandling of a fraud case in his previous role as chief executive of the Ministry of Transport, lost his petition for his case to be re-examined. The New Zealand First Party issued a dissenting minority view on the petition, asserting the precedent established by the case “weakens our system of constitutional government of the protection of the tenure of the auditor-general as an Officer of Parliament.”

Financial Disclosure: All members of parliament, including all cabinet ministers, are required to submit an annual report of financial interests, including income and assets, which the government releases to the public. Career civil servants are not subject to this requirement but are subject to ethics standards established by the State Services Commission.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice funded the Human Rights Commission, which operates as an independent agency without government interference. The commission had adequate staff and resources to perform its mission.

The Office of the Ombudsman, responsible to parliament but independent of the government, is charged with investigating complaints about administrative acts, decisions, recommendations, and omissions of national and local government agencies; inspecting prisons; and following up on prisoner complaints. The office enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, had adequate resources, and was considered effective. The ombudsman produced a wide variety of reports for the government that were publicly available on its website. In April the ombudsman reported that the Department of Corrections had “discouraged” ombudsman staff from visiting prisons because of the risk of COVID-19 infection.

The law mandates that the Department of Internal Affairs provide administrative assistance to significant public and governmental inquiries into, among other items, human rights abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, including spousal rape. The government enforces this law. The maximum penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment; however, preventive detention may occur in cases where the parole board, during its annual review, believes the prisoner poses a continuing threat to society.

Rates of reported violence against women remained at high levels, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Ministry of Justice data showed convictions for sexual offenses declined from 2018-19 to 2019-20. According to the ministry’s most recent annual Crime and Victims Survey (October 2018-September 2019) almost one in six adults (16 percent) experienced intimate partner violence and nearly a quarter (24 percent) experienced sexual violence at some point during their lives. Women were more than two times more likely than men to have experienced intimate partner violence and three times more likely to have experienced sexual violence.

In May the government announced budget increases to support New Zealand’s family violence services, whose work, they said, “has been shown to be so essential throughout the COVID-19 lockdown…We know this crisis has increased pressure to New Zealand families and that more victims are isolated.”

Domestic violence is a criminal offense. Police were responsive to reports of domestic violence. The law provides victims with 10 days of paid domestic violence leave. The government partially funded women’s shelters, psychosocial services, rape crisis centers, sexual abuse counseling, family-violence victim support networks, and violence prevention services. Victim’s programs include: a crisis response plan for the 72 hours after a sexual assault; programs to reduce harmful sexual behavior, offending, and reoffending; programs focusing on adults who pose a risk to children; and services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

The law defines family violence to reflect how controlling behavior can be used over time to frighten victims and undermine their autonomy. It also provides principles to guide decision making; sets timely responses; names 10 government agencies and a range of social service practitioners as family violence agencies; removes legal barriers to information sharing between agencies to increase victims’ safety; and makes a range of changes to improve the effectiveness of protection orders and the duration of police safety orders.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for civil proceedings to be taken in cases of harassment in the workplace. The government, through the Human Rights Commission, effectively enforced the law. Sexual contact induced by certain threats may also fall under the criminal code, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The Human Rights Commission published a guide on making a complaint about sexual harassment. The guide includes access to the commission’s free, informal, and confidential service for questions or complaints about sexual harassment and unlawful discrimination. The commission also published fact sheets on sexual harassment and made regular sexual harassment prevention training available to schools, businesses, and government departments.

In May the Civil Aviation Authority released a Transport Ministry-ordered independent review that found the authority’s leadership failed to identify and address bullying and sexual harassment complaints.

In August an independent report criticized the Defence Force’s Operation Respect program to combat sexual violence. The operation, launched in 2016 to tackle sexual violence, harassment, and bullying within the armed forces, had no permanent manager for more than three years. The Defence Force has no comprehensive work plan to respond to recommendations in the independent report.

Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provides access to health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Under the country’s Disability Action Plan 2019-2023, the Ministry of Health examines the protective framework for the bodily integrity of children and adults with disabilities for nontherapeutic medical procedures. The Human Rights Commission expressed concern regarding informed consent and the legal permissibility of nontherapeutic medical procedures including sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government effectively enforced the law. Although the law prohibits discrimination in employment and requires equal rates of pay for equal or similar work, academics and watchdog groups argue that the lack of pay transparency hinders pursuing pay discrimination claims.

Children

Birth Registration: Children born in the country attain citizenship if either parent is a citizen or legal permanent resident of the country. Children born outside the country attain citizenship if either parent is a citizen. The law requires notification of births by both parents as soon as “reasonably practicable,” deemed as being within two months of the child’s birth, and most births were registered within this period.

Child Abuse: The law defines and prohibits child abuse and the government effectively enforced the law. A disproportionately high percentage of children (around 70 percent) entering into homes run by Oranga Tamariki/Ministry for Children were Maori children. The law permits the Ministry for Children to act quickly to ensure the safety of newborn babies who are at immediate risk of serious harm, in particular from parental substance abuse, family violence, or medical neglect. Total entries to homes run by Oranga Tamariki have declined over the past decade. Children under one year old made up 23 percent of all children entering into care this year. In August the chief ombudsman reported that Oranga Tamariki had been using its powers under “interim court custody orders” too frequently to remove newborns from their parents.

The government promoted information sharing between the courts and health and child protection agencies to identify children at risk of abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, but persons between 16 and 18 may marry with family court approval. Marriages involving persons younger than 18 were rare. Watchdog groups believed that parents forced a small number of marriages of persons between the ages of 16 and 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides that any person who engages in sexual conduct with a person younger than 16–the minimum age for consensual sex–is liable to a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Further, the law makes it an offense punishable by seven years’ imprisonment to assist a person younger than 18 in providing commercial sexual services; to receive earnings from commercial sexual services provided by a person younger than 18; or to contract for commercial sexual services from, or be a client of, a person younger than 18. While these statutes cover dealing in persons younger than 18 for sexual exploitation, the trafficking-in-persons statute requires a demonstration of deception or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense. The authorities may prosecute citizens who commit child sex offenses overseas, and they did so in cooperation with a number of foreign governments during the year.

Government statistics reported 382 convictions in 2019 for sexual offenses against children younger than age 16, down from an annual average of more than 450 convictions during the previous decade.

The law prohibits child pornography and provides for a maximum 14 years’ imprisonment as well as heavy fines if a person produces, imports, supplies, distributes, possesses for supply, displays, or exhibits an objectionable publication. The Censorship Compliance Unit in the Department of Internal Affairs polices images of child sex abuse on the internet and prosecutes offenders.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2018 census, the Jewish community numbered approximately 5,200, less than 0.1 percent of those declaring a religious affiliation. While anti-Semitic incidents were rare, in January a swastika was spray-painted outside the Temple Sinai Wellington Jewish Progressive Congregation, and anti-Semitic comments later appeared online.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities–whether physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental–unless such discrimination can be “demonstrably justified.” The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Most school-age children with disabilities attended either schools dedicated to children with disabilities or mainstream schools. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability in 2019 was more than twice that of persons without a disability. Disability was the most cited ground in complaints of alleged unlawful discrimination to the Human Rights Commission in 2019.

The Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues worked to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Both the Human Rights Commission and the Mental Health Commission addressed mental disabilities in their antidiscrimination efforts. Watchdog groups were concerned about compulsory assessments and treatments and the use of seclusion and restrictive practices in medical facilities, especially those involved with mental health services. Maori persons were significantly more likely to be subjected to these practices.

In August the ombudsman urged the government to fix “serious and persistent” problems at mental health units, where seclusion facilities and intensive care rooms were being used as bedrooms due to capacity issues; he stated this amounts to cruel or inhuman treatment. Previous ombudsman reports recommended such practices should stop.

In August the ombudsman published results of preliminary inspections of six elder-care facilities, undertaken “to ensure that measures taken to mitigate COVID-19 were not having a detrimental impact on the treatment and conditions of [elderly] residents.” The report was broadly positive but made four recommendations across two facilities to improve practices and 21 suggestions for improvement across all six of the facilities inspected. There were an estimated 5,000 elderly residents in private and public secure dementia units and psychogeriatric units.

Approximately 20 percent of eligible voters had a disability and faced obstacles to exercising their voting rights. The Electoral Commission has a statutory obligation to administer the electoral system impartially and seeks to reduce barriers to participation by developing processes that enable citizens with disabilities to access electoral services fully. The commission’s Access 2020 Disability Strategy attempted to “identify and reduce barriers that disabled people may encounter when enrolling and voting at elections.”

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Pacific Islanders comprised 8 percent of the population in 2018. They experienced some societal discrimination and had higher-than-average rates of unemployment (6.4 percent) and among the lowest labor force participation (64 percent) of any ethnic group.

Several government ministries, such as the Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Ministry of Health, had programs to identify gaps in delivery of government services to Pacific Islanders and to promote their education, employment, entrepreneurship, culture, languages, and identity. The Office of Ethnic Affairs within the Department of Internal Affairs focused on improving dialogue and understanding about minority communities among the wider population.

Asians, who comprised 15 percent of the population, reported some societal discrimination. In its 2019 annual report, the Human Rights Commission stated that more than 30 percent of inquiries and complaints of alleged unlawful discrimination raised with the commission related to race, racial harassment, or racial disharmony. In May the commission said it had received race-based complaints and inquiries related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It noted a rise in bullying and harassment of persons of Chinese and Asian descent. The commission launched a website to help persons understand their rights during the pandemic.

In August the race relations commissioner rebuked a South Island regional council chairman who publicly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” The council chairman stood by his comments, saying anyone who believes the term “Chinese virus” to be racist needs to stop “being so bloody precious…It’s not racist at all, we all know where it started.”

In July, Xi Weigo and Wang Lecheng, members of the country’s Chinese dissident community, were killed in a car crash; a third activist, Hongming (Freeman) Yu, was seriously injured. The three were part of a group of eight Chinese activists traveling to parliament to protest the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and interference in New Zealand and to deliver a petition calling on the government to place further focus on Chinese state political interference in the country. Several government agencies were investigating but have not announced any definitive conclusions. The fact that the Chinese diaspora community believed that agents from or affiliated with the People’s Republic of China caused this accident and other acts of intimidation against the Chinese and Uighur diaspora in New Zealand demonstrated a clear concern about interference by outside actors.

Indigenous People

Approximately 16.5 percent of the population claims descent from the indigenous Maori group. The government bestows specific recognition and rights, enshrined in law, custom, and practice, to Maori persons. These rights derive from the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding document, which guarantees autonomy, self-determination, sovereignty, and self-government to Maori persons.

The law prohibits discrimination against the indigenous population, but there were disproportionately high numbers of Maori persons on unemployment and welfare rolls, in prison, among school dropouts, and in single-parent households. Maori persons have elevated infant mortality statistics. Maori persons experienced some societal discrimination and had the highest rates of unemployment–6.7 percent, above the country’s average of 3.9 percent–and a labor force participation rate of 62 percent, below the country’s average of 69 percent.

To redress historic violations by the government of the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, a multiyear process (the Waitangi Tribunal, a standing commission of inquiry) established in 1975 adjudicated claims by various Maori groups (iwi). The tribunal makes recommendations on claims brought by Maori relating to legislation, policies, actions, or omissions of the government that are alleged to breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi. The government continued active negotiations with almost all iwi that made claims.

Maori persons comprised 52 percent of the prison population and 46 percent of persons serving community-based sentences. In 2019 the corrections minister stated his “top priority has been to address the significant over-representation of Maori in prisons and on community sentences and orders.” He announced the launch of Hokai Rangi, a five-year strategy to reduce the number of Maori persons in prison to 16 percent. The strategy, codesigned with the Maori community, aims to improve rehabilitation and reintegration outcomes.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults older than 16. The law prohibits abuse, discrimination, and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the government enforced the law. According to the Ministry of Justice’s most recent Crime and Victims Survey (October 2018-September 2019), gay, lesbian, or bisexual adults had more than twice the average likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, with some restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. While the law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, courts may order this at their discretion.

Police have the right to freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively, but sworn police officers (including all uniformed and plainclothes police but excluding clerical and support staff) do not have the right to strike or take any form of industrial action.

Contractors are not covered by most employment-related laws (excluding health and safety laws) and cannot join unions, bargain collectively, or conduct strike action.

Workers may strike while negotiating the right to a collective bargaining agreement or over matters of health and safety. Strikes by providers of essential services are subject to certain procedural requirements, including mandatory notice of three to 28 days, depending on the service involved. The list of essential services was broader than international standards on the definition of essential services.

To bargain collectively, unions must be registered, independent, governed by democratic rules, and have a minimum of 15 members. Unions may not bargain collectively on social or political issues.

The government respected these rights and effectively enforced applicable laws without lengthy delays. The law provides penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining protections and includes fines commensurate with similar crimes. Cases were occasionally referred to the civil employment court.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor. The government’s efforts to enforce the law were not always effective. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. Fines can be imposed for labor violations that may be indicators of forced labor such as underpayment of wages and excessively long working hours. The government continued to pursue convictions under forced labor and trafficking laws. It did not initiate any new trafficking prosecutions but secured two trafficking convictions within the reporting period.

In July Joseph Matamata, a horticultural contractor, was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of slavery and trafficking-in-persons charges in a case with 13 identified victims. Both the government and Matamata signaled they would appeal the sentence. Although this represents the longest term of imprisonment sentenced under the trafficking statute, the government claimed the judge’s sentence was “manifestly inadequate” and that it would appeal on the basis that the judge failed to impose a nonparole period of half the prison sentence. Matamata’s appeal will question whether the terms “slavery” and “human trafficking” were correctly defined during the five-week trial. A date for the review in the Court of Appeal has not yet been set.

Recruitment agencies that recruit workers from abroad must utilize a licensed immigration adviser. The Immigration Advisers Authority, an independent body, promotes and protects the interests of individuals receiving immigration advice. It licenses individuals deemed fit and competent to give immigration advice; maintains standards and a code of conduct for immigration advisers; investigates individuals giving immigration advice without a license; and receives complaints from persons who received poor immigration advice.

The government continued partnerships with foreign governments during the year to better monitor and regulate the recruitment of foreign migrant workers. According to the government, the aim of these partnerships was to reduce the risk of exploitation by providing better information to employers on recruitment and compliance.

Media reports during the year suggested migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor in sectors including horticulture, retail, agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service. Reports stated that some migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, and China, among other countries, were charged excessive and escalating recruitment fees, experienced unjustified salary deductions, nonpayment or underpayment of wages, excessively long working hours, and restrictions on their movement. Some had their passports confiscated and contracts altered improperly. Victims were often deterred from filing complaints out of fear of jeopardizing their visa status.

In July the government stated that COVID-19 travel restrictions, which prevented many migrant workers in the country from returning home, had made migrant workers vulnerable to workplace exploitation, including forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. By law children younger than 16 may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The law also states that children enrolled in school may not work, even outside school hours, if such employment would interfere with their education. The law bans employment of children younger than 15 in specific hazardous industries such as manufacturing, mining, and forestry.

Small numbers of children ages 16 to 18 worked in hazardous situations, such as in agriculture: The law requires them to be fully trained. Children younger than 15 cannot drive a tractor or large vehicle, except children working in agriculture if they are older than 12 and are fully trained or are being trained, or if they live on the property. Concerns remained about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Government inspectors effectively enforced these laws. The law outlines prison sentencing guidelines and fines for the most serious offenses. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  for information on the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the grounds of age, sex (gender) or sexual orientation; marital or relationship status; religious or ethical beliefs; skin color, race, ethnicity or country of origin; disability, impairment or illness; political opinions; and employment status. The government effectively enforced these prohibitions, and penalties were commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

The Human Rights Commission has an equal opportunity employment team that focuses on workplace gender-related problems. This team regularly surveyed pay scales, conducted a census of women in leadership roles, and engaged public and private employers to promote compensation equality. The Office of Ethnic Affairs continued to take measures to promote ethnic diversity in occupation and employment.

According to the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), Maori and Pacific Island persons–and Maori and Pacific Island women in particular–remained disadvantaged compared with the general population in terms of conditions of employment and wages. According to the NZCTU, across all sectors, the female-male gender pay imbalance in late 2019 was minus 12 per cent for the population as a whole, minus 22 per cent for Maori women, and minus 25.5 per cent for Pacific Island women.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage was above the amount–60 percent of the median household income–that researchers frequently used as an unofficial poverty level.

The law provides that work hours should be set in collective or individual agreements between employers and employees. Although a 40-hour workweek is traditional, employer and employees may contractually agree to a workweek of more than 40 hours. Labor regulations do not define an absolute maximum number of overtime hours.

The government proactively investigated labor conditions. In cases of noncompliance with labor law, inspectors levied fines, required restitution of wages to workers, and revoked licenses of offenders. The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment enforces laws governing working conditions, including wages and hours. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. In particular, employers who have breached minimum employment standards with regard to vulnerable migrant workers face a set “stand-down” period where they lose the ability to support migrant visa applications. As of October, 45 companies or employers were on the stand-down list.

Extensive laws and regulations govern health and safety issues. Employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and have primary responsibility for individual’s health and safety at work. The government requires employers to provide health insurance for their seasonal workers. The law allows workers to refuse to perform work likely to cause serious harm and permits legal recourse if the worker believes an employer penalized them as a result.

Inspectors from WorkSafe, the country’s official workplace safety agency, effectively enforced safety and health rules in all sectors including the informal economy, and they have the power to shut down equipment if necessary. WorkSafe reported that 75 percent of surveyed employers changed their workplace practices following its inspections. Convictions for violations of the occupational health and safety law as well as for violations of the wages and hours law can result in fines, deportation of noncitizens, or imprisonment. These penalties are commensurate with similar violations.

As of October the country had 40 workplace-related fatalities; in 2019 there were 108. In late 2019, after WorkSafe started to include police, boating, transport, and aviation data in their analyses, the historical number of annual workplace fatalities rose sharply. The most dangerous sectors were categorized by WorkSafe as “arts and recreation” followed by “agriculture.” Consequently, WorkSafe revised the focus of its investigations so that transport, warehousing, construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and postal work are now identified as the country’s most dangerous sectors.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo Zambrana. Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front party exercises total control over the executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Ortega was inaugurated to a third term in office in January 2017 following a deeply flawed electoral process. The 2016 elections expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. Observers noted serious flaws in municipal, regional, and national elections since 2008. Civil society groups, international electoral experts, business leaders, and religious leaders identified persistent flaws in the 2019 Caribbean regional and 2017 municipal elections and noted the need for comprehensive electoral reform.

The Nicaraguan National Police maintains internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Both report directly to the president, pursuant to changes in the police and army code in 2014. Parapolice, which are nonuniformed, masked, and armed groups with tactical training and organization, act in coordination with government security forces, under the direct control of the government, and report directly to the national police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and parapolice security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, committed by the government or its agents; forced disappearances by parapolice forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by prison guards and parapolice; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detentions by police and parapolice; political prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; a serious lack of independence of the judiciary; and arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy. There were serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including threats of violence, censorship, and criminal libel; and substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, as well as severe restrictions on religious freedom, including attacks on the Roman Catholic Church and church officials. The government continued to block nine nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations from recovering their legal status and illegally withheld their assets, preventing them from operating; during the year the government stripped one more nongovernmental organization of its legal status. Government restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly precluded any meaningful choice in elections. Elections for municipal authorities as well as for president and vice president and National Assembly representatives have been considered marred by fraud and irregularities since 2008. There was widespread corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities and indigenous communities; threats and attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation.

Parapolice and individuals linked to the Ortega regime carried out a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence toward perceived enemies of the regime, such as former political prisoners, campesino activists, prodemocracy opposition groups, human rights defenders, and Catholic clergy. Human rights groups alleged that between October 2018 and August, parapolice killed at least 30 campesinos considered to be opponents of the ruling party.

The government did not take steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, including those responsible for at least 325 killings and hundreds of disappearances during the prodemocracy uprising of April 2018. President Ortega actively strengthened impunity for human rights abusers who were loyal to him.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated, an allegation difficult to confirm because the government refused to conduct official inquiries.

Reports of killings were common in the north-central regions and the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN). Human rights groups and campesino advocates documented at least 30 killings of campesinos between October 2018 and August in and around the departments of Jinotega and Nueva Segovia. Human rights groups said these killings marked an escalation of a campaign of terror in the north-central and RACN regions, perpetrated by parapolice groups to stamp out political opposition to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party. On July 19, Abner Pineda, a member of the FSLN party and staff member of the La Trinidad municipality, shot and killed Jorge Luis Rugama Rizo after Rugama yelled, “Long live a free Nicaragua” at a pro-FSLN caravan celebrating the anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution. Pineda turned himself in and claimed self-defense. His case did not start until three months after the incident, during which time he remained free instead of being in pretrial detention as the law prescribes. In November a judge convicted Pineda of manslaughter. Two weeks later Pineda was sentenced to the minimum one year in prison. A judge immediately commuted his sentence, and Pineda was released.

There was no indication the government investigated crimes committed by police and parapolice groups related to the 2018 prodemocracy uprising. In April 2018 President Ortega and Vice President Murillo ordered police and parapolice forces to put down with violence peaceful protests that began over discontent with a government decision to reduce social security benefits. By late November 2018 the ensuing conflict had left at least 325 persons dead; more than 2,000 injured; hundreds illegally detained, tortured, and disappeared; and as of November, more than 100,000 exiled in neighboring countries. Beginning in August 2018 the Ortega government instituted a policy of “exile, jail, or death” for anyone perceived as opposition, amended terrorism laws to include prodemocracy activities, and used the justice system to characterize civil society actors as terrorists, assassins, and coup mongers. Although the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and Prosecutor’s Office detained, brought to trial, and imprisoned many members of the prodemocracy opposition, human rights organizations widely documented that the investigations and charges did not conform to the rule of law. The government continued to make no effort to investigate several 2017 incidents of extrajudicial killings and torture in both the North and South Caribbean Autonomous Regions. The army continued to deny its involvement in cases perceived by human rights organizations as politically motivated extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

Armed parapolice forces arbitrarily detained opposition activists and often held them in makeshift facilities without allowing them to inform family members or seek legal counsel. The detentions generally lasted between two days and one week. NNP officers and prison authorities often denied detainees were in custody. Human rights organizations claimed the NNP and prison system’s inability to locate prisoners was not due to poor recordkeeping but was instead a deliberate part of a misinformation campaign. The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts. Most, if not all, of the hundreds of disappearances perpetrated by NNP and parapolice during the height of the 2018 prodemocracy uprising remained unresolved.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, cases of torture were well documented, and public officials intentionally carried out acts that resulted in severe physical or mental suffering for the purposes of securing information, inflicting punishment, and psychologically deterring other citizens from reporting on the government’s actions or participating in civic actions against the government. Members of civil society and student leaders involved in the protests that began in April 2018 were more likely than members of other groups to be subjected to such treatment.

On February 6, authorities arrested Kevin Solis after he had participated in a protest at Central American University. Prison officials routinely beat him while in custody in La Modelo Prison and doused him with buckets of water throughout the night to deprive him of sleep. As of November, Solis had remained in solitary confinement for at least five months with no access to sunlight. Prison guards threatened him with execution and pointed weapons at his head. In April a court convicted and sentenced Solis to four years’ imprisonment for aggravated robbery and assaulting a police officer, even after the officer confirmed he had retrieved the stolen goods elsewhere.

On March 8, police captured Melvin Urbina in Posoltega. When the police released him on March 10, Urbina was unable to walk and badly bruised in his eyes, ears, legs, back, and abdomen. He was taken to a hospital and died on March 12. Urbina’s family reported police surveilled Urbina’s wake and burial and at one point attempted to take the body to perform a forensics analysis. Human rights groups documented several cases of government supporters who tortured opposition activists by using sharp objects to carve the letters “FSLN” into the arms and legs of opposition activists.

Local human rights organizations said men and women political prisoners were subjected to sexual violence while in the custody of security forces. Human rights organizations reported female prisoners were regularly subjected to strip searches, degrading treatment, and rape threats while in custody of parapolice forces, prison officials, and police. Prison officials forced female prisoners to squat naked and beat them on their genitals to dislodge any supposed hidden items.

Impunity persisted among police and parapolice forces in reported cases of torture, mistreatment, or other abuses. The NNP’s Office of Internal Affairs is charged with investigating police suspected of committing a crime. The Office of the Military Prosecutor investigates crimes committed by the army, under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Military Auditor General. With complete control over the police, prison system, and judiciary branch, however, the FSLN governing apparatus made no effort to investigate allegations that regime opponents were tortured or otherwise abused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Despite new temporary holding cells in the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, the rest of the prison system was in poor condition. The government reported overcrowding in five of the seven prisons for men, holding 15,333 prisoners with capacity for 12,600, or 22 percent over capacity. More than 1,000 of these inmates were held in the prison known as La Modelo. Human rights organizations continued to be concerned about prison overcrowding. Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners, and juveniles shared cells with adults.

Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Human rights organizations confirmed that at least nine men detained in the context of the 2018 protests were subjected to solitary confinement in maximum-security cells of La Modelo Prison, in some cases for months at a time.

Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages and food contamination, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded these conditions. The government failed to take adequate measures to protect inmates from illness. Prison authorities prohibited the delivery of health and hygiene kits provided by family members for inmates to protect themselves from COVID-19, particularly in the case of political prisoners. Human rights groups reported that prison authorities randomly fumigated prisons with inmates still inside their cells. Although sanitary conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men, they were nevertheless unsafe and unhygienic. The government reported their Human Rights Ombudsman Office received five complaints related to prison conditions between January 2019 and September, of which it resolved four and dismissed one as unsubstantiated.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water.

The government released 8,114 prisoners between January and September. Many of these prisoners were released outside of lawfully prescribed procedures and were told their release was “thanks to the president.”

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur.

The government restricted political prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, and physicians. Staff members of human rights organizations, family members, and other interested parties were not allowed access to the prison system or to prisoners in custody.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross but denied prison visits by local human rights groups and media outlets. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner due to lack of access. The government denied all requests from local human rights organizations for access to prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Human rights NGOs, however, noted hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrests by police and parapolice forces, although parapolice have no authority to make arrests. Human rights organizations reported police and parapolice agents routinely detained and released government opponents within a 48-hour window, beyond which police would have to present formal charges against detainees. Detentions of political opponents usually occurred without a warrant or formal accusation and for causes outside the legal framework.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours, but this rarely happened in the context of arrests related to civil unrest.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. The suspect is permitted family member visits after the initial 48 hours. A detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. The criminal code lists a number of crimes that may be tried by a judge without a jury and that would not qualify for bail or house arrest during the duration of the trial. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender. There were numerous reports detainees did not have immediate access to an attorney or legal counsel and were not afforded one during their 48-hour detention. In several instances authorities denied having detainees under custody in a specific jail, even to their family members or legal counsel. The government reported that the NNP’s Office of Internal Affairs received 1,807 complaints between January and August, finding merit in 766 of those cases. A total of 166 police officers were dismissed or received a penalty for misconduct. Human rights organizations said police underreported police abuse. The NNP routinely rejected complaints filed by prodemocracy opposition activists.

Human rights organizations and civil society activists asserted that the government misused the 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security, as a pretext to arrest protesters and citizens it deemed in opposition to its goals. The government did not cite the law publicly in specific cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly, including in, but not limited to the context of, prodemocracy protests. In many cases the NNP and parapolice detained persons who had participated in prodemocracy protests in 2018 and 2019, but who were not currently participating in any activity deemed illegal or in opposition to the ruling party. Police often arrested these individuals without a warrant and occasionally entered private homes or businesses without a court order. Numerous reports claimed authorities used Directorate of Judicial Assistance jail cells for arbitrary arrests beyond the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Many arrests were allegedly made without informing family members or legal counsel. Reports were common of armed, hooded men in plain clothes acting alone or together with police to arrest and detain prodemocracy protesters. Human rights organizations indicated that delays in the release of prisoners after finishing prison terms led to many cases of arbitrary continuation of a state of arrest. The NNP also committed irregular arrests and detentions under the guise of investigations into armed opposition groups or other violent crimes in the north-central regions of the country.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Many prodemocracy protesters were detained and held with no charges and without following due process. Observers noted that in several instances lengthy pretrial detention was intentional against specific protest leaders. Observers attributed other delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, the government generally did not allow those arrested during protests to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrests or detentions. There were reports legal counsels faced obstacles when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the Supreme Court of Justice, a process wholly influenced by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political pressure and economic inducements for themselves or family members that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of delayed justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. In cases against political activists, judges under the inducement of the ruling party handed down biased judgments, including adding jail time for crimes not presented by the prosecutor’s office. Lawyers for political prisoners reported that judges routinely dismissed defendants’ evidence and accepted the prosecutor’s anonymous sources as valid. In many cases trial start times were changed with no information provided to one or both sides of the trial, according to human rights organizations. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders. The government reported its Human Rights Ombudsman Office received 874 reports of lack of due process and 227 reports of lack of access to justice between January 2019 and September.

Trial Procedures

The law provides the right to a fair and public trial. Changes to the law enacted in 2017, however, allowed judges to deny jury trials in a wider range of cases, deny bail or house arrest based on unclear rules, and arbitrarily move a case from other judicial districts to Managua, to the disadvantage of defendants, their families, or their counsel. Defendants have the right to be fully and promptly informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires defendants must be present at their trial. Many arrested in the context of prodemocracy protests were presented publicly to official media in prison uniforms before the start of trial procedures, jeopardizing their claim to innocence.

On August 15, army personnel captured Hader Gonzalez and Cristian Meneses at the southern border. Gonzalez and Meneses did not receive legal counsel, and their families were not informed of their whereabouts until August 20, when the army presented them publicly, linking their capture to a killing earlier in the year. The army referred to Gonzalez and Meneses publicly as delinquents, although police did not formally confirm their arrest until August 21.

According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Observers claimed, however, that trials against prodemocracy protesters were unduly delayed and did not conform to due process and that defendants’ release was in many cases based on political decisions rather than on rule of law.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, but judges commonly failed to grant counsel’s access to the defendant. In several instances related to prodemocracy protests, defendants were not allowed to name their legal counsel, and the court appointed a public defender, which family members of the accused and human rights organizations claimed was detrimental to the defendant’s case. In many cases involving the government’s political opponents, private defense lawyers were barred from meeting with defendants in an effort to force the accused to accept a public defender appointed by a biased judiciary. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not always granted court interpreters or translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Women’s rights organizations believed the court system continued to operate under unofficial orders not to impose jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. The policy reportedly applied only to domestic violence cases that authorities considered mild.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Human rights NGOs characterized those detained in the context of prodemocracy protests as political prisoners. The government does not recognize political prisoners as an inmate category and considers all prisoners to be common criminals. According to human rights organizations, the government continued to hold 106 political prisoners as of December, nine of them in solitary confinement.

On December 18, authorities released Justo Rodriguez to house arrest. Photographs showed his emaciated body and a deep indentation in his skull; he suffered a stroke while in prison and could not speak or move his legs.

Political prisoners were kept together with common criminals. Advocacy groups reported that prison authorities instigated quarrels between the general prison population and political prisoners by blaming political prisoners for any withheld privileges, often resulting in violence. Human rights organizations received several reports of political prisoners being beaten, threatened, held in solitary confinement for weeks, and suffering from poor ventilation and poisoned or contaminated food and water.

Political prisoners did not receive appropriate health care, including while suffering COVID-19 symptoms. One political prisoner was denied access to his blood pressure medicine and did not receive medical attention until he fainted in his cell. After the prisoner received medical attention, it was revealed he had suffered a brain hemorrhage, had three blood clots in his brain, and was declared brain dead.

The government did not permit access to political prisoners by local human rights groups.

Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated reprisal against individuals. In one example from September, government authorities used the Interpol system to call for the arrest in the United States of the son of a prominent opposition leader. Local press reported the Interpol warrant was based on spurious charges of weapons smuggling to opposition groups.

In April unidentified attackers assaulted the father of exiled journalist Winston Potosme in the father’s home (see section 2.a.).

On July 25, exiled journalist Gerall Chavez reported that his parents living in the Carazo Department had received a letter threatening Chavez with torture and death. Groups of exiles in Costa Rica lodged complaints with Costa Rican authorities, alleging political persecution by parapolice and FSLN sympathizers who crossed the border to target exiles. In October the National Assembly approved the politically motivated Cybercrimes Law, which establishes the government may use the international extradition system to pursue Nicaraguans abroad who commit so-called cybercrimes.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for alleged human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court decisions.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases, which were often resolved more quickly. In a number of instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Property Restitution

The government regularly failed to take effective action with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. These failures were exacerbated by the social upheaval in 2018, in which groups of persons, including members of the FSLN, illegally took over privately owned lands, with implicit and explicit support by municipal and national officials. Some land seizures were politically targeted and directed against specific individuals, such as businessmen traditionally considered independent or against the ruling party. In October the FSLN mayor’s office in the city of San Ramon in Matagalpa assessed exorbitant back taxes on the property of an NGO. The mayor’s office refused to accept the remedy offered by the NGO’s attorney, and the property remained in legal jeopardy.

The Office of the Attorney General routinely either rejected requests to evict illegal occupants of real property or failed to respond to the requests altogether. National and local police also routinely refused to evict illegal occupants of real property. Police often took no action against violence perpetrated by illegal occupants, while acting swiftly against any use of force by legitimate property owners. The judicial system delayed final decisions on cases against illegal occupants. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. When judges issued orders in favor of landowners, enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. In the face of government inaction, some landowners were forced to pay squatters to leave their real property. As of August the private sector confirmed approximately 8,500 acres remained seized.

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

The law prohibits such actions. The government, however, failed to respect prohibitions against unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. FSLN party-based grassroots organizations such as the Citizen Power Councils colluded with parapolice or party loyalists to target the homes of prodemocracy protesters. Without a warrant and under no legal authority, these groups illegally raided homes and detained occupants. Police routinely stationed police vehicles and officers outside the homes of opposition members, harassing visitors and occasionally prohibiting opposition members from leaving their houses. These actions were widespread in large cities, particularly Managua, Matagalpa, Esteli, Masaya, Rivas, Leon, and Jinotega.

On December 24, the Ministry of Health claimed ownership of several buildings seized by the Interior Ministry in 2018 from independent media organizations 100% Noticias and Confidencial and nine NGOs when it stripped the media groups and NGOs of their legal status. The ministry ordered the seized assets transferred to government ownership to create a Comprehensive Attention and Reparation Fund for the Victims of Terrorism. The government carried out this de facto confiscation without following due process or providing appropriate compensation to the lawful owners.

Domestic NGOs, Catholic Church representatives, journalists, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their email and telephone conversations. Church representatives also stated their sermons were monitored. As part of a continuing social media campaign against prodemocracy protests, ruling party members and supporters used social media to publish personal information of human rights defenders and civil society members. Progovernment supporters marked the houses of civil society members with derogatory slurs or threats and then published photographs of the marked houses on social media. On several occasions the markings were accompanied by or led to destruction of private property. Although the law prohibits the use of drones, some members of the opposition claimed FSLN supporters used drones to spy on their houses.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACN and South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS), alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups or prodemocracy protests, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals. Several opposition members who were former Contras claimed they were regularly surveilled by police, stopped by police, and detained for questioning for several hours, usually in connection with alleged contact with rearmed groups or antigovernment protests. The individuals also said progovernment sympathizers verbally threatened them outside their homes and surveilled and defaced their houses.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership in order to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not respect this right. Restrictions on press freedom, the absence of an independent judiciary, and a nondemocratic political system combined to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, the government and actors under its control retaliated against the press and radio and television stations by blocking transmissions, impeding the import of ink and paper, and committing violence against journalists. Some independent media outlets also reported they were victims of cyberattacks. The government sought to control information on the COVID pandemic by restricting news coverage and blocking independent media access to public health briefings, as well as using government-aligned media to publish misinformation.

Freedom of Speech: The government used reprisals to restrict the ability of individuals to criticize the government. Persons who criticized the government, the ruling party, or its policies were subjected to police and parapolice surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, and abuse. Progovernment supporters considered the use of the national flag and the national colors of white and blue as acts of defiance and attacked opposition activists flying the flag or national colors. In August police arrested a woman after she refused to surrender a package of white and blue national flags she was selling in anticipation of the country’s independence day. She was released within a few hours without her merchandise.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views despite government attempts to restrict and intimidate them. Independent media outlets experienced vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, cyberattacks, and criminal defamation charges. The government repeatedly denied broadcasting licenses and other permits for independent media. Further attempts to intimidate came through continued financial audits and attempts by the Directorate General of Revenue to confiscate media channels based on spurious overdue tax debts, which resulted in referral of cases to the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets faced restrictions on speech, such as not being permitted to attend official government events, being denied interviews by government officials, and receiving limited or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted. The government published false COVID-19 data that minimized the spread of the illness in the country. International reports and unpublished official documents showed the government intentionally misled the public about the severity of the pandemic to avoid an economic downturn.

Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment, but they were nonetheless successful in expressing a variety of views. Journalists from many stations were threatened and harassed with the purpose of limiting their editorial independence. Journalist association Nicaraguan Independent Journalists and Communicators reported that between March and July, there were 351 incidents against independent journalists, including threats, attacks, harassment, criminal libel charges, and other impediments to carrying out their activities.

Significant state influence, ownership, and control over media continued. National television was largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government. Media stations owned by the presidential family generally limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at a disadvantage.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to government violence, harassment, and death threats. In January a police officer punched Channel 10 journalist Wilih Narvaez during a police crackdown on prodemocracy protesters inside a hotel. Despite hundreds of witnesses and widely viewed video evidence of these attacks, the government made no effort to investigate or prosecute those involved in the attacks. In March progovernment sympathizers beat and destroyed or stole the equipment of two journalists at the Managua cathedral while they were covering an FSLN disruption of a Catholic mass during the wake of a former poet laureate. In April unidentified attackers assaulted the father of exiled journalist Winston Potosme in the father’s home. After the assault the assailants sent the journalist threats from the father’s cell phone. The television station 100% Noticias and the offices of news magazine Confidencial remained closed and under police custody after the 2018 raid of those facilities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to the ruling party’s ideology; however, it did this arbitrarily. The government restricted access to public events, obligated independent press to use official media to cover presidential activities, and on several occasions used YouTube copyright infringement regulations against independent media for using official media content. This legal tactic led to the temporary closure of at least two independent media YouTube channels.

To control printing presses, the government continued to enforce the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which establishes high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting media’s right to freedom from such tariffs. After the closure of El Nuevo Diario in 2019 due to the government’s repressive posture and restrictions on press freedom, La Prensa remained the only independent newspaper with nationwide coverage.

In July, Radio Corporacion, an independent radio broadcaster, found its AM radio antenna sabotaged and its transmission cables dug up and cut into pieces. Radio station staff stated that unknown perpetrators carried out the attack with knowledge of where the sabotage could do the most damage. As a result, the radio station lost its ability to broadcast on the AM frequency for more than a week and moved all of its programming to an FM frequency. This resulted in lower listenership, particularly among rural listeners who rely principally on AM frequency for radio transmissions. In September, Radio Camoapa found the air-cooling device of their transmission room damaged. Radio Notimat in Matagalpa remained besieged by police and parapolice, who also surveilled and threatened its journalists.

Restrictions in acquiring broadcast licenses and equipment prevented media from operating freely. Beginning in 2008, media outlets were unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses while the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications was under review in the National Assembly. The government extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media also reported that the failure to approve or deny Law 200 resulted in uncertainty surrounding the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting. As a result independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments.

Some independent-media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit advertising in independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. In addition media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government supporters accused independent journalists of slander. Three FSLN party members working in the municipal government of El Rama accused the director of Radio La Costenisima of slander after it broadcast a story documenting corruption in that municipality. When the previous director of the radio station died of COVID-19, authorities transferred the accusation to incoming director Kalua Salazar. Likewise, David Quintana from digital news outlet Boletin Ecologico was accused of slander by a staff member at an official television station. Two other journalists also faced similar charges. Slander and libel are both punishable by fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

National Security: Human rights NGOs and civil society organizations argued the Sovereign Security Law was a basis for the government’s failure to respect civil liberties. Although not cited in specific cases, the law applies to “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation.” In October the National Assembly passed the Cybercrimes Law, which includes as online crimes social media posts deemed dangerous by the regime and grants law enforcement access to information systems and other data. Penalties for online crimes include prison time and hefty fines, disproportionate to the crimes as broadly defined by the law.

An NNP regulation restricts criticism of government policies and officials under the guise of protecting national security.

Internet Freedom

There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority and in some cases restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. Independent media reported the government provided logistical support for “troll farms” that routinely carried out cyberattacks against opposition media websites and social media accounts. Trolls and bots reportedly tracked opposition and progovernment social media accounts to retaliate against users deemed opponents to the ruling party and amplify progovernment messaging.

Several NGOs claimed the government monitored their email and online activity without appropriate legal authority. Paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and well-known journalists.

The government disclosed personally identifiable information to penalize the expression of opinions. As part of a continuing social media campaign against prodemocracy protests, ruling party members and supporters used social media to publish personal information of human rights defenders and civil society members. Civil society members alleged government offices provided the information. Government supporters also used the personally identifiable information to mark the houses of civil society members with either derogatory slurs or threats, then published photographs of the marked houses on social media.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom, and many students, academics, and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves.

Public universities expelled from school and erased the records of many university students who participated in prodemocracy protests. In many cases, students who went into exile could not continue their studies abroad without their records. Entrances to public universities remained under surveillance by progovernment guards who regularly checked every visitor and often by police. Some university rectors reported university enrollment following the prodemocracy uprising fell to 50 percent of precrisis levels. The public Poly-Technical University (UPOLI) expelled opposition student leader Dolly Mora, claiming security issues. FSLN-controlled student groups at UPOLI harassed Mora and others who in 2018 had protested against the government’s violent crackdown on prodemocracy demonstrators. According to reports, leaders of these FSLN-controlled student groups threatened the dean of UPOLI with violence on campus to force Mora’s expulsion.

Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in elementary and secondary public schools to participate in progovernment rallies while schools were in session. Political propaganda for the ruling party was posted inside public schools. Teacher organizations and NGOs alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or to children of FSLN members, politicized awarding of scholarships, and the use of pro-FSLN education materials.

Public schools were ordered to continue in-person classes even as COVID-19 spread across the country. Teachers were ordered to punish absences and identify those students who were not attending classes. By August at least 46 public school teachers had died from COVID-19.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government did not respect the legal right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization. Prodemocracy marches and protests were not allowed during the year. Police and parapolice actively persecuted, harassed, and occasionally impeded private meetings of NGOs, civil society groups, and opposition political organizations. Police failed to protect peaceful protesters from attacks; they also committed attacks and provided logistical support to other attackers. Human rights organizations reported police stopped traffic for and otherwise protected progovernment demonstrations.

The NNP consistently refused to accept applications or denied permits to use public spaces for prodemocracy marches, using unclear parameters. A denial of permission from the NNP resulted in significant repression and violence against protesters when they carried on with the protest. The NNP routinely surrounded, surveilled, and threatened meetings of political parties and civil society organizations. The NNP entered private meeting spaces to disrupt gatherings of opposition parties and civil society organizations.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to organize or affiliate with political parties; nevertheless, the Supreme Electoral Council and National Assembly used their accreditation powers for political purposes. National Assembly accreditation is mandatory for NGOs to receive funding, have bank accounts, or employ workers licitly. The Ministry of the Interior has oversight of regulatory compliance by NGOs and provides certificates. Many NGOs that worked on topics of democracy, human rights, and women’s issues complained the ministry purposefully withheld certification to hinder their work and access to funding. On October 15, the National Assembly passed a Foreign Agents Law with far-reaching implications for entities and employees of entities receiving funding from outside the country. The new law requires anyone receiving funding from foreign sources to register with the Ministry of the Interior and provide monthly, detailed accounts of how funds are intended to be used. Individuals who register as foreign agents cannot participate in internal politics or run for elected positions for up to one year after being removed from the registry. Failure to register can lead to fines, judicial freezing of assets, and the loss of legal status for associations or NGOs.

An internal guidance memorandum within the Ministry of the Interior approved in April 2019, but not made public until 2020, prohibits NGOs seeking certification from including political activities among their intended programming or engaging in partisan activities. NGOs working on political party leadership training, grassroots activism, and youth political capacity training considered the measure a threat against them. The government stripped social-work NGO ASODHERMU (Association of Sister Cities) of its legal status during the year. Members of the ruling party in the National Assembly accused the NGO of financing terrorism, a common accusation by the FSLN-controlled judiciary against political opponents. Leaders of the NGO considered the decision political. At least another nine NGOs remained without their legal accreditation after it was stripped in 2018.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government denied entry to citizens seeking to enter the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. From March to July, the government prevented citizens from returning from neighboring countries and cruise ships and did not establish legal provisions or any clear procedures to allow their return. In July the government began requiring a negative COVID-19 test for both foreigners and nationals seeking entry into the country. In August the government prevented approximately 500 citizens from entering the country via the border with Costa Rica until they could present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival to the border. The government did not procure these COVID-19 tests, which were ultimately obtained through private means by individual travelers or through Costa Rican NGOs. The government allowed this group to return to the country after they presented negative COVID-19 tests. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations. The government may prevent the departure of travelers with pending cases; authorities used this authority against individuals involved in the protest movement. The law requires exit visas for minors.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to contacts and local media, hundreds of participants in the 2018 prodemocracy protests and others who ran afoul of the Ortega regime remained in hiding to evade government persecution, including arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. These individuals reported being unable to find work or study due to fear of government reprisals. As the root cause of this forced displacement, the government did not promote the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of internally displaced persons. In November, two major hurricanes displaced hundreds of thousands of persons from their homes. Observers reported that after the storms, the government initially withheld humanitarian assistance from victims who did not support the ruling party. The government does not have policies and protections for internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government does not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government has not provided updated information on refugees or asylum seekers since 2015.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees has not met since 2015.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons as refugees in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available. By mid-2018 UNHCR counted 326 refugees or persons in refugee-like situations in the country.

g. Stateless Persons

Registration of births in rural areas was difficult due to structural constraints, and the government took no measures to address this, resulting in a number of de facto stateless persons in the country (see section 6, Children).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, the ruling party restricted freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Institutional fraud, among other obstacles, precluded opportunities for meaningful choice.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 President Ortega was elected to a third term in office following a deeply flawed electoral process. The 2016 elections expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. The 2019 Caribbean regional and 2017 municipal elections were likewise marred by widespread institutional fraud. The Caribbean regional elections were characterized by heavy security force presence, including antiriot police at polling units, which local press said intimidated voters and led to low turnout. In both elections authorities did not provide domestic civil society organizations accreditation for electoral observation. Opposition party members reported government officials transported FSLN supporters to voting centers. Opposition party members and observers claimed the FSLN used its control over the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) to commit fraud. There were reports of public-sector employees being pressured to vote and show proof the next day at work they had voted. Opposition representatives claimed opposition poll watchers were denied accreditation, FSLN-affiliated poll watchers posed as opposition poll workers, and votes were not counted in accordance with the law.

Civil society groups expressed concerns over the lack of a transparent and fair electoral process leading up to both the 2017 municipal elections and the 2019 Caribbean regional elections. Electoral experts, business leaders, representatives of the Catholic Church, and civil society organizations reported that a lack of accredited domestic observation, in addition to the ruling party’s control over official electoral structures and all branches of government, combined to impede holding a free and fair election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On December 21, the National Assembly passed a law that would bar from running for office anyone whom the government designated as a “traitor,” defining the term so broadly that it could be applied to anyone who expressed opposition to the ruling party. The Organization of American States (OAS), European Union, and international human rights groups immediately called for the law to be rescinded, saying its purpose was to limit participation in the 2021 presidential election and deprive voters of their right to choose their leader freely. The law entered into force the next day, four days after President Ortega proposed it.

The FSLN used state resources for political activities to enhance its electoral advantage in recent elections. Independent media, human rights groups, and opposition parties reported the government used public funds to provide subsidized food, housing, vaccinations, access to clinics, and other benefits directly through either FSLN-led “family cabinets” (community-based bodies that administer government social programs) or party-controlled Sandinista leadership committee (CLS) systems, which reportedly coerced citizens into FSLN membership while denying services to opposition members. The FSLN also made party membership mandatory for an increasing number of public-sector employees. Observers noted government employees continued to be pressured into affiliating with the FSLN and to participate in party activities. During the year the government pressured public servants to participate in mass public gatherings including sports events, political rallies, and marches despite independent medical association warnings over the dangers of spreading COVID-19 via mass gatherings.

The FSLN also used its authority to decide who could obtain national identity cards. Persons seeking to obtain or retain public-sector employment, national identity documents, or voter registration were obliged to obtain recommendation letters from CLS block captains. Persons without identity cards had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership. Civil society organizations continued to express concern about the politicized distribution of identity cards, alleging this was how the FSLN manipulated past elections and that the CSE failed to provide identity cards to opposition members while widely distributing them to party loyalists.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although observers noted most women in elected positions at the municipal and national levels held limited power or influence in their respective bodies.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

There was widespread corruption, including in the police force, the CSE, the Supreme Court, customs and tax authorities, and other government organs. Municipal governments and regional governments of the Caribbean Coast were also plagued by corruption. The Managua municipal government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices related to infrastructure projects. The government did not enforce criminal penalties for corruption, allowing officials to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. The Supreme Court and lower-level courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and political influence, especially by the FSLN. Companies reported that bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures, and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities were common.

Corruption and impunity remained rampant among government officials, and a general state of permissiveness hindered the possibility of addressing the problem effectively. A lack of strong institutions, a weak system of checks and balances, and the absolute political control of government institutions allowed for corruption to continue with impunity.

Corruption: The Office of the Comptroller, responsible for combating corruption within government agencies and offices, did not carry out a complete verification of the government’s full financial statements. For example, the comptroller maintained that Albanisa, a private company controlled by regime insiders that imported and sold Venezuelan petroleum products, as well as associated revenue under the Venezuela oil cooperation agreement, were not subject to audit because the National Assembly did not approve the agreement.

Executive branch officials continued to be involved in businesses financed by economic and developmental assistance funds lent by the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), all of it outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature. Media reported that companies linked to previous ALBA-funded contracts and with links to the president’s family were tightly controlled by the FSLN, with little public oversight. Cases of mismanagement of these funds by public officials were reportedly handled personally by FSLN members and President Ortega’s immediate family, rather than by the government entities in charge of public funds.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials rarely made their financial information public as required by law, and there was no public record of sanctions for noncompliance.

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

The government imposed significant and increasing burdens on the limited number of human rights organizations it allowed to operate in the country. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights remained stripped of its legal status, effectively hindering its ability to investigate human rights abuses. The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association continued to operate from forced exile in Costa Rica and focused more on the Nicaraguan exile community. Other human rights organizations faced significant harassment and police surveillance. Humanitarian organizations faced obstacles to operating or denial of entry, and government officials harassed and intimidated domestic and international NGOs critical of the government or the FSLN. Some NGOs reported government intimidation created a climate of fear intended to suppress criticism.

The government continued to prevent non-FSLN-affiliated NGOs and civil society groups from participating in government social programs, such as Programa Amor, which provides social protections to children and adolescents, and Hambre Cero, a program that distributes livestock for smallholder production. The government frequently used FSLN-controlled family cabinets and party-controlled CLSs to administer these programs. Government programs purportedly created to provide support for victims of the violence since 2018 benefited only FSLN party members. Increased government restrictions on domestic NGOs’ ability to receive funding directly from international donors seriously hindered the NGOs’ ability to operate. In addition, increased control over the entry of foreign visitors or volunteer groups into the country hindered the work of humanitarian groups and human rights NGOs. Some groups reported difficulties in moving donated goods through customs and said government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their complaints.

Domestic NGOs under government investigation reported problems accessing the justice system and delays in filing petitions, as well as pressure from state authorities. Many NGOs believed comptroller and tax authorities audited their accounts as a means of intimidation. While legally permitted, spot audits were a common form of harassment and often used selectively, according to NGOs. NGOs reported difficulties in scheduling meetings with authorities and in receiving official information due to a growing culture of secrecy. Local NGOs reported having to channel requests for meetings with ministry officials and for public information through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These requests were generally not processed. NGOs also reported government hostility or aggression when questioning or speaking with officials on subjects such as corruption and the rule of law. Groups opposing the construction of a proposed interoceanic canal also reported being harassed and placed under surveillance.

In October the government enacted the Law to Regulate Foreign Agents that requires any citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations, or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending, and provide prior notice of how the foreign funds are intended to be spent. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or IACHR to send working groups to monitor the human rights situation in the country. The government did not cooperate with these groups, as noted in OHCHR and IACHR reports. During the February UN Human Rights Council hearings, Vice Foreign Minister Valdrack Jaentschke, as head of the government’s delegation, used his cell phone to film the testimony of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights in an intimidating fashion.

The government continued to block the entrance of the OAS high-level commission to help resolve the country’s sociopolitical crisis. The government did not send a representative to any of the 2020 IACHR hearings. In several instances progovernment supporters detained or harassed protesters protected by IACHR precautionary measures.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 the National Assembly elected as human rights ombudsman Darling Rios, a sociologist with no previous human rights experience. Rios was a prominent leader of the Sandinista Youth wing of the FSLN. The National Assembly also elected a new vice ombudsman, Adolfo Jarquin, son of the previous vice ombudsman, also with no previous human rights experience. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights was perceived as politicized and ineffective. In 2019 the UN Human Rights Council demoted the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights from category A to B for its lack of independence. The government claimed to operate a Truth Commission purportedly to investigate violence from the 2018 prodemocratic uprising. The commission did not report any significant findings, and independent observers deemed it incompetent.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused. Sentences for those convicted of rape range from eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides prison sentences ranging from one to 12 years.

The government failed to enforce rape and domestic violence laws, leading to widespread impunity and reports of increased violence from released offenders emboldened by their release. The NGO Catholics for the Rights to Decide (CDD) reported that there were 69 femicides as of November, most of them committed after the victims suffered sexual violence. The government recognized 15 femicides in the same period, although it reported 36 women killed as of August. Two girls ages 10 and 12 were raped and killed in the north-central region of the country by their mother’s former partner. The mother of the girls alleged the eldest had been raped twice before and that despite reporting it to police, no action had been taken. The government continued to use FSLN-led family cabinets and CLSs in mediation processes in cases of domestic violence. Both processes were politicized and did not operate according to rule of law. The government employed limited public education, shelters, hotlines, psychosocial services, and police training in nominal and unsuccessful attempts to address the problem.

Observers reported a general increase in sexual crimes and violence against women during the year; however, data were unreliable. NGOs working on women’s issues reported that violence against women increased and that police generally understated its severity. The government reported receiving 301 reports of rape, 175 reports of aggravated rape, and 690 reports of sexual abuse between January and August 30, compared with 332 cases of rape, 248 cases of aggravated rape, and 897 cases of sexual abuse in all of 2019. The government reported solving more than 80 percent of sexual violence cases during the year, although a CDD report claimed police generally failed to investigate allegations of sexual violence and abuse. The ruling party did not coordinate with women’s rights NGOs and actively blocked their operations and access to funding.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and those convicted face one- to three-year sentences in prison, or three to five years if the victim is younger than 18. No information was available on government efforts to prevent or prosecute complaints of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have limited rights to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; have the right to manage their reproductive health; and had limited access to the information and constrained means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Rural women’s access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was hindered by long distances to city centers and the lack of financial resources. Women in some areas, such as the RACN and the RACS, lacked widespread access to medical care or programs, and maternal death affected poor rural women more than their urban counterparts.

No legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception. Adolescents, however, often faced social stigma when seeking contraception methods. No legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth.

The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality. Nevertheless, women often experienced discrimination in employment, obtaining credit, and receiving equal pay for similar work, as well as in owning and managing businesses. While the government enforced the law effectively in the public sector, women in positions of power faced limitations, and their authority was limited compared with that of men. Enforcement was not effective in the private sector or the larger informal sector.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Local civil registries register births within 12 months, although many persons, especially in rural areas, lacked birth certificates. Registration in rural areas was difficult due to structural constraints, and the government took no measures to address this, resulting in a number of de facto stateless persons in the country. Persons without citizenship documents were unable to obtain national identity cards and consequently had difficulty participating in the legal economy, conducting bank transactions, or voting. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership.

Child Abuse: According to the criminal code, prison sentences for rape committed against minors range from 12 to 15 years, and for child abuse, from seven to 12 years. Government efforts were insufficient to combat child abuse and sexual violence against minors. High rates of sexual violence against teenage girls contributed to high rates of teenage pregnancy, according to UNICEF.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for men and women, or 16 with parental authorization. There were credible reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF’s 2017 State of the Worlds Children, the most recent data available, reported 41 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were married or in a union by age 18, and 10 percent were married by age 15. No information was available on government efforts to address or prevent forced and early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation in general and designates enticing children or adolescents to engage in sexual activity as an aggravating condition. The government generally did not enforce the law when pertaining to child sex trafficking. Penalties include 10 to 15 years in prison for a person who entices or forces any individual to engage in sexual activity and 19 to 20 years in prison for the same acts involving children or adolescents. The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with children age 14 or younger.

The law also prohibits child pornography, and the government generally enforced it. The penalty for an individual convicted of inducing, facilitating, promoting, or using a minor for sexual or erotic purposes is 10 to 15 years in prison.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The law imposes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for convicted child-sex tourists.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country has a very small Jewish population. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities was widespread despite being prohibited by law. Laws related to persons with disabilities do not stipulate penalties for noncompliance, although penalties may be issued under the general labor inspection code. The Ministry of the Family, Ministry of Labor, and Human Rights Office are among government agencies responsible for the protection and advancement of rights of persons with disabilities. The government did not enforce the law effectively; did not mandate accessibility to buildings, information, and communications; and did not make information available on efforts to improve respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. Advocacy organizations for persons with disabilities reported persons with disabilities accounted for less than 1 percent of public-sector employees, despite the legally mandated minimum representation of 2 percent. Further reports indicated public institutions did not sufficiently coordinate with the Labor Ministry to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace.

Persons with disabilities faced severe problems accessing schools, public health facilities, and other public institutions. Children with disabilities attended schools with nondisabled peers; specialized school materials were not readily available and on occasion were blocked by the Ministry of Education. Anecdotal evidence suggested that children with disabilities completed secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children. Public schools were rarely well equipped, and teachers were poorly trained in providing appropriate attention to children with disabilities. Many voting facilities were not accessible. Complaints continued regarding the lack of accessible public transportation. Some persons with disabilities reported taxi drivers often refused them service due to the perceived extra burden on the driver to aid customers with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities claimed interpreters for the deaf were not accessible at schools and universities, making it difficult for these persons to obtain education. Government clinics and hospitals provided care for veterans and other persons with disabilities, but the quality of care generally was poor.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Exclusionary treatment based on race, skin color, and ethnicity was common, especially in higher-income urban areas. Darker-skinned persons of African descent from the RACN and the RACS, along with others assumed to be from those areas, experienced discrimination, such as being subjected to extra security measures and illegal searches by police. Indigenous and other ethnic groups from the RACN and the RACS alleged that discriminatory attitudes toward ethnic and racial minorities were responsible for the lack of government resources devoted to the regions. The ruling party devoted attention and resources to keeping political control over decision-making bodies in the regions where most indigenous groups lived.

Indigenous People

Indigenous persons constituted approximately 5 percent of the population and lived primarily in the RACN and RACS. Despite having autonomous governing bodies, decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, or the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands were largely made or approved by national government authorities or by FSLN representatives. Individuals from five major indigenous groups–the Miskito, Sumo/Mayangna, Garifuna (of Afro-Amerindian origin), Creole, and Rama–alleged government discrimination through underrepresentation in the legislative branch.

NGOs and indigenous rights groups denounced the increasing number of killings of indigenous persons at the hands of nonindigenous populations encroaching on their lands in the RACN and RACS, and they claimed the government failed to protect the civil and political rights of indigenous communities. In January unidentified armed cattle ranchers attacked a settlement and killed eight indigenous persons in an effort to drive indigenous populations from their lands. Unidentified gunmen killed five more indigenous persons from the Mayagna community in March. Human rights defenders described the March killings of six indigenous persons in Tuahka territories in the Rosita municipality in the north of the country as being the result of land conflicts. The Oakland Institute, an NGO that investigates land thefts globally, said the government actively encouraged the illegal land seizures. Some observers alleged government and FSLN involvement in the violence against Miskito populations in the RACN along the Coco River, either by failing to defend indigenous populations or as accomplices to nonindigenous groups invading indigenous lands.

Indigenous groups continued to complain of rights violations in connection with government plans to build an interoceanic canal. Indigenous persons from rural areas often lacked birth certificates, identity cards, and land titles. Most indigenous individuals in rural areas lacked access to public services, and deteriorating roads made medicine and health care almost unobtainable for many.

Indigenous women faced multiple levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender, and lower economic status.

Throughout the year indigenous leaders alleged that regional and national governments granted logging concessions to private firms and to government-affiliated businesses, such as ALBA-Forestal, and that logging continued in violation of national autonomy laws in the RACS and RACN.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups reported lack of access to justice and discrimination and lack of response from the NNP. The government and FSLN supporters frequently targeted LGBTI participants in civil protests in particular, using online smear campaigns and physical attacks in some cases. LGBTI opposition members were particularly targeted with sexual violence by the NNP, parapolice, and progovernment supporters. In September a lesbian opposition leader was raped and beaten, reportedly due to her political activism. The NNP had not investigated the case as of September. LGBTI activists said political prisoners self-censored their orientation, fearing increased abuse from prison guards. Reliable data on the breadth of such discrimination were not available. No specific laws exist to punish hate crimes against LGBTI persons.

Transgender women detained for participating in prodemocracy protests were particularly harassed while in custody. They were kept with male inmates, forced to strip in front of their peers, and specifically harangued by guards. The law does not recognize the right to gender identity self-determination, and as such the penitentiary system is not required to separate inmates based on gender identity. There were reports of attacks against Celia Cruz, a political prisoner and transgender woman, and the NNP reportedly failed to investigate the cases appropriately.

Although it does not mention sexual orientation and gender identity specifically, the law states all persons are equal before the law and provides for the right to equal protection. No laws specifically criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. LGBTI persons, however, continued to face widespread societal discrimination and abuse, particularly in housing, education, and employment. LGBTI organizations continued to complain the law curtailed the rights of LGBTI households by defining families as necessarily headed by a man and a woman; this definition particularly affected LGBTI households’ access to social security, survivor benefits, and adoption rights.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides specific protections for persons with HIV or AIDS against discrimination in employment and health services, but such persons continued to suffer societal discrimination. An administrative resolution issued by the Ministry of Health continued in effect, declaring that HIV/AIDS patients should not suffer discrimination and making available a complaints office.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers in the public and private sectors, with the exception of those in the military and police, to form and join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization and to bargain collectively. The government violated the right by controlling established unions. The ruling party used its control over major unions to harass and intimidate workers in several sectors, including education, health care, the public sector, and free trade zones. The constitution recognizes the right to strike, although it places some restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for measures to protect against rights violation. Burdensome and lengthy conciliation procedures impeded workers’ ability to call strikes. The government created parallel labor unions to confuse and diffuse efforts to organize strikes or other labor actions. In addition, if a strike continues for 30 days without resolution, the Ministry of Labor may suspend the strike and submit the matter to arbitration.

A collective bargaining agreement may not exceed two years and is renewed automatically if neither party requests its revision. Collective bargaining agreements in the free trade zone regions, however, are for five-year periods. Companies in disputes with their employees must negotiate with the employees’ union if one exists. By law several unions may coexist at any one enterprise, and the law permits management to sign separate collective bargaining agreements with each union.

The government sought to foster resolution of labor conflicts through informal negotiations rather than formal administrative or judicial processes. The law does not establish specific fines for labor law violations, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Although the law establishes a labor court arbitration process, it was subject to long wait times and lengthy and complicated procedures, and many labor disputes were resolved out of court. The government claimed the vast majority of labor disputes (89 percent) were resolved favorably to workers, but labor and human rights organizations continued to allege rulings were often unfavorable to workers.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected, and the government often intervened for political reasons. The government did not effectively enforce the laws. Most labor unions were allied with political parties, and in recent years the government reportedly dissolved unions and fired workers not associated with the ruling FSLN. Independent labor experts reported the Ministry of Labor denied or unduly delayed providing legal recognition to unions who were not in favor of the ruling party.

Politically motivated firings continued to be a problem. The Ministry of Health fired at least 20 medical staff in June after they signed a letter criticizing the lack of personal protective equipment as they battled COVID-19 in health-care facilities across the country. These firings followed the removal of at least 405 doctors, including medical school professors, in 2018 and 2019 for rejecting government orders not to provide medical attention to protesters, according to the Nicaraguan Medical Association. A majority of the doctors and university staff from the public sector fired for political reasons since 2018 had not received severance pay as of November. Party affiliation or letters of recommendation from party secretaries, family cabinet coordinators, or other party officials were allegedly required from applicants seeking public-sector jobs. Several sources highlighted similar instances of public-sector employees being fired without receiving severance pay.

Following the 2018 prodemocracy uprising, the government restricted the organizing of trade unions and teachers perceived to be in opposition to the government.

There were no known high-profile documented instances of strikes being declared illegal. During a strike employers may not hire replacement workers, but unions alleged this practice was common. Wildcat strikes–those without union authorization–have historically been common.

Employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations and committed other violations related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor leaders noted employers routinely violated collective bargaining agreements and labor laws with impunity.

Official union federations were accused of protecting employer interests by identifying and isolating workers who attempted to organize as well as frustrating such attempts through arbitrary procedural barriers that delay approval processes. Federations also permitted illegal firings of workers who tried to organize themselves; the workers faced retaliation and permanent exclusion from jobs in the free trade zones.

Many employers in the formal sector, which declined during the year, continued to blacklist or fire union members and did not reinstate them. Many of these cases did not reach the court system or a mediation process led by the Ministry of Labor. Employers often delayed severance payments to fired workers or omitted the payments altogether. Employers also avoided legal penalties by organizing employer-led unions lacking independence and by frequently using contract workers to replace striking employees. There were reports FSLN party dues were automatically deducted from paychecks.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. There was no information available regarding government enforcement of these laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Despite reported political will to combat human trafficking, including labor trafficking, during the year the government did not take sufficient action to address the scope of the problem and provided only limited information about its law enforcement efforts.

Observers noted reports of forced labor, including of men, women, and children in agriculture, construction, mining, street begging, and domestic servitude. Victim identification, prosecution, and conviction remained inadequate, and victims’ family members were often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers lured residents of rural or border regions with the promise of high-paying jobs in urban and tourist areas but then subjected them to sexual exploitation and forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 14 and limits the workday for any individual between ages of 14 and 18 to six hours and the workweek to 30 hours. Those between 14 and 16 must have parental approval to work or enter into a formal labor contract. The law prohibits teenage domestic workers from sleeping in the houses of their employers. It is illegal for minors to work in places the Ministry of Labor considers harmful to their health or safety, such as mines, garbage dumps, and night entertainment venues, and to undertake certain agricultural work. The government mostly enforced the law in the formal sector, but enforcement was insufficient in the much larger informal sector, where child labor was more prevalent. Legal penalties for persons employing children in dangerous work were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government used its limited resources to concentrate on child labor violations in select sectors in narrow geographic areas, such as coffee-growing regions, and gave only limited attention to the large informal sector. The government reported having separated nine children from work between January 2019 and the first semester of 2020.

The government signed thousands of cooperative agreements with employers to prevent the hiring of minors and continued Programa Amor, which aimed to eradicate child labor by reintegrating abandoned children into society. Information on the program’s activities, funding, and effectiveness was unavailable, but independent observers deemed it insufficient.

Laws to eliminate child labor were not fully implemented and lacked a consistent mechanism to coordinate efforts to address child labor. The government also divested resources from child labor prevention. Attendance in secondary schools remained much lower than that in primary schools, increasing the risk of older children engaging in exploitative labor.

Of children 15 percent lacked birth certificates, which increased their risk for human trafficking, including for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.

Child labor remained widespread. According to organizations that worked on children’s rights, this likely increased to almost 320,000 children working in some form of child labor. A common feature of child labor was the prevalence of unpaid family work, and the National Institute of Development Information stated 80 percent of children and adolescents were unpaid workers.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6). Most child labor occurred in forestry, fishing, and the informal sector, including on coffee plantations and subsistence farms. Child labor also occurred in the production of dairy products, oranges, bananas, tobacco, palm products, coffee, rice, and sugarcane; cattle raising; street sales; garbage-dump scavenging; stone crushing; gold mining and quarrying of pumice and limestone; construction; drug production and trafficking; street performing; domestic work; and transport. Persons with disabilities and children were subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers.

Children working in agriculture suffered from sun exposure, extreme temperatures, and dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Children working in the fishing industry were at risk from polluted water and dangerous ocean conditions.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The government did not deter such discrimination because it did not effectively enforce the law and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment took many forms. Although women generally had equal access to employment, few women had senior positions in business and worked in the informal sector at higher levels than men; in the public sector or in elected positions, women’s independence and influence were limited. In addition women’s wages were generally lower when compared with those of male counterparts, even for the same position and work performed. Workplace challenges for persons with disabilities included inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, and a generally low rate of public-services positions, despite a legal requirement that a certain percentage be available to them. LGBTI organizations reported that sexual orientation and gender identity continued to be a basis for discriminatory behavior.

Workers who disagreed with government recommendations were fired, and only those with a membership card of the ruling party were hired.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a statutory minimum wage for 10 economic sectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, the average legal minimum wage covered only 35 percent of the cost of basic goods. The ministry, together with workers’ unions aligned with the ruling party, agreed to a 2.63 percent wage increase for the year. Free trade zone regions had a wage increase of 8 percent, prenegotiated in a five-year agreement expected to expire in 2022. The salary increase remained unchanged despite free trade zone representatives reporting unsteady industry performance.

The minimum wage was generally enforced only in the formal sector, estimated to be approximately 20 percent of the economy, and in contracting. The Ministry of Labor is the primary enforcement agency.

The standard legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with one day of rest. The law dictates an obligatory year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s pay, proportional to the number of months worked. The law mandates premium pay for overtime, prohibits compulsory overtime, and sets a maximum of three hours of overtime per day not to exceed nine hours per week. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

According to International Labor Organization guidelines, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the workforce, which included approximately three million workers. The law allows inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions for egregious violations.

The National Council of Labor Hygiene and Safety, including its departmental committees, is responsible for implementing worker safety legislation and collaborating with other government agencies and civil society organizations in developing assistance programs and promoting training and prevention activities. According to labor contacts, the council was inactive throughout the year. The government did not allocate adequate staff or other measures to enable the Office of Hygiene and Occupational Safety to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence, but they were infrequently enforced and only in the formal sector.

OSH standards also were not widely enforced in an expanding large informal sector, which represented 77 percent of employment and 88 percent of businesses, according to 2016 reports from the Consultants for Business Development and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development. Although more recent statistics on informality were not available, experts viewed this indicator as necessarily rising as a result of sociopolitical unrest and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The informal sector included the bulk of workers in street sales, agriculture and ranching, transportation, domestic labor, fishing, and minor construction. Legal limitations on hours worked often were ignored by employers, who claimed workers readily volunteered for extra hours for additional pay. Violations of wage and hour regulations in the informal sector were common and generally not investigated, particularly in street sales, domestic work, and agriculture, where children continued to work in tobacco, banana, and coffee plantations. Compulsory overtime was reported in the private-security sector, where guards often were required to work excessive shifts without relief.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. It was unclear if authorities effectively protected employees in such cases.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials ordered medical staff not to wear personal protective equipment. In response to this and the lack of government response to the pandemic, 25 doctors signed a letter in July requesting that doctors be issued protective equipment and not be prosecuted for using it. The doctors were fired in retaliation. In November the Citizen’s Observatory reported that approximately 100 health workers had died of the virus.

Niger

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were unconfirmed reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of executing persons believed to be fighting for extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received complaints regarding multiple arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces as well as killings by militias. The CNDH had limited ability to investigate the complaints. Human Rights Watch reported a video showed security forces in vehicles running over and killing apparently unarmed and wounded Boko Haram fighters during a May 11 action in Diffa.

Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).

In 2019 Malian militia groups such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, Self-Defense Group Imghad Tuareg and Allies were accused of committing human rights abuses in the country, including kidnapping and arbitrary killing of persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups. These abuses appeared to cease in May 2019.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both the Tillabery and Diffa Regions. According to Amnesty International, between March 27 and April 2, security forces allegedly arrested and forcibly disappeared 102 persons in the Tillabery Region as part of Operation Almahou.

There were also multiple instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g.). For example, in 2019 Boko Haram reportedly kidnapped dozens of local chiefs in the Diffa Region.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports by domestic civil society organizations that security forces beat and abused civilians, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government stated it would investigate.

There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region harassed or detained citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.

In September the CNDH implicated security forces in human rights abuses in the Tillabery Region in March and April.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Nigerien peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, with seven cases from 2018, 2016, and 2015. In five cases the United Nations substantiated the allegations and repatriated the perpetrators, and in the other two cases, the United Nations had completed the investigations and was waiting for additional information from the government. As of September the government had not explained what actions if any it had taken regarding the cases. These cases allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, an exploitative relationship with an adult, and rape of children.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly among the army and police. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of police, national guard, and fire department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of civil protection personnel. The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the gendarmerie and military forces. The armed forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. The CNDH investigated some allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and attacks by violent extremist organizations.

Physical Conditions: Human rights observers stated overcrowding remained a widespread problem. The government reported in December 2019 there were 10,723 prisoners in 41 prisons designed to hold 10,555 persons, perhaps indicating significant underreporting by the government, according to observers. The prisons of Niamey and Diffa were respectively designed to hold 445 and 100 persons but towards year’s end held 1,451 and 432 inmates, respectively. Other observers found several prisons to be 300 percent above capacity. In Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards.

Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters, which were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes. Terrorist and high-threat offenders were separated from other criminal offenders. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, tuberculosis, and COVID-19, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Observers noted judicial slowness in assessing conditions, dilapidated prison premises (except at the Tillabery prison), an insufficiency of prison staff, poor food, health care, and maintenance, and inadequacy of post release reintegration systems.

The government operated a detention facility in Goudoumaria that holds defectors from violent extremist organizations while they undergo rehabilitation. Families were kept together and separated from single men. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided the majority of services to the facility, including potable water, food, and medical care. Children in the camp suffered from malaria, and pregnant women lacked adequate access to emergency care.

National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. The law creates a specialized cadre of prison guards, and the penitentiary administration reportedly launched a first round of training in 2019 but did not fully implement the law.

Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of mistreatment. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted monitoring visits during the year. The ICRC worked with the local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.

Improvements: As a response to the COVID-19 health crisis, authorities released 1,967 prisoners between March and April by presidential decree.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits arbitrary detention without charge for more than 48 hours and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention, with some exceptions. If the prosecutor receives a case in which an individual was not charged within 48 hours, the case must be dismissed. An investigator can request a waiver for an additional 48 hours before charging an individual. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for 15 days, which can be extended only once, for an additional 15 days.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. Reports indicated, however, that authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. The 15-day detention period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (SCLCT/CTO); terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region at times spent days or weeks in either regional civilian or military custody before officials transported them to Niamey.

Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours of being transferred to SCLCT/CTO. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and an insufficient number of lawyers prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and other security force members on occasion rounded up persons accused of being members of or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 48 months for terrorism offenses where the sentence could be 10 years or more in prison and 24 months for less serious offenses. The vast majority of prisoners were awaiting trial and, according to statistics provided by the government, approximately 80 percent of prisoners facing terrorism charges were in pretrial detention. The NGO World Prison brief, citing 2017 data, reported that 53.8 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Reports indicated judicial inefficiency, limited investigative capacity, and staff shortages contributed to lengthy pretrial detention periods for terrorism offenses. Regarding other offenses, civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to abuse of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast, some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Defectors who meet the government’s legal criteria for conditional amnesty are supposed to be released after receiving three to six months of deradicalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The chief prosecutor is responsible for reviewing defector case files and working with the Ministry of Interior to make decisions regarding the defectors’ eligibility for reintegration. Due to bureaucratic and logistical challenges associated with establishing and implementing this program, defectors and family members remained in the facility for prolonged periods–some up to three years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports that family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections. Authorities generally respected court orders.

Traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil topics. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of Islamic traditions, heads these courts. The law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also provides free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf either at the investigative judge or at the trial stage of proceedings. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of courts and staff shortages were common.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated; observers estimated their number to be three. They generally received the same protections as other prisoners. Saidou Bakari, a member of the leading opposition party, remained jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. According to the chief investigative judge of the Niamey court, the case remained under investigation by the office for financial crimes.

On September 29, following months of criticism from local human rights organizations, the Ministry of Justice released pending trial three civil society activists, Moudi Moussa, Halidou Mounkaila, and Maikoul Zodi, held in detention without trial since March. The men were arrested for allegedly participating in an unauthorized public protest and other charges.

In November 2019 a judge released Sadat Illiya Dan Malam, the last of the 29 persons detained in connection with antitax demonstrations during 2018. Sadat believed his lengthy pretrial detention was political revenge for his activism against government corruption.

Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state of emergency provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason. On May 29, the country adopted a law that allows the presidency to monitor telephone calls, ostensibly for fighting terrorism.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Freedom

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

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

Freedom of Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law centralizes authority for organizing elections in a permanent independent national election commission (CENI) but defines its voting board in a way that leaves it dominated by the ruling coalition. Several parties from the opposition and some ruling coalition party members objected to limitations on the ability of smaller parties to participate in election planning, believing these limitations diminished the legitimacy of election planning and the inclusivity of the electoral process.

International and domestic observers found the first round of the presidential election on December 27 to be peaceful, free, and fair. Nearly 70 percent of registered voters participated. Mohamed Bazoum of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism coalition finished first with 39.3 percent of the vote. Opposition candidate Mahamane Ousman of the Democratic and Republic Renewal party finished second with 16.9 percent. A second round between the two candidates was scheduled for February 21, 2021. President Issoufou, who won his second and constitutionally final mandate in the 2016 presidential election, was expected to continue in office until the second round was concluded and the winner sworn into office.

In parallel legislative elections also conducted on December 27, the ruling coalition preliminarily won 80 of 171 seats, and various opposition parties divided the rest, with several contests still to be decided at year’s end. International and local observers found the legislative elections to be equally peaceful, free, and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media.

Authorities released opposition leader Hama Amadou early from his one-year prison sentence for adoption fraud due to a COVID-19 related effort to ease prison populations (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). His conviction prevented him from running for public office, and on November 13, the Constitutional Court declared him ineligible to run for the presidency. Critics alleged his conviction was politically motivated to prevent Hama Amadou from challenging President Issoufou or the ruling coalition.

The law requires the creation of biometric voter lists. Because only approximately 20 percent of citizens have birth documents, observers noted that creating a biometric voter list was problematic. CENI began organizing workshops in 2019 during which witnesses could declare birth information before a judge, resulting in identity documents that could be used to build the voter list. Also in 2019, CENI also began enrolling eligible voters within the new biometric voter system. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized these efforts, noting that ruling party control of the process might skew the selection of communities or regions for enrollment workshops.

Participation of Women and Members of Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 28 of 171 National Assembly seats (16 percent). Major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” including ethnic minorities and pastoral populations.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education. Data from a World Justice Project survey published in March showed that citizens in general viewed executive and legislative officials as using public office for private gain.

The High Authority for the Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HALCIA) actively investigated official corruption and made several official reports, some of which led to punitive action by the government, including arrests. HALCIA also stopped several public procurement tenders due to concerns of improprieties. Presidential control of its budget, however, limited HALCIA’s independence and ability to investigate allegations.

Government prosecutors began investigations into $137 million lost due to corruption in military procurement contracts from 2017 to 2019. A March release of Ministry of National Defense audits noted the involvement of suspected criminal conspirators.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and while the president complied, other senior office holders did not. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. Copies of the statements are to be forwarded to the government’s fiscal services with filers explaining discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

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

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specify the gender of victims. The law was rarely enforced. Rape is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison, depending on the circumstances and age of the victim. If there is a familial relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, aggravating circumstances apply to the sentencing. Rape was a widespread problem, and stigmatization of victims continued.

The law does not explicitly recognize spousal rape, and authorities seldom prosecuted it. Cultural views discounted spousal rape. Victims often sought to deal with the rape within the family or were pressured to do so, and many victims did not report spousal rape due to fear of retribution, including loss of economic support.

The law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was reportedly widespread. Husbands commonly beat their wives.

A woman may sue her husband or lodge criminal charges for battery, penalties for which range from two months in prison and a token fine to 30 years’ imprisonment. The government tried with limited success to enforce these laws, and courts prosecuted cases of domestic violence when they received complaints.

Charges stemming from family disputes often were dropped in favor of traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms. While women have the right to seek redress for violence in the customary or formal courts, few did so due to ignorance of the law and fear of spousal or familial repudiation, further violence, or stigmatization.

SOS Women and Children Victims of Violence (SOS-FEVVF) reported receiving several rape and sexual abuse declarations from girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, which is punishable by six months to three years in prison. If an FGM/C victim dies, the practitioner may be sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. In February, UNICEF estimated the prevalence of the practice to be approximately 2 percent among girls and women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by prison sentences of three to six months and fines. If the violator is in a position of authority over the victim, the prison sentence is three months to one year and the fine is doubled.

Sexual harassment was widespread. Cultural attitudes limited women’s perception of what is harassment and encouraged acceptance. Cases were rarely reported, but when they were, courts enforced applicable laws. In previous years SOS-FEVVF estimated that eight of 10 young female workers in small shops faced sexual harassment, and only two in 10 reported it. Poverty made women especially vulnerable to harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but they often lacked the information and means to do so. Barriers to contraception included weak demand from the population and lack of education in contraceptive methods.

Due to a shortage of skilled health professionals, unequal distribution of health workers between urban and rural areas, and distance to health centers, many women used traditional midwives during childbirth and were referred to hospitals only when the mother or child suffered health complications. With limited antenatal care visits, women frequently did not understand the potential for complicated labor and so came late to clinics for assisted deliveries. Reports of deaths and serious complications from these clinic deliveries further dissuaded families from using clinics. It was unclear whether the government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors.

The World Health Organization reported the maternal mortality ratio in 2017 was 509 per 100,000 live births. Major factors influencing maternal mortality included lack of prenatal care, high rates of adolescent pregnancy, diseases during pregnancy, hemorrhage and severe postpartum infections, malnutrition, and lack of access to emergency obstetric care. The UN Population Division estimated 21 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception.

According to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey, 30 percent of births took place in health centers, and skilled personnel attended 29 percent of births. The United Nations reported in 2017 that the adolescent birth rate was 185 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.

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

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equal legal status and rights regardless of sex, women do not have the same rights as men under family law, which customary courts usually adjudicate. In customary law, legal rights as head of household typically apply only to men. Customary law does not consider a divorced or widowed woman, even with children, to be a head of household.

Discrimination was worse in rural areas, where women helped with subsistence farming and did most of the childrearing, cooking, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. In the absence of a formal will stating otherwise, a daughter’s share of a deceased parent’s property is half the size of a son’s share.

Women had low access to education and high rates of early marriage. They were underrepresented in school and employment. According to the UN 2019 Human Development Index Report, only 4.3 percent of adult women had reached at least a secondary level of education, compared with 8.9 percent of men. Fewer than seven women out of 10 were represented in the labor market, compared with almost 10 out of 10 men. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment, including limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents, if one parent is a citizen. Birth registration, especially in remote rural areas and in nomadic communities, did not take place promptly due to parental poverty, lack of awareness, and distance from government services. The government’s failure to register births at times, although not done on a discriminatory basis, resulted in citizens’ reduced access to some services.

Education: Although the law provides for education for all children from ages four to 18, compulsory education for children of specific ages was not enforced. Many parents kept young girls at home to work, and girls rarely attended school for more than a few years. Access to education for children nationwide was a problem, due to a shortage of teachers, classrooms, and supplies, especially in rural areas. The low quality of public education undermined parents’ estimation of the value of sending their children to school and contributed to low attendance rates. For those that were in school, boys’ completion rate for primary school was 87.4 percent, while the completion rate for girls was 69.5 percent.

Child Abuse: Violence against and abuse of children were common. The law prescribes penalties for child abuse. For example, parents of minors who usually engage in begging, or any person who encourages children to beg or profits from their begging, may be sentenced to six months to one year of imprisonment. The abduction of a minor younger than 18 is punishable by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for abduction for ransom is life imprisonment. Authorities made efforts to enforce these laws and combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows a girl deemed to be “sufficiently mature” to marry at age 15. Some families entered into marriage agreements under which they sent rural girls who were age 12 or even younger to their “husband’s” families to be under the “supervision” of their mothers-in-law. According to UNICEF, 76 percent of girls married by age 18 and 28 percent of girls married by age 15.

Working with civil society organizations, in 2019 the government prohibited wahaya, a practice whereby some men were able to buy or to be gifted with a “fifth wife.” These unofficial wives (Islam allows a maximum of four wives) were the daughters of hereditary slaves, often sold at ages seven to 12 (see section 7.b.). They were intended to perform manual labor for the household and provide sexual services. This practice was concentrated in a specific region in the center of the country. No statistics on its practice were available.

The Ministry of Women’s Promotion and Children’s Protection cooperated with women’s associations to sensitize traditional chiefs and religious leaders in rural communities to the problem of early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children was a problem. The law criminalizes the procurement, sale, or offering of a minor for the purpose of prostitution, with penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines. The minimum age for consensual sex is 13 for both boys and girls.

The law provides that “exploitation shall include, at minimum, slavery or practices similar to slavery” and adds that the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receiving of a minor younger than 18 for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered trafficking in persons. The penalty for violators is five to 10 years in prison and fines. If the victim is younger than 18, the penalty is 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. If the victim dies, the penalty is life imprisonment.

The law prohibits “indecent” acts against victims younger than 18. It leaves to judges to determine what constitutes an indecent act. The law addresses practices related to pornography.

Girls reportedly were trafficked for forced prostitution along the main east-west highway, particularly between the cities of Birni n’Konni and Zinder along the border with Nigeria.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Infanticide occurred, and a sizeable proportion of the female prison population was incarcerated for this crime, which was often committed to hide pregnancies out of wedlock.

Displaced Children: Many displaced boys from rural areas were indentured to Islamic schools, where they were forced to beg on the streets of larger cities. Displaced children had access to government services, but services were limited. Unaccompanied migrant children transited the country en route to Libya, Algeria, and Europe. Some unaccompanied migrant children travelled to the Djado gold fields of the country’s northeast to find work in unregulated gold mines.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law defined a person with disabilities as one “unable to meet all or part of his needs for a normal life due to a physical, sensory, or mental deficiency.” The government made efforts to enforce these provisions. For example, regulations require that 5 percent of civil servants be persons with disabilities; the government in 2017 employed slightly less than 1 percent. There were no specific regulations in place mandating accessibility to buildings, transportation, and education for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that new government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the law was not enforced. Authorities sometimes investigated or punished those responsible for violence or abuses against persons with disabilities.

The national health system, which normally provides free medical care to children younger than five, gives life-long free medical care to persons with disabilities.

Social stigma regarding disabilities resulted in neglect and even infanticide, according to the Federation for Handicapped Persons. A high percentage of persons with disabilities were forced by their families to spend their lives begging.

Children with disabilities were legally able to attend school but faced difficulties, including a lack of adapted instruction and materials, a shortage of specialists for working with children with special needs, and a lack of flexibility in the evaluation system. For example, the lack of professional sign language interpreters prevented deaf children from continuing their education past high school.

The law does not contain clear provisions regarding voting registration for persons with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Members of the Boudouma minority in the Diffa Region and the Fulani minority in the Tillabery Region faced governmental and societal discrimination due to a widespread perception that the two groups supported or facilitated terrorist activities. Concerns regarding escalation of anti-Fulani prejudice continued. There were also some unconfirmed reports of security forces targeting Fulani in raids and intentionally avoiding Fulani areas during recruitment efforts.

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

There was strong societal stigma against same-sex sexual conduct, but there are no laws criminalizing adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law states an “unnatural act” with a person younger than 21 of the same sex is punishable by six months to three years in prison and fines.

Gay men and lesbians experienced societal discrimination and social resentment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex rights associations reportedly conducted their activities secretly, in part because they were not officially registered. There were no reports of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no documented cases of discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation. Observers believed stigma or intimidation impeded individuals from reporting such abuse.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV or AIDS experienced societal discrimination, although strong government efforts discouraged such discrimination. In conjunction with several other organizations working on HIV/AIDS topics, the government continued its antidiscrimination campaign. The law provides for protection against discrimination for persons suffering from diseases such as HIV or AIDS and sickle cell anemia.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There continued to be serious stigma associated with being the descendant of a slave. One NGO reported in 2019 that in Denkila village a court decision reportedly prevented a group of 274 families from farming their land for the previous six years. A person with a competing claim to the land had obtained a court injunction against the defendants’ use of the land based on an outdated law that forbids former slaves from owning or farming land, in contradiction with the 2003 law banning slavery. With the support of an antislavery NGO, the descendants appealed the decision to the ECOWAS Court of Justice and were awaiting a response at year’s end.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14 to 15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions.

The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for penalties but does not require reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.

Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally commensurate with those for other laws involving violations of civil rights.

The law applies to the large informal sector, which accounted for most economic activity, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in informal workplaces, particularly in rural areas. The informal sector featured some unions. For example, Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, however. The law establishes penalties for forced labor that are commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, but the penalties were largely unenforced.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. In February the High Court reaffirmed the illegality of wahaya, the traditional practice of selling girls as young as seven into forced marriages, which also perpetuates hereditary slavery. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.

Forced labor remained a problem, especially in domestic work and agriculture. A 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.

The Tuareg, Zarma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.

Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as four and largely from poor, rural families were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Zarma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with their right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the use of child labor and the employment of children younger than 14. The law, however, does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment or in the informal sector. Children age 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but these were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial and informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.

Child labor was prevalent, with children as young as five engaged in labor. Most rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or beg. Children were also forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, artisanal mining, and forced criminality.

There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.

The practice of forced begging by talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.

Child labor occurred in hereditary slavery and largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide in these mines further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern regarding poisoning, but the practice remained widespread. Children also performed dangerous tasks in cattle herding. Children, especially boys and girls in the Arab, Zarma, Fulani, Tuareg, and Toubou ethnic minorities, continued to be exploited as slaves and endure conditions of bonded labor, particularly in distant western and northern regions and along the border with Nigeria.

Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and requires firms to provide hiring preferences to persons with disabilities under certain circumstances. The law restricts women from working in occupations deemed dangerous to their health, although these restrictions are not clearly defined.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted regulations to implement the law nor took actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate staff to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other violations of civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was above the official poverty income level.

The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate; employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced. Penalties for wage and hour violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such fraud.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law all workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect workers in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applies but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws and only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance and monetary sanctions were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but do not have the authority to initiate sanctions.

Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the artisanal gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector. The vast majority, however, were employed by large, international firms; labor advocates complained these firms were not transparent regarding work conditions.

Union workers in many cases did not receive information concerning the risks posed by their jobs. The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service responded to reports of work-related accidents and required affected employees be compensated as required by law, the government reported. The ministry does not release data on fatal accidents. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. In February 2019 citizens re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a second four-year term. Most independent observers agreed the election outcome was credible despite logistical challenges, localized violence, and some irregularities.

The Nigeria Police Force is the primary law enforcement agency, along with other federal organizations. The Department of State Services is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. The Nigerian Armed Forces are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities. Consistent with the constitution, the government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. There were reports that members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and the external displacement of somewhat more than an estimated 300,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries as of December 14.

Significant human rights abuses included: unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by the government, terrorists, and criminal groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and terrorist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government and nonstate actors; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including killing and torture of civilians; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; severe restrictions on religious freedom; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; inadequate investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to investigate alleged abuses by police, including the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and military forces, but impunity remained a significant problem. There were reports of further progress in formally separating and reintegrating child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force, a nongovernmental self-defense militia, which received limited state government funding.

Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued attacks on civilians, military, and police; recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device attacks–many by coerced young women and girls–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa and took steps to prosecute their members.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary, unlawful, or extrajudicial killings. At times authorities sought to investigate, and when found culpable, held police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody, but impunity in such cases remained a significant problem. 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 October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end. Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds. The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate.

In August a military court-martial convicted a soldier and sentenced him to 55 years in prison after he committed a homicide while deployed in Zamfara State.

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

Criminal gangs also killed numerous persons during the year. On January 25, criminals abducted Bola Ataga, the wife of a prominent doctor, and her two children from their residence in the Juji community of Kaduna State. The criminals demanded a ransom of $320,000 in exchange for their return. They killed Ataga several days later after the family was unable to pay the ransom. On February 6, the criminals released the children to their relatives.

b. Disappearance

In August 2019, to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on the government to release immediately hundreds of persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearance and held in secret detention facilities across the country without charge or trial.

Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta, the Southeast, and the Northwest, often to collect ransom payments. For example, on the evening of December 11, criminals on motorbikes stormed the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, abducting 344 schoolboys and killing one security guard. On December 17, the Katsina State government, in conjunction with federal government authorities, secured the release of the boys.

Maritime kidnappings remained common as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. For example, in July, Nigerian pirates attacked a Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel near Rivers State, kidnapping 11 crew members.

Other parts of the country also experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction, as were religious leaders, regional government leaders, police officers, students, and laborers, amongst others. In January the Emir of Potiskum, Alhaji Umaru Bubaram, and his convoy were attacked on the Kaduna-Zaria Highway. The emir was abducted, and several of his bodyguards were killed. The Abuja-Kaduna road axis was a major target for kidnappers, forcing most travelers to use the train.

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

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

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; however, it 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. Two-thirds of the country’s states (Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, 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. According to credible international organizations, prior to their dissolution, SARS units sometimes used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. President Buhari disbanded SARS units in October following nationwide #EndSARS protests against police brutality. Of the states, 28 and the FCT established judicial panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations carried out by the Nigerian Police Force and the disbanded SARS units. The panels were made up 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 violations and proposed compensation for victims. The work of the judicial panels continued at year’s end.

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. On February 10, the BBC published a report documenting police and military use of a torture practice known as tabay when detaining criminal suspects, including children. Tabay involves binding a suspect’s arms at the elbows to cut off circulation; at times the suspect’s feet are also bound and the victim is suspended above the ground. In response to the BBC video, military and Ministry of Interior officials told the BBC they would investigate use of the practice.

In June, Amnesty International issued a report documenting 82 cases of torture by the SARS from 2017 to May.

Police used a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders sometimes taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 states and the FCT may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, flogging, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a nonsharia court. Sharia courts issued several death sentences during the year. In August a sharia court in Kano State convicted a man of raping a minor and sentenced the man to death by stoning. Authorities often did not carry out sentences of caning, amputation, and stoning ordered by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that was often lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.

There were no new reports of canings during the year. 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.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were no new reports of sexual exploitation or abuse by peacekeepers from Nigeria deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, but there were still five open allegations, including one from 2019, one from 2018, and three from 2017. As of September, two allegations had been substantiated, and the United Nations repatriated the perpetrators, but the Nigerian government had not yet provided the full accountability measures taken for all five open cases.

In Oyo State, two Nigeria Police Force officers were arrested after reportedly mistreating subjects they arrested in July. In September the Nigeria Police Force dismissed 11 officers and filed criminal charges against an additional 19 for misconduct.

Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, including in the police, military, and the Department of State Services (DSS). The DSS, police, and military 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. Police remained susceptible to corruption, faced allegations of human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, and torture of suspects.

In response to nationwide protests against police brutality, the government on October 11 abolished SARS units. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command. The army had a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights abuses brought by civilians, and a standing general court-martial in Maiduguri. The human rights desk in Maiduguri coordinated with the Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 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. Many credible accusations of abuses remained uninvestigated. The military continued its efforts to train personnel to apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law in operational settings.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government sometimes detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g.).

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of October prison facilities held 64,817 prisoners. Approximately 74 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of October there were 1,282 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. Prison authorities sometimes held juvenile suspects with adults.

Many of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and overcrowding sometimes resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. For example, in December 2019, according to press reports, five inmates awaiting trial at Ikoyi Prison were accidentally electrocuted in their cell, which held approximately 140 inmates despite a maximum capacity of 35.

Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused some prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This situation was exacerbated with the arrival of COVID-19. In July the government released 7,813 prisoners, including some older than 60 or with health conditions, and others awaiting trial, in response to COVID-19. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the total number of prison deaths during the year.

Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to torture, overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison employees reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, transport to routine court appointments, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison employees sometimes stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates sometimes relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison employees, police, and other security force personnel sometimes denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

Some prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–some of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons.

Generally, prison officials made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military detention facilities continued to operate, including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Although conditions in the Giwa Barracks detention facility reportedly improved, detainees were not always given due process and were subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention (see section 1.g.). There were no reports of accountability for past deaths in custody, nor for past reports from Amnesty International alleging that an estimated 20,000 persons were arbitrarily detained between 2009 and 2015, with as many as 7,000 dying in custody.

After multiple releases during the year (see Improvements below), it was unclear how many children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. According to press and NGO reports, the military continued to arrest and remand to military detention facilities, including Giwa Barracks, additional persons suspected of association with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.

The government continued to arrest and detain women and children removed from or allegedly associated with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. They included women and girls who had been forcibly married to or sexually enslaved by the insurgents. The government reportedly detained them for screening and their perceived intelligence value. Some children held were reportedly as young as age five.

The law provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.

While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, in general few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances. Prison employees sometimes requested bribes to allow access for visitors.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), and some military detention facilities.

Improvements: International organizations reported that the military released more than 400 persons, including at least 309 children, from military custody in Maiduguri in March. Operation Safe Corridor, a deradicalization program, graduated more than 600 former low-level Boko Haram affiliate members and former detainees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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 found such protections ineffective, largely due to lengthy court delays. According to numerous reports, the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies did not always follow due process, arresting suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they sometimes abused. The law requires that, even during a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In some instances government and security employees did not adhere to this regulation. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities sometimes asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. In some cases police detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges sometimes set stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. At times authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees stated police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police sometimes demanded additional payment.

The government continued to turn to the armed forces to address internal security concerns, due to insufficient capacity and staffing of domestic law enforcement agencies. The constitution authorizes the use of the military to “[s]uppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order.” Armed forces were part of continuing joint security operations throughout the country.

In some northern states, Hisbah religious police groups patrolled areas to look for violations of sharia.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel reportedly arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown.

Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NCS figures released in October, 74 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. Court backlogs grew due to COVID-related shutdowns and delays. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Some detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NCS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files. Prison employees did not have effective prison case file management processes, including databases or cataloguing systems. In general the courts were plagued with inadequate, antiquated systems and procedures.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC. Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. There are 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.

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. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.

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 in the north, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system. The transition to sharia penal and criminal procedure codes, however, was largely perceived as hastily implemented, insufficiently codified, and constitutionally debatable in most of the states.

The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction. The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings”; they do not have the authority to compel participation, whether by non-Muslims or Muslims. At least one state, Zamfara State, requires civil cases in which all litigants are Muslim be heard in sharia courts, with the option to appeal any decision to the common law court. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if they wish.

In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for hudud offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of September no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia experts often advise them. Sharia courts are thus more susceptible to human error, as many court personnel lack basic formal education or the appropriate training to administer accurately and effectively penal and legal procedures. Despite these shortfalls, many in the north prefer sharia courts to their secular counterparts, especially concerning civil matters, since they are faster, less expensive, and conducted in the Hausa language.

Trial Procedures

Pursuant to constitutional or statutory provisions, defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Authorities did not always respect these rights, most frequently due to a lack of capacity. Insufficient numbers of judges and courtrooms, together with growing caseloads, often resulted in pretrial, trial, and appellate delays that could extend a trial for as many as 10 years. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, there were reportedly some cases where defense counsel was absent from required court appearances so regularly that a court might proceed with a routine hearing in the absence of counsel, except for certain offenses for which conviction carries the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the terms allowed by law (see section 1.c.).

Human rights groups stated the government did not permit all terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns regarding inadequate access to defense counsel, a lack of interpreters, and inadequate evidence leading to an overreliance on confessions. It was unclear whether confessions were completely voluntary. Those whose cases were dismissed reportedly remained in detention without clear legal justification. Human rights groups also alleged that in some cases dissidents and journalists were jailed without access to legal representation or had other rights denied, such as the right to a fair and public trial.

Women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts, however, usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts provided women increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony, among other benefits.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

IMN’s leader, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his spouse remained in detention. In 2018 the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of a soldier at Zaria.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, at times exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The constitution and the annual appropriation acts stipulate the National Assembly and the judiciary be paid directly from the federation account as statutory transfers before other budgetary expenditures are made, in order to maintain autonomy and separation of powers. Federal and state governments, however, often undermined the judiciary by withholding funding and manipulating appointments. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights abuse, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

Property Restitution

State and local governments forcibly evicted some residents and demolished their homes, often without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on this right during the year, and 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.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The insurgency in the Northeast 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, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and external displacement of approximately 300,000 Nigerian refugees as of September 30.

Killings: Units of the NA’s Seventh Division, the NPF, and the DSS carried out operations against the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Northeast. There were reports of military forces committing extrajudicial killings of suspected members of the groups.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacked population centers, security personnel, and international organization and NGO personnel and facilities in Borno State. Boko Haram also conducted attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA attacked targets in Yobe. These groups targeted anyone perceived as disagreeing with the groups’ political or religious beliefs or interfering with their access to resources. While Boko Haram no longer controlled as much territory as it did in 2016, the two insurgencies nevertheless maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast. Both groups carried out attacks through roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs). ISIS-WA maintained the ability to carry out effective complex attacks on military positions, including those in population centers.

On November 28, suspected Boko Haram terrorists killed at least 76 members of a rice farming community in Zabarmari, Borno State. Some of those killed were beheaded.

Boko Haram continued to employ indiscriminate person-borne improvised explosive device (PIED) attacks targeting the local civilian populations. Women and children were forced to carry out many of the attacks. According to a 2017 study by UNICEF, children, forced by Boko Haram, carried out nearly one in five PIED attacks. More than two-thirds of these children were girls. Boko Haram continued to kill scores of civilians suspected of cooperating with the government.

ISIS-WA increased attacks and kidnappings of civilians and continued to employ acts of violence and intimidation against civilians in order to expand its area of influence and gain control over critical economic resources. As part of a violent campaign, ISIS-WA also targeted government figures, traditional leaders, international organization and NGO workers, and contractors. In multiple instances ISIS-WA issued “night letters” or otherwise warned civilians to leave specific areas and subsequently targeted civilians who failed to depart. During its attacks on population centers, ISIS-WA also distributed propaganda materials.

On June 13, suspected ISIS-WA militants attacked the village of Felo, Borno State, killing dozens of civilians.

Abductions: In previous years Human Rights Watch documented cases where security forces forcibly disappeared persons detained for questioning in conflict areas, but there were no reports of such cases during the year.

Boko Haram conducted mass abductions of men, women, and children, often in conjunction with attacks on communities. The group forced men, women, and children to participate in military operations on its behalf. Those abducted by Boko Haram were subjected to physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and forced religious conversions. Women and girls were subjected to forced marriage and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual slavery. Most female PIED bombers were coerced in some form and were often drugged. Boko Haram also used women and girls to lure security forces into ambushes, force payment of ransoms, and leverage prisoner exchanges.

While some NGO reports estimated the number of Boko Haram abductees at more than 2,000, the total count of the missing was unknown since abductions continued, 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 Boko Haram captivity, but precise numbers remained unknown.

Approximately half of the students abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in 2014 remained in captivity. 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.

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 Northeast, and authorities held many individuals in poor and life-threatening 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. On May 27, Amnesty International published a report documenting the prolonged detention of terrorism suspects, including children, in deplorable conditions in military facilities in the Northeast. According to Amnesty, the prolonged detention of children in severely overcrowded facilities without adequate sanitation, water, or food, amounted to torture or inhuman treatment. Amnesty documented cases in which children detained in the facilities died as a result of the poor conditions. Conditions in Giwa Barracks reportedly improved somewhat during the year, because the military periodically released groups of women and children, and less frequently men, from the facility to state-run rehabilitation centers. Government employees were not consistently held accountable for abuses in military detention facilities.

Reports indicated that soldiers, police, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), SARS, and others committed sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls. Such exploitation and abuse were a concern in state-run IDP camps, informal camps, and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and across the Northeast. Women and girls continued to be exploited in sex trafficking, reportedly by other IDPs, aid workers, and low-level government employees. Some charges were brought against government officials, security force members, and other perpetrators. For example, an Air Force officer was convicted, dismissed, and sentenced in 2019 by a court-martial for sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old girl in one of the IDP camps. In August he was turned over to civilian authorities for further criminal prosecution. In September a military court-martial convicted, dismissed from service, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment a soldier after he raped a teenage girl in Borno State.

Boko Haram engaged in widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. 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. In 2019 Boko Haram kidnapped a group of women and cut off their ears in retaliation for perceived cooperation with Nigerian and Cameroonian military and security services.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the military used child soldiers during the year. In 2019 an international organization verified the Nigerian military recruited and used at least two children younger than age 15 in support roles. Between April and June 2019, the military used six boys between 14 and 17 years old in Mafa, Borno State, in support roles fetching water, firewood, and cleaning. In October 2019 the same international organization verified the government used five boys between 13 and 17 years old to fetch water at a checkpoint in Dikwa, Borno State.

Reports indicated that the military coordinated closely on the ground with the CJTF. The CJTF and United Nations continued work to implement an action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, which was signed by both parties and witnessed by the Borno State government in 2017. According to credible international organizations, following the signing of the action plan there had been no verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by the CJTF. Some demobilized former child soldiers were awaiting formal reintegration into communities.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights at times.

Freedom of Speech: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression. Authorities in the north at times restricted free speech by labeling it blasphemy.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government, but critics reported being subjected to threats, intimidation, arrest, detention, and sometimes violence.

At times civilian leaders instructed security forces to harass journalists covering sensitive topics such as human right abuses, electoral malpractices, high-level public corruption, and the government’s war against terrorism.

Violence and Harassment: Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including the DSS and police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government. Moreover, army personnel in some cases threatened civilians who provided, or were perceived to have provided, information to journalists or NGOs on misconduct by the military. On at least six occasions, journalists were charged with treason, economic sabotage, or fraud when uncovering corruption or public protests.

Numerous journalists were killed, detained, abducted, or arrested during the year.

On January 21, Alex Ogbu, a reporter for the RegentAfrica Times magazine and website, was shot and killed in a cross fire while covering an IMN protest in Abuja.

On October 24, police arrested Onifade Pelumi, an intern reporter for Gboah TV, as he conducted interviews in a crowd gathered outside a food warehouse in Agege near Lagos. His family was unable to locate him until his body was found in a Lagos morgue two weeks later.

On November 28, soldiers assaulted and detained Voice of America Hausa-service reporter Grace Abdu in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Abdu was interviewing residents of the Oyigbo community about allegations the army had committed extrajudicial killings of members of the proscribed separatist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as killed or indiscriminately arrested civilians during a crackdown against IPOB. She was released later that afternoon.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they were required to dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

The government used regulatory oversight to restrict press freedom, notably clamping down on television and radio stations. Citing violations of amendments to the sixth edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, in August the NBC fined local radio station Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for comments by the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia, on insecurity in the country. Mailaifia alleged that a northern governor was a sponsor of Boko Haram.

The NBC also sanctioned private television stations Africa Independent Television, Channels TV, and Arise News during October’s #EndSARS protests, alleging their reportage of the nationwide protests relied on unverifiable video footage from social media handles.

Some journalists reported they practiced self-censorship. Journalists and local NGOs claimed security services intimidated journalists, including editors and owners, into censoring reports perceived to be critical of the government. In February, Samuel Ogundipe, a reporter for the newspaper Premium Times, went into hiding after receiving numerous threatening telephone calls, having his email hacked, and being told to stop his reporting that relations between the country’s national security adviser, the army chief of staff, and the chief of staff for the presidency were strained. The newspaper’s editor, Musililu Mojeed, also reported receiving threats and the online edition of Premium Times suffered cyberattacks.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are civil offenses and require defendants to prove truthfulness or value judgment in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. The requirement limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Allegations of libel were also used as a form of harassment by government employees in retaliation for negative reporting. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty for conviction of up to two years’ imprisonment and possible fines. On October 13, police arrested Oga Tom Uhia, editor of Power Steering, a magazine covering the electrical power sector, at his home in Gwarimpa near Abuja. Uhia was charged with defamation, based on a complaint by Minister of State for Power Goddy Jeddy Agba. As of November, Uhia remained in detention.

On April 28, police arrested Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, for allegedly posting blasphemous statements regarding the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. On December 21, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the inspector general of police, Mohammed Adamu, and the Nigerian Police Force to release Bala, ruling that his detention without charge for almost eight months violated his rights to freedom of expression and movement, among others. At year’s end the inspector general and police had not complied with the court’s decision, and Bala remained in detention.

Sharia courts sentenced persons for blasphemy. In August singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by a Kano State sharia court. A 13-year-old boy was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Lawyers for both defendants were appealing the convictions at year’s end.

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. The NGO Freedom House reported that internet providers sometimes blocked websites at the request of the Nigerian Communications Commission, particularly websites advocating independence for Biafra. The internet and communications technology enterprise Paradigm Initiative reported that mobile internet providers blocked websites related to the #EndSARS protests.

Civil society organizations and journalists expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the law on cybercrime. Some local and state governments used the law to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech. On August 17, authorities in Akwa Ibom State arrested journalist Ime Sunday Silas following his publication of a report, Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair Links Governor Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker. Authorities charged Silas with “cyberstalking.” Silas’s case was pending before the court at year’s end. The law on cybercrimes had yet to be fully tested in the courts. Legislative interest and calls for regulating social media increased due to concerns it plays a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. The government occasionally banned and targeted gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. The government put limitations on public gatherings, including temporary bans on congregational worship services in some states, in response to COVID-19. As of September public gatherings were limited to no more than 50 persons in enclosed spaces. State-level mandates varied on the reopening of religious services. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states due to fear they might heighten interreligious tensions.

Members of a Shia political organization, the IMN, carried out a series of protests across the country in response to the continued detention of their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Police and military officials set up roadblocks and used other means to contain protesters in and around the capital city of Abuja. On January 23, Shia Rights Watch reported that government forces used tear gas and firearms against IMN protesters, killing one protester and severely injuring another. An IMN spokesperson alleged that police killed three IMN members during the group’s annual Ashura mourning procession in Kaduna on August 24 and that two persons died in clashes with police on August 30. On October 19, IMN members protested El-Zakzaky’s continued detention on the first anniversary of the violent clash with police in Zaria.

In August, #RevolutionNow protesters organized a set of demonstrations in several cities across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of their inaugural protests calling for more responsive and accountable governance. Although the protests were allowed to proceed unimpeded in most places, civil society observers reported the arrest of some peaceful protesters in Lagos, Osun, and Kano States on charges of “conduct likely to cause breach of public peace.” All those arrested were released within days of their arrest.

In October, #EndSARS protests were staged in states across the country to demand an end to police brutality. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, but some protests turned violent after criminal elements infiltrated the protests and security forces fired at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 (see section 1.a.). According to #EndSARS Legal Aid, by year’s end a network of volunteer lawyers had secured the release of 337 protesters, but it was unable to confirm how many remained in detention.

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis. Security services sometimes used excessive force to disperse demonstrators (see section 1.a.).

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. The government of Kaduna State continued its proscription of the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace. In July 2019 the government extended that proscription nationwide and designated the IMN as a terrorist organization.

The law criminalizes the registration, operation, or participation in so-called gay clubs, societies, or organizations, and further prohibits any support to such organizations (see section 6). Rights groups reported the law had a significant chilling effect on free association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but security officials restricted freedom of movement at times by imposing curfews in areas experiencing terrorist attacks and ethnic violence.

In-country Movement: The federal, state, or local governments imposed curfews or otherwise restricted movement in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States in connection with operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Other states imposed curfews in reaction to specific threats and attacks, and rural violence.

Police conducted “stop and search” operations in cities and on major highways and, on occasion, set up checkpoints. In response to COVID-19, the federal and state governments each instituted restrictions on movement between and within states, as well as curfews that varied throughout the year.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Access to farmland remained a problem for IDPs in the Northeast, particularly for those living with host communities. Many IDPs with access to farmland were told by the military to refrain from planting taller crops for security reasons. Distribution of fertilizers to areas with some farming opportunities was restricted due to the military’s suspicion that fertilizers such as urea could be used for military purposes.

IDPs, especially those in the Northeast, faced severe protection problems, including sexual abuse of women and girls, some of which constituted sex trafficking (see section 1.g.). Security services continued to arrest and detain suspected Boko Haram and ISIS-WA members at IDP camps and in host communities, sometimes arbitrarily and with insufficient evidence, and restricted family access to detainees. Other protection concerns included terrorist attacks or bombings, lack of accountability and diversion of humanitarian aid, drug abuse, hostility and insecurity, harassment of women and girls, and lack of humanitarian assistance for host communities.

NGOs reported having insufficient resources available to assist IDP victims of sexual and gender-based violence, who had limited access to safe, confidential psychosocial counseling and medical services or safe spaces. Women and girls abducted by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, as well as the babies born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs. The government participated in a regional protection dialogue to continue to work through a tripartite agreement with UNHCR and Cameroon signed in 2017 to ensure that any Nigerian refugees in Cameroon returning to Nigeria were fully informed and gave their consent. Nevertheless, the agreement was not fully enforced, and the return of Nigerian refugees to Nigeria was sometimes forced, uninformed, or dangerous according to some humanitarian organizations.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers originated mainly from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sudan, with a majority living in urban areas in Cross River State, Lagos, and Ijebu Ode in Ogun State. According to UNHCR, approximately 60,000 Cameroonians fleeing the Anglophone Crisis sought refuge in Cross River, Benue, and Akwa Ibom States.

Access to Basic Services: Legal documentation such as birth certificates, national identity cards, certificate of indigenes and voter registration are the key civil documentation to prove state of origin and nationality. They are also necessary to access services such as education. UNHCR reported in August that ineffective and inexistent civil registration and identification management systems in areas hosting IDPs and returnees remained a concern.

Durable Solutions: The country received a high number of returnees, both voluntary and forced, primarily in the Northeast. Accurate information on the number of returnees was not available. The government was generally unable to take action to reintegrate returning refugees. Many returnees did not find durable solutions and were forced into secondary displacement.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a few hundred individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than age five were registered. Most persons did not become stateless because of their lack of birth registration; however, there were some reported cases where the government denied individuals citizenship because they did not have a birth registration and did not have another way to prove their citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. In 2019 INEC conducted the presidential election, National Assembly elections, state houses of assembly elections, and local elections in all 36 states plus the FCT, as well as gubernatorial elections in 30 states. During the year INEC conducted gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States. There was evidence in some of these elections that military and security services intimidated voters, electoral officials, and election observers. There were reports in some of these elections of corrupt practices, including high incidences of vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of September there were 18 parties registered with INEC. INEC deregistered 74 political parties in February on the basis that the parties did not satisfy the requirements of the law. The constitution requires political party sponsorship for all election candidates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Observers attributed fewer leadership opportunities for women in major parties and government, particularly in the north, to religious and cultural barriers. The number of female candidates was disproportionally low. Although INEC introduced assistive materials, including braille ballot guides and sign language interpreters’ manuals, the accessibility of polls for persons with disabilities remained poor. Less than 4 percent of those elected in the 2019 general elections were women. Only 12 percent of the 6,300 candidates for the National Assembly’s House of Representatives and Senate were women, and women won only 17 of the 469 Assembly seats. The situation was similar in the 36 state houses of assembly and 774 local government councils. Women’s participation dropped from a high of 8 percent of National Assembly members elected in 2007 to 4 percent in 2019.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) holds broad authorities to prosecute most forms of corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. During the year there was a high-profile investigation involving the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu. In July authorities arrested Magu and charged him with embezzlement. Magu was suspended as acting EFCC chairman. The ICPC led a raid in August 2019 that resulted in the arrest of 37 federal road safety officers and five civilian employees on charges of extortion. As of December 2019, the EFCC had secured 890 convictions, a record during the year. Through court-martial, the military convicted and fired a major general in connection with the 2019 reported theft of 400 million naira (more than one million dollars) in cash.

The bulk of ICPC and EFCC anticorruption efforts remained focused on low- and mid-level government officials. In 2019 both organizations started investigations into, and brought indictments against, various active and former high-level government officials. Many of the corruption cases, particularly the high-profile ones, remained pending before the court due to administrative or procedural delays.

In June the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation released audited 2018 financial statements, the first such release since its establishment in 1977. The corporation also published audited accounts of its 20 subsidiaries and business divisions. In December the federal government launched the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal, commonly referred to as Open Treasury Portal, with the aim of increasing transparency and governmental accountability of funds transferred by making the daily treasury statement public. The Open Treasury Portal required all ministries, departments, and agencies to publish daily reports of payments greater than five million naira ($13,300). The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and other anticorruption watchdog groups hailed the government for providing better access to government spending data.

Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act requires public officials–including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, cabinet ministers, and legislators (at both federal and state levels)–to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau before assuming and after leaving office. The constitution calls for the bureau to “make declarations available for inspection by any citizen of the country on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.” The law does not address the publication of asset information. Violators risk prosecution, but cases rarely reached conclusion.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials sometimes cooperated and responded but generally dismissed allegations quickly without investigation. In some cases the military threatened NGOs and humanitarian organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the NHRC as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The NHRC monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The NHRC is mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions; however, the commission served more in an advisory, training, and advocacy role. During the year there were no reports of its investigations having led to accountability. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of NHRC awards and recommendations as court decisions, but it was unclear whether this happened.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The law cites spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) as offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled by law to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases, although during the year these services were often limited due to resource constraints. As of September only 13 of the country’s 36 states (Kaduna, Anambra, Oyo, Benue, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Osun, Cross River, Lagos, Plateau, and Bauchi) and the FCT had adopted the act, meaning that most Nigerians were not yet protected by the law.

The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, approximately 31 percent of women between ages 15 and 49 had experienced some form of physical violence and 9 percent had experienced sexual violence. On May 27, a university student was raped and killed while studying inside a church in Benin City, Edo State. With support from Edo State, the inspector general of police sent a special homicide team to investigate, which resulted in the arrest of six suspects in August. Four were charged and remained in jail awaiting trial until October, when they escaped during a mass jailbreak during the #EndSARS protests. At year’s end they remained fugitives, while two more suspects had yet to be charged because authorities could not locate them.

Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. Federal law provides penalties for conviction ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and provide for victims to receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, and for reintegration) provided by the law. The law also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape. Because the relevant federal law had only been adopted in one-third of states, state criminal codes continued to govern most rape and sexual assault cases and typically allowed for lesser sentences. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender-based violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation. Victims generally had little or no recourse to justice. In September, Kaduna State enacted laws increasing the maximum penalty for rape to include sterilization and the death penalty.

The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both for conviction of spousal battery. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government.

Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. A 2019 survey on domestic violence found that 47 percent of respondents had suffered from domestic violence or knew someone who had; 82 percent of respondents indicated that violence against women was prevalent in the country.

Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but there were few reports that the government took legal action to curb the practice. The law penalizes a person convicted of performing female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a monetary fine, or both. It punishes anyone convicted of aiding or abetting such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. The federal government launched a revised national policy on the elimination of FGM for 2020-24.

The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey found that 20 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. While 13 of 36 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature had criminalized FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws applied in their districts.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the law, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a monetary fine, or both. For purposes of the law, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.

Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the north. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows were subject to social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but assault statutes provide for prosecution of violent harassment. The law criminalizes stalking, but it does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment. The law also criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.

The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions.

Reproductive Health: Although couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, traditional practices often hampered a woman’s choice on family size.

Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care were not widely available. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported as of 2020 that only 46 percent of married or in-union women were free to make their own informed decisions in all three categories of reproductive health care, contraceptive use, and sexual relations. More than 30 percent of women of reproductive age experienced spousal violence during pregnancy.

Modern methods of contraception were used by 12 percent of women, with nearly 19 percent of all surveyed women stating they had an unmet need for family planning, and 24 percent of women stating they wanted no more children. The UN Population Division estimated 17 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception. As of 2010, the UNFPA reported that 29 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18.

Cultural and religious views across regions affected access to reproductive services, especially contraceptive use. Not all primary health centers provided free family-planning services. The National Health Insurance Scheme did not always cover family-planning services.

Conversations around sex and sexuality issues were taboo in many places, posing a barrier for access for youth who might need services and information from health-care providers.

Pediatricians provided primary care for adolescents through 18 years of age. Adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and interventions were usually not provided within the health system. Low literacy and low economic empowerment among couples hampered effective access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and delivery, although government insurance policies sometimes provided for free antenatal services. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) reported that 67 percent of women ages 15-49 received antenatal care from a skilled provider during pregnancy, and 39 percent of live births took place in a health-care facility.

Inadequate funding for primary health-care facilities and cost of services, as well as lack of access to primary health-care facilities in rural and hard-to-reach areas with poor transportation and communications infrastructure, limited access to antenatal care and skilled birth delivery. Gender roles also limited access to maternal health services; women who were financially or socially dependent on men might be unable to access health care without seeking consent from their spouses. In some states, health-care workers frequently required women to provide proof of spousal consent prior to accessing contraceptives. In the North, societal and cultural norms inhibited women from leaving the house unaccompanied to access reproductive health services. Some women also preferred to deliver their babies using traditional birth attendants because of the belief they could prevent spiritual attacks and because of the affordability of their services.

According to the 2018 NDHS, one in 10 women ages 15-49 experienced sexual violence. A UNICEF survey from 2014 indicated one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence before age 18. The government received support from donors to provide access to age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Sexual violence survivors who sought and had access to care could receive a minimum package of care, including counseling, HIV testing services, provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (within 72 hours), linkage to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-negative clients, linkage to anti-retroviral services for HIV-positive clients, provision of emergency contraceptives (within 120 hours), testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and legal support where required, among other services such as referrals for longer term psycho-social support and economic empowerment programs.

The 2018 NDHS reported a maternal mortality rate of 512 deaths per 100,000 live births due to lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services.

Complications associated with FGM/C included potential spread of HIV due to tearing of scarred vaginal tissue and use of unsterilized instruments; emotional trauma; and sexual health problems such as pain during sex, decreased sexual desire and pleasure, and obstetric problems such as prolonged or obstructed labor, obstetric fistulas, infection, sepsis, and postpartum bleeding.

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

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and there were no known legal restrictions on women’s working hours or jobs deemed too dangerous for women, there were limitations on women’s employment in certain industries such as construction, energy, and agriculture. Women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring.

Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.

In the 12 northern states that adopted religious law, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care.

The testimony of women carried less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. The government does not require birth registration, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 42 percent of births of children younger than age five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services.

Education: The law requires provision of tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. According to the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to female participation in education persisted, particularly in the north.

Public schools remained substandard, and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children.

Most educational funding comes from the federal government, with state governments required to pay a share. Public investment was insufficient to achieve universal basic education. Actual budget execution was consistently much lower than approved funding levels. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF, in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.

According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide. Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated 10.5 million were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. At least an additional four million were estimated to be out of school at the secondary level. Primary school attendance was low, and learning outcomes nationally were poor on average, especially across the northern states, where compounding disadvantages included higher levels of household poverty, insecurity, and restrictive cultural norms. According to the 2015 education survey, the net attendance ratio at primary level was only 67 percent of children between the ages of six and 11. Children in rural areas were at a greater disadvantage than those in urban areas, with a ratio of 57 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Furthermore, national data on students’ reading and literacy levels revealed all of the northern states fell within the bottom third on reading performance.

The lowest attendance rates were in the north, where rates for boys and girls were approximately 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to UNICEF, in the north, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended. Approximately 25 percent of young persons between ages 17 and 25 had fewer than two years of education.

The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram and ISIS-WA insurgencies, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in Borno and Yobe States (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). According to the United Nations, between 2014 and 2017, attacks in the Northeast destroyed an estimated 1,500 schools and resulted in the deaths of 1,280 teachers and students.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed approximately six of every 10 children younger than age 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.

In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education reported 9.5 million children worked as almajiri, poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. Since government social welfare programs were scarce, parents of children with behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse problems turned to the almajiris of some mallams who claimed to offer treatment. Instead of receiving an education, many almajiri were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were given to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless. In April governors of 19 northern states agreed to ban almajiri schools, and during the COVID pandemic they repatriated thousands of students across state lines. By year’s end there were reports that almajiri schools had resumed in some states.

In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse, such as kidnapping and torture.

So-called baby factories operated, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They offered for sale the newborns of pregnant women–mostly unmarried girls–sometimes held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with boys fetching higher prices. Media reports indicated some communities killed infants born as twins or with birth defects or albinism.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF, 43 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before the age of 18, while 16 percent were married before age 15. The prevalence of child, early, and forced marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 25 state assemblies adopted the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum marriage age, and most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take significant legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage.

According to an NGO, education was a key indicator of whether a girl would marry as a child–82 percent of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13 percent of women who had at least finished secondary school. In the north parents complained the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child commercial sexual exploitation and sexual intercourse with a child, providing penalties for conviction from seven years’ to life imprisonment, respectively, for any adults involved. Two-thirds of states had adopted the relevant federal law. The minimum age for sexual consent varies according to state law. The constitution provides that “full age” means the age of 18, but it creates an exception for any married woman who “shall be deemed of full age.” In some states children as young as 11 can be legally married under customary or religious law. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking and prescribes a minimum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine.

The law criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences of up to 10 years. The law criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms of 10 years, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were exploited in commercial sex, both within the country and in other countries. Girls were victims of sexual exploitation in IDP camps. There were continued reports that camp employees and members of security forces, including some military personnel, used fraudulent or forced marriages to exploit girls in sex trafficking (see section 1.g.). The government expanded efforts to identify victims of exploitation in IDP camps and investigate camp officials alleged to be complicit in the exploitation. For example, the government continued a screening and sensitization campaign to identify sex-trafficking victims in IDP camps in Bama and other areas near Maiduguri. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) also collaborated with the Borno State government, international organizations, and NGOs to establish the Borno State Anti-Trafficking Task Force.

Displaced Children: As of September, UNHCR reported there were a